INDIANAPOLIS (August 31, 1998) -- With seven races left in the 1998 NHRA drag racing season, Bruce Allen is confident that the wrinkles are finally ironed out on the Outlaw Pontiac Pro Stock Firebird. Coming off a No. 3 qualifying performance at...
INDIANAPOLIS (August 31, 1998) -- With seven races left in the 1998 NHRA drag racing season, Bruce Allen is confident that the wrinkles are finally ironed out on the Outlaw Pontiac Pro Stock Firebird. Coming off a No. 3 qualifying performance at the Visionaire North Star Nationals in Brainerd, Allen returns to Indianapolis Raceway Park for the 44th Annual U.S. Nationals where the Arlington, Tex., resident has experienced tremendous success.
In 1985-86, Allen won the Pro Stock Challenge when it was still raced at Indianapolis. During that same time period, he was runner-up during the Labor Day Classic to Bob Glidden and was ahead in the race in 1986 until he blew an engine in fourth gear. At last year's race, he qualified No. 13 and advanced all the way to the semi-finals before losing to eventual race winner Kurt Johnson.
A 14-year veteran of the sport, Allen is one of the most well liked and respected drivers on the circuit. Since 1985, he has won 12 national events in 31 final rounds, finished as high as third in the Winston standings three times (1985-87) and second in 1989. Last season was the best year of the decade for the Reher-Morrison racing team when they finished fourth in the standings.
Why did you choose to test at Indianapolis this week?
I think one of the things that has changed the face of Pro Stock racing in the last year has been that teams are willing to test more. They will go in a couple of weeks before an event and test on the track you're going to race on. That's really forced your hand because in the past, you went to the race and all you had were a couple of rounds to make the adjustments on your car. Now people go and they might make 10, 12 or 20 rounds at a track, and they may not be racing there that week, but instead the week after. If you show up without testing, you're 10 or 15 runs behind. Years ago it didn't do you much good to test on a track that wasn't a national event type track. In other words, it would have been foolish for us to go to Dallas and test and think we were getting information for the October race. You couldn't even do that a couple of days ahead of time. When the Safety Safari and the NHRA groomed it , the race track was so much better than it would be on a weekly basis that the information wasn't worth having. Now the track owners have as good equipment as the Safety Safari. They may not be able to clean up oil as well as the NHRA, but as far as preparing the track, you can go and run on a track that's every bit as good as they are at a national event. Now it's imperative that you go get that information, especially at Indianapolis since the Friday night qualifying session is your first run. We pull up there, and it's all on the table unless we have a huge weather change. You have no warm-up, no nothing. You go up there, pop the clutch, hang on, and if it's good enough you're in the show. If it's not, you may not be. Even though you get five runs there, unless we get a cold front to move through, the next four runs may not be good enough. That along with the fact that we had the engine shut off in the second round at Brainerd. In the back of your mind you know something's wrong, and we can't pull up and have that happen on Friday. We needed to make some runs, so we just stopped at Indy. The NHRA had the track prepared for Tuesday and Wednesday, we wanted to get some data on the track, and wanted to see if we couldn't fix this shut-off problem.
Were you able to figure out what was causing the problem at Brainerd?
We think either the carburetors or something in the fuel system malfunctioned. We were running a different engine that had different carburetors and everything. The first run the car ran fine. We took the carburetors off the engine we were running and put them on the bad engine -- the car shut off. So we took them back off, vice versa, and then it ran good again. We think what was wrong were the carburetors. But you don't run and run and run, and then have something happen, but it looks like it did.
With the increase in testing by all teams, won't that lead to escalating costs?
That's exactly what it does. It ups the ante. Now it becomes mandatory that you go get that information before the race. Even though that becomes part of it, you're going to have to budget for that. In the past, most teams tested at their home tracks, went out and made a few runs or sorted out problems that they might be having. If you were working on getting faster, you just went out and ran. Before the Chicago race, teams tested at St. Louis, raced at Chicago, went directly to Columbus and tested, raced there and went directly to St. Louis to test there before the race. Now when you get there to a race track, there are 15 cars already there who have been testing. It just ups the ante that much more. Even if you have a car that's fast enough, if you have Warren Johnson's car or Warren Johnson's power, it's still important to test because you can't concede that much information and expect to make the field during the Friday night session. There are only a couple of cars capable of not making a good run Friday night and still getting in. You can't take the risk of making your first run on Friday night and totally missing the session. It's going to make it more expensive.
How is that different from how you prepared for a race five or 10 years ago?
When you go to a race, the skill and knowledge that you have accumulated over the years is supposed to be worth something. You should be able to go up and get an idea of what the track conditions are like by measuring the temperature, and by looking at the track and comparing it to information you've already accumulated. Then your knowledge is worth something. Now you just go out and spend a couple of days testing until you get a setup. If you're going to spend another $4000 or $5000 a race to go in early and test, the ones that race with a limited budget won't be to do that. Those with unlimited money and who can take the time away from work to test can do it and will continue to do so. If that's what it takes to compete, then that's what we're going to have to do.
Is one of the reasons for the extensive testing this week the fact that it is the U.S. Nationals?
That has something to do with it. But I think in Pro Stock the biggest thing is having a feel for the Friday night session. That's going to be basically your whole weekend. I'll put it this way, the way David (Reher) and I talked about it, if you went to Indianapolis and didn't test, and then blew that Friday night run because you made a bad call, then you wouldn't have given it your best effort. If we go there next Friday and fail to qualify, it wasn't because we didn't do everything we could. We've tried to address why our car shut off, and we're trying to get an idea what that starting line is going to be like.
Can a win at Indianapolis make up for a less than spectacular season?
Oh sure. Any win can turn a season around, but winning the U.S. Nationals would be the best way to turn it around. Most of our major sponsors go to that race. The Pennzoil and Outlaw people will be there. The media covers it better than any other event. They say if you win that race, your career's complete. I wouldn't go that far, but it is a major race to win. It's the race with all of the emphasis, so of course it's the one you want to win the most.
Realistically, how high do you think you can finish in the standings?
Our goal is to be sixth. I really think we can finish that high because it looks as though we've turned things around a little bit. If we qualify decent, we have a good chance of going rounds. We've done a good job on race day for the most part. I think we could get as high as sixth, that's what we're shooting for and that's our number. We just looked at that this morning with the remaining races, and everyone feels that we can do that. I'm not going to be happy with the season if we finish sixth, but I will be happy with the second half. That will be a big turnaround for us. In the long run, that's what we're looking at, whether we're going up or going down, that's basically all there is in racing. You're either going one way or the other.
A couple of wins would probably help out too wouldn't it?
One win would be awful nice. We're so close. I was just telling my dad today how close we were. He's a huge fan and he would like to see nothing more than to see us win. We were talking about it today how at Brainerd we may have let an opportunity slip away. We blew an opportunity in the round against Osborne because if we would have won that round, there's a good chance we would have gone to the finals.
Do you ever reach a point after the championship becomes out of reach that you begin to look towards next year?
We basically did that at about Denver. We had a marginal setup on our car that was either great or it wouldn't run. We couldn't get down the track. After St. Louis, which we couldn't make a run, we knew that we had to change our approach to running our car. That's what we did. We need to do things that are going to make us more consistent, get us in the show and put us in position on race day where we can get down the track. That's what we've done. We missed Sonoma completely. But since then, we've just gone down the track every run. We've committed ourselves to doing that, and we're getting a new car that should help us a little bit. Now that we're running this car differently, I think if we get a new car, it will open the window up a little bit and shed some light on some different things. You pick your battles. We certainly want to win some races for Pennzoil, Outlaw and Pontiac. Our main goal now is to have things in order. We're working real hard on our engine program to get fast enough so that we can go right out next year, have a real good start and be in the hunt. Not let Warren Johnson and Jim Yates get way ahead.
What is your favorite U.S. Nationals memory and what do you like about racing at Indianapolis?
My favorite was winning the Mr. Gasket Challenge and then being in the final against Bob Glidden in 1986. It was a good news/bad news situation where we had him beat and had an engine expire in fourth gear. Any time you get to the final there and have a chance to win it, that's a great memory. The best thing I like about Indy is the lanes are equal, it's usually a real good surface to race on, it's a smooth track, the fans are real knowledgeable and they really support you. We see a lot of people that we don't get to see all year who come just to that race. It's a city with a lot of racing history and heritage. When you're flying in there and see the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and then you look down and see the drag strip, it's certainly a cool place.