Racers Hoping IRP Test Session Advantageous To Indy Prospects INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 31, 2004 - The U.S. Nationals is the biggest, most prestigious drag race in the world, and a victory at Indianapolis Raceway Park carries with it cachet reserved...
Racers Hoping IRP Test Session Advantageous To Indy Prospects
INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 31, 2004 - The U.S. Nationals is the biggest, most prestigious drag race in the world, and a victory at Indianapolis Raceway Park carries with it cachet reserved for only a select few who have managed to reach the sport's pinnacle. GM Racing's contingent of professional competitors will be pulling out all the stops at this year's 50th anniversary contest, hoping to reach the winner's circle during the U.S. Nationals' golden celebration on Sept. 1- 6.
"I can remember coming here with my dad in the 70s when I was growing up," said Tommy Johnson, Jr., driver of the Skoal Racing Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car. "I raced in my first U.S. Nationals in Super Gas in 1984. This place has a lot of history and a lot of tradition, and it's a nice way to put your name in the record books, especially at this year's race. Winning the 50th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals is something a racer would never forget."
As a professional competitor, defending NHRA POWERade Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon has collected 27 national-event victories, raced in 49 final rounds and possesses a long list of stellar accomplishments, but a trip to the winner's circle at Indianapolis Raceway Park is the one prize that has managed to elude him.
"This has always been our marquee event, our Indianapolis 500 so to speak," said Pedregon. "Coming here for the first time as an owner/driver is pretty special. All the years that I've been coming to Indy, being in very good, competitive cars, and winning the championship last year, I've never won the U.S. Nationals. The closest I got was runner-up in 2001. One of our focuses in testing has been making the right changes to the Quaker State Chevy Monte Carlo. The car performs well, but I did not want to come to this event, to race in the Skoal Shootout, to race on Monday, battling any problems whatsoever, and that's why we came to Indianapolis Raceway Park for the two-day open test session. Everyone on the team is pretty upbeat and I like our chances."
Tony Pedregon's teammate and older brother Cruz Pedregon is a three-time U.S. Nationals champion (1992, 94-95). A victory at IRP in 1992 was the third of six wins that season and helped to create a momentum during the final weeks of the campaign that propelled Pedregon to his first NHRA Funny Car championship. As of late, the performance of Pedregon's Wes Cerny-tuned Chevy Monte Carlo is on the upswing, posting two runner-up finishes since the season's midpoint.
"People always ask me what my favorite tracks are and usually my answer is any track I've won on," said Pedregon. "But Indianapolis Raceway Park, maybe more so now since I own a home here and we have the shop in Brownsburg, to me, always seems to get bigger and better every year. Even if it weren't the biggest race of the year it would still hold a special place for me because it was at this event where we turned our season around in '92 and eventually won the championship. IRP is definitely an exciting place to be and it's going to be even bigger this year.
"We always look forward to the U.S. Nationals, but this year it's extra special since it's the 50th race. I won the 40th U.S. Nationals and that was kind of cool. Our Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet is performing well, and we've made some final rounds, but this race would give our season a big kick in the rear if we could come out of here with a win."
Del Worsham was runner-up to Cruz Pedregon at the '92 U.S. Nationals. Already this season Worsham has captured victories at Phoenix, Gainesville and Columbus, and teammate Phil Burkart has driven his CSK Chevy Monte Carlo to wins at Las Vegas and Denver. Worsham feels that he has assembled his best team ever for this year's meet at IRP, and he likes both his and Burkart's chances.
"I've never won this race before, so to win it would be unreal," said Worsham. "This is the most prestigious race on the tour. We've had a great season so far. We've been trying to win the championship, but we're not in the position we were a couple of months ago. If we can come out and win Indy, maybe we can turn things around, get on a little bit of a roll and still have something to say about it. Winning Indy would cap off the year nicely.
"This is definitely the best team we've had coming into a U.S. Nationals. Since the new rules have been implemented adopting the 85-percent fuel and the tire, we haven't run quite as well as we did before that. We used the test session at Indy to get us back to the competitive numbers we ran before the rules changes."
After a series of strong, consistent performances tallied since July's Mile-High Nationals in Denver, Colo., Ron Krisher is confident that his Valvoline Chevy Cavalier is ready to make a trek toward the front of the Pro Stock pack. Krisher's run fast at IRP before earning a runner-up finish in 2000 and low qualifying honors in 2002.
"I'm confident we'll be competitive at this year's race," said Krisher. "We've qualified fifth, seventh, eighth, pretty close to the top half at every race since Denver, with the exception of Seattle. We've been consistent. We've been running the backhalf with Greg (Anderson) and the only car running faster out the back is (Dave) Connolly. The IRP surface looks like it's going to be a lot different than anything we've raced on this year, and I think a lot of people that didn't test here are going to wish they would have. I guess we'll know more after the first qualifying session on Friday.
"We've been on the brink of winning this race a couple of times, and we need to follow through and take one home. We have some good power and I think we're going to do well here. Starting at Denver we've been able to pick it up quite a bit, but it's tough out here. You know (Dave) Connolly and Stevie Johns have picked up, then there's Jason (Line) and Greg (Anderson) and all of (Larry) Morgan's stuff. Those cars and a whole lot more are running real fast, and you can expect them to stay fast when we get to Indy."
Pro Stock points leader Greg Anderson fully understands the importance of winning the U.S. Nationals. The Pontiac Grand Am driver raced in his first career final round at Indy in 1999 when he was runner-up to perennial favorite Warren Johnson. Anderson then went on to win the U.S. Nationals in 2001, and captured his second IRP victory during last year's championship season, setting the track speed record in the process at 205.01 mph. A win at this year's race would be his 13th of 2004 and would tie John Force for most victories in a season by a professional driver.
"I said last year that winning the championship is the main goal, but if you don't have the U.S. Nationals in your win column, the title feels a little empty," explained Anderson. "Indy's just so doggone special that it's almost as important for us to win this race as it is to win the championship. Every thing about this race feels tougher, harder, more important, it's a marathon unlike any other place we compete. After three days of trying to qualifying you come in here on Monday morning feeling absolutely wiped out. But you have to dig down deep to find enough to get up for the eliminator. It's the closest thing we have to an endurance race, and if you can win the U.S. Nationals it's a heck of an accomplishment."
Drivers quotes from IRP Test Session, Aug. 24 - 25.
Ron Capps, Skoal Racing Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car - "The cool part about the test session is that we were able to run all the way up until 8 o'clock, and that will help us prepare for the night qualifying sessions. This year we don't have just one night run but two, on both Friday and Saturday. The night runs are the rounds where you better take your shot and make your best qualifying run. Rarely do we get to test at night and this was a great opportunity to practice in those conditions. On Tuesday we got to learn about some things we wanted to try, and overall it was a great test session for us. If you look at a history of the U.S. Nationals you see races won in a number of different conditions, hot and humid so to speak, where the fastest cars went out early on Monday. I feel like we're going to be prepared for just about anything Mother Nature throws at us. This would be a big one for us to win. We're not in the points chase this year, and because of the historical aspects of this race, it's a trophy we'd like to put on the mantle. If you're not having a great year then Indy can save your season. We're still fine-tuning our Chevy Monte Carlo, and from here on out you're going to see fast tracks. A good showing at the U.S. Nationals would be a nice way to kick it into the final few events of the year."
Phil Burkart, Checker, Schuck's & Kragen Chevy Monte Carlo - "Probably one of the biggest reasons I'm looking forward to this year's race is that I'm with a team that is capable of winning it. We have two wins already this year, our CSK Chevrolet is qualified eighth for the Skoal Funny Car Showdown, we have a pretty good record and we have a lot of confidence. By attending the IRP open-test session, it puts us at a huge advantage over the teams that didn't test. The more runs you can make the better off you are, and it helps you come together on your tune-up, especially now with the 85-percent rule and the new tire rules. I think a couple of teams may have figured it out a little quicker than we have so this was a much-needed test session. We're trying to get more power into the motor and learn how to run the clutch with the new tire. Winning this race would be the high point of my career. Even to come out here and be respectable would be a big boost. That's why the test was so important. Even though the points are the same, the U.S. Nationals isn't just another race. You like to win them along the way, but to say you're the 2004 U.S. Nationals champion carries a whole different level of clout."
Tony Pedregon, Quaker State Chevy Monte Carlo - "It seems like every new venue I've gone to the reception from the fans has been great. They understand that a new company has become involved in the sport, and they see the growth and what that means for NHRA Drag Racing. For me, it's being able to control my own destiny. We're doing some things in the clutch and the bell housing to make some improvements to the Quaker State Chevrolet and to try and make the car a little more consistent. The biggest challenge for us has been the second round, that dreaded second round. Because we don't have the data or anything from last year, we're constantly having to make our best educated guess on how to pull enough power out when the air and the track heat up. We've been making some strides in the last few races, but we're still discovering some items that will enhance our performance. Our goal is to come to Indy and be a solid competitor."
Cruz Pedregon, Advance Auto Parts Chevy Monte Carlo - "This race is its own little championship, and at IRP it's all about going fast. This track, more than any other one, kind of hangs in there with the heat. We have two night sessions this year and since positioning yourself as high as you can in the field is a primary goal, it's going to take a big number. The weather during testing cooperated and kind of simulated those nighttime conditions. We're trying to hit the big numbers, and our incremental times indicated that the Advanced Auto Parts Chevrolet was running somewhere in the high 4.70s during testing - you can understand why we're a little excited. If you can get the top spot or qualify in the first four or five positions, that kind of sets you up nicely for raceday and that is where you need to be."
Greg Anderson, Summit Racing Pontiac Grand Am - "The test session enabled us to get a handle on the weather and the track conditions. The weather conditions were all over the map, which is what you would expect in Indiana this time of year. The track threw us a curve and had us guessing if that is what it will be when we come back. They're kind of prepping the tracks a little differently for the Fuel cars, and it's making us adapt, hoping that things will be pretty much the same when we return. That's why it's important to run here, and we're betting what we learned at the test will help us come race weekend."
The 50th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park on Sept. 1 - 6, is the 18th race on the 23-event NHRA POWERade tour. Qualifying highlights for the U.S. Nationals will be telecast on Saturday, Sept. 4, beginning at 5 p.m. Additional qualifying highlights will be carried on ESPN on Sunday, Sept. 5, beginning at 1 p.m., and then again on ESPN2, with coverage of the Skoal Funny Car shootout starting at 5 p.m. Early coverage of eliminations can be seen on ESPN2 on Monday, Sept. 6, beginning at 11 a.m. with final-round coverage starting at 7 p.m. (All times Eastern)
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