Joliet: Team Panella-Holley Dominator Duel, final qualifying

Joliet, Ill. - - Jeff Gracia, from Ontario, Calif., drove his Panella Trucking GMC Sonoma Pro Stock Truck to victory today in the Holley Dominator Duel. Gracia earned a $20,000 payday by defeating Todd Patterson, from Augusta, Kan., in a Dodge ...

Joliet, Ill. - - Jeff Gracia, from Ontario, Calif., drove his Panella Trucking GMC Sonoma Pro Stock Truck to victory today in the Holley Dominator Duel. Gracia earned a $20,000 payday by defeating Todd Patterson, from Augusta, Kan., in a Dodge Dakota R/T.

The Holley Pro Stock Truck Dominator Duel is a special, non-point earning event held in conjunction with the Lucas Oil Products Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., just outside Chicago. The Duel matches the eight Pro Stock Truck drivers who have accumulated the most points during the Duel series - - from last year's Prestone Route 66 Nationals (Chicago) through last week's Advance Auto Parts Nationals (Topeka, Kan.).

After defeating Mike Coughlin, from Columbus, Ohio, in the opening round and Team Panella "Boss" Bob Panella, Jr., in the semifinals, Gracia made his best pass of the weekend in the final round of the Duel, when he defeated Patterson. It was the first win for the GMC Sonoma in drag racing, maybe in motorsports.

"I didn't even know who won when I crossed the finish line in that final round," expounded a jubilant Gracia. "The TV crew and photographers had to tell me that I won. It's a great win for Team Panella, for GMC, and for me, too.

"This was a good day for the entire Panella Trucking race team, and it's quite an accomplishment winning this Holley Dominator Duel. We caught a break when Bob had his problems in the semi's, and then in the finals we just had a good, close race. That was just a good ol' fashion race between manufacturers, GMC Sonoma over Dodge. I'm in select company with Bobby (Panella) winning the first Dominator Duel and Randy Daniels winning last year. And it's great that we got GMC Sonoma its first win. Hopefully we'll need some more of these GMC winner's circle hats before the year's out."

After qualifying fourth in 1999, Panella won the first Pro Stock Truck Duel when he defeated Jerry Haas, from Fenton, Mo. He then went on and won the "double-up bonus" by winning the Fram Route 66 Nationals the same weekend. Last year the two-time and reigning NHRA Winston Pro Stock Truck champion qualified number one and finished runner up to Randy Daniels, from Grantsboro, N.C.

Once again this year, Panella qualified number one. He defeated the Chevy S-10 of John Coughlin, from Columbus, Ohio., then lost to teammate Gracia in the semifinals.

"On one hand I hate to lose anytime, but to lose to my teammate makes it a semi-sweet situation. I've been having trouble in that left lane all weekend. The truck wants to launch toward the left wall. I need to get that straightened out before tomorrow or it could be a long day," said Panella. "I'm happy that Jeff got his first win in a prestigious event like the Holley Dominator Duel. It's the first of many for him."

This marks Panella's third appearance in the Duel. For teammate Gracia it's his first. The passes during the first and second round of the Duel counted toward qualifying for the Lucas Oil Products Nationals. As a result, Panella qualified number two with a pass of 7.442 seconds at 181.67 mph and Gracia number five with a run of 7.448 seconds at 181.98 for tomorrow's eliminations. Gracia's speed of 181.98 mph is a career best.

Panella will face Ruben Celedon, from Edinburg, Texas, in the opening round. Meanwhile, Gracia will square off against Bart Price, from Hayward, Calif., as eliminations get underway for the Lucas Oil Products Nationals title. Panella and Celedon have never met in head-to-head competition, while Gracia holds a three win against no losses edge over Price.

-Team Panella

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Panella , Ruben Celedon , Jeff Gracia , Randy Daniels , Mike Coughlin , Jerry Haas