Memories abound at Englishtown for Team Pennzoil

Memories abound at Englishtown ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. (May 18) - The historic quarter mile strip of Old Bridge Township Raceway Park has produced many unforgettable moments for Team Pennzoil. Now, as the professional drivers that don...

Memories abound at Englishtown

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. (May 18) - The historic quarter mile strip of Old Bridge Township Raceway Park has produced many unforgettable moments for Team Pennzoil. Now, as the professional drivers that don Pennzoil's colors every weekend head back to the facility for the 30th Annual Mopar Parts Nationals, which take place Thursday through Sunday, they each took a moment to reflect on their favorite Garden State memory.

Eddie Hill, the pilot of the Pennzoil Top Fuel Dragster, immediately starts to grin when he thinks of Englishtown. Aside from the fun he had reaching the finals and collecting a runner-up finish in 1988, Hill is always eager to tell the story of a hair-raising race he had against the legendary Dick LaHaie in 1987.

"Whenever someone says =91Englishtown' I immediately think of that race against Dick," Hill said. "We were having a pretty normal race weekend until we lined up with Dick. He had been running extremely well and was the event's defending runner-up so we really tweaked the car as much as we could to get ready for him. We knew he'd be tough and we wanted to show the fans that we could stay with him.

"Well the car launched real hard and immediately the wheels raised up higher than I like for them to. I stayed after it and instead of them going down they started going higher up. Once I reached about a 45-degree angle, I had to let off the throttle because I thought she would blow-over. Then just as the wheels got close to the ground I hit it again and continued to carry the front end until it raised up too high again. So, once again, I let off and then, once again, I got back on the throttle before the wheels touched the ground and we just kept on going.

"Eventually the weight balance of the car came around and she finally put all four tires down on the track at about the 1,000-foot mark and I finished the run. Everybody was going crazy. All the Safety Safari guys, all the people working at the track, all the fans, even (NHRA president) Dallas Gardner came down out of the tower and told me that was the most exciting thing he'd ever seen in his life. We had just about covered the whole strip on two wheels.

"It's such a great memory that we hung up a photo of that run at the house where the car is way down-track and the wheels are still about eight feet off the ground. I see it every day."

The 63-year-old legend enters this race with no thoughts of duplicating that particular run. However, he is showing signs of taking a serious charge at the event's title. Hill is coming off a semifinal appearance at the last event in Atlanta and is currently 10th in the Winston championship points standings with six elimination round wins in six races to his credit.

Bruce Allen, the driver of The Outlaw Fuel Additives Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird, can easily recite a multitude of noteworthy races he's had at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. But mixed in amongst his two wins (1989 and '85) and four runner-up finishes (1997, '92, ' 91 and '87) is Allen's all-time favorite memory - his first national event win.

"It was 1978," Allen said. "I was 28-years-old and I was driving a 1964 Corvette in the Modified class. I had reached the finals on Sunday and I was all alone in my pit trying to get ready to race Garlie Daniels, who's the father of (Pro Stock Truck driver) Randy Daniels. I had been to a couple of finals but hadn't won yet so I was plenty nervous.

"Well just as they were calling us up to the staging lanes it started to rain. So we had to sit there and wait. Eventually, they postponed everything until Monday. I can tell you that turned out to be the worst night of sleep I've ever had.

"The next day when we raced Garlie missed a gear and I won. I was so excited that I couldn't sleep that next night either. But I know I'll never forget that weekend."

Allen is hoping for another unforgettable weekend this time around. "That track is close to sea-level and it's really well maintained," he said. "Our Outlaw machine really showed some improvement in Atlanta and we're hoping for bigger and better things in E-Town. "

Mike Thomas, the driver of the Pennzoil Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird, doesn't have to go very far back to recall his best weekend in New Jersey. Competing in the first Pro Stock Shootout of his seven-year career and fighting out of the eighth and final qualifying position, Thomas had the dubious distinction of facing Winston points leader and No. 1 qualifier Warren Johnson in the first round of the invitation-only event.

"Warren and I had raced in the finals of the Houston race a few months earlier and he had beaten me," Thomas said. "But it was a close race and, although I didn't say it out loud, I thought I had a chance of evening the score in Englishtown if I did everything right.

"He had psyched me out in Houston by taking a long time to stage and it distracted me long enough that he got the jump on me and won. This time when I got up to the line I took three deep breaths and told myself that there was no way he was going to get me twice."

With a nationwide audience looking on, Thomas blasted Johnson at the starting line with a 0.462-second launch to Johnson's 0.510-second start and went on to win by a car length, 7.017 seconds to 7.045 seconds. "It was the biggest win of my career to that point," Thomas said.

In 1999, Thomas will again take part in the special event, which invites only the top eight qualifiers from the last 22 races. This time Thomas will start out of the top half of the field against Richie "The Kid" Stevens.

"There won't be as much pressure this time around," Thomas said. "But I'd still like to do better and win the whole event, not just one round. And then win the regular race as well. We have the car to do it and Englishtown is one of the best tracks we race on. I'm ready to go."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Thomas , Warren Johnson , Randy Daniels , Dick LaHaie , Bruce Allen