POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 9) -- Showing a flair for the dramatic, Top Fuel driver Don Lampus waited until the fourth and final session of professional qualifying to drive his Mothers Against Drunk Driving dragster to the preferred top half of the elimination field. After struggling with the new-generation Goodyear racing slicks in the first three sessions, Lampus finally rode crew chief Wayne Dupuy's competitive tune-up to a 4.604 at 307.30 mph in Round 4 to nail down the seventh position in the field.

Lampus entered the final session near the bottom of the qualified pool of drivers in the 15th spot but the team's extra effort at the end of the day earned the Dallas-based pro lane choice over No. 10 qualifier Doug Herbert (4.653 at 315.93 mph) in tomorrow's opening round of eliminations. Lane choice seems to be critical here as many cars, including Lampus' MADD machine, struggled to get down the right side of the track.

"I really hated to wait until the last minute to do that," Lampus said, "but I sure am smiling now. It would have been good to do that right out of the trailer Thursday so we could have used that run as a baseline to tune from but we didn't test this off-season so basically our first three runs were test runs."

Dupuy also pointed to the team's inactive off-season as the reason behind the team's early struggles. "We're running the car for the first time since last season against guys that have 40-50 test runs," Dupuy said. "That's where funding can really help a team. We were definitely a little behind, especially with the new tires the NHRA has mandated. I knew we had the horsepower to earn a top-half spot; it just took us awhile to get it onto the race track. At least we're going home happy tonight, which is always a good thing."

"I had complete confidence in Wayne-o and the rest of the guys that we would improve," Lampus said. "As it turns out, we needed to pick it up or we would have been bumped out completely. That would have been tough to take.

"We're thrilled now because we're in a position to go rounds tomorrow and get a bunch of exposure on ESPN. We need funding, that was painfully obvious this weekend. So the more time we can get in front of the cameras, the more Corporate America will see us. Hopefully, someone out there will see what we're doing and want to get involved with our MADD youth education program."

Primetime elimination coverage of the 42nd annual K&N Filters Winternationals runs from 5-7 p.m., Sunday, on ESPN. The eliminations will be rebroadcast from 3-5 a.m., Monday, Feb. 11, on ESPN, and again from 4-6 a.m., Friday, Feb. 15, on ESPN2. Times are listed in Eastern Standard Time.

-gm racing-