Pontiac Gateway Preview

SEARS CRAFTSMAN NATIONALS GATEWAY TO THE WESTERN SWING ST. LOUIS, Mo. (June 18, 1998)—The 1998 NHRA drag racing season reaches its halfway point next weekend at the Sears Craftsman Nationals at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill.,...

SEARS CRAFTSMAN NATIONALS GATEWAY TO THE WESTERN SWING

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (June 18, 1998)—The 1998 NHRA drag racing season reaches its halfway point next weekend at the Sears Craftsman Nationals at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill., the stepping stone to the three-race summer "Western Swing." Already, Pontiac is off to another exciting start. The Detroit auto manufacturer and Official Car of the NHRA has charged towards the front of the pack in the three professional categories, promising to make life difficult for the rest of the competition.

In 1997, Pontiac won the NHRA’s Manufacturer’s championship for the second consecutive year after compiling 32 professional category victories in 61 final-round appearances. Pontiac drivers started Sunday eliminations from the No. 1 position 30 times, and the Sportsman racers added another 23 national event victories to the total, with Pontiac setting new high performance standards on almost every race track on the circuit.

This season, the Firebird’s dominance continues. After ten national events and the Winston Invitational non-points meet, Pontiac has racked up 16 wins in 27 final rounds while claiming the No. 1 qualifying spot 17 times, statistics reconfirming Pontiac’s position as the premier manufacturer in the series.

In Pro Stock…

Warren Johnson – Johnson’s GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird sits at the top of the Winston standings after scoring wins at Richmond, Houston, Gainesville and Phoenix. He has also knocked down the No. 1 qualifying position at four national events and started Sunday eliminations from the top half of the field at every race. At the Gatornationals in March, the three-time Winston champion (1992-93, 1995) continued his relentless assault on the record book by resetting the national record for elapsed time at 6.873 seconds and top speed at 201.20 mph, shattering the records he established last year at Richmond. Johnson is the defending champion at the Sears Craftsman Nationals.

"We’ve always approached racing to getting there first and not really caring how fast we’re going when we get there. If you can maintain a relatively high acceleration rate over the full course instead of just the first eighth-mile then yes, you’ll get a better elapsed-time along with the speed. If you’re approaching racing the way we do, this is our vocation, our business. We have to look at the big picture. We have to look at the number of wins we can possibly get during the year, maximize that and hopefully, that will result in a championship."

Jim Yates – The two-time defending Winston champion currently has his Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird in third place in the points standings. He is coming off a runner-up performance at the Pontiac Excitement Nationals on June 14 along with a win at the first race of the season at Pomona. He was also runner-up at Phoenix and Gainesville. He has qualified in the top half of the field at six national events and at the Sears Craftsman Nationals last year, he started the race from the No. 1 position and was runner-up to Warren Johnson.

"There are so many cars running real close together and every car is qualifying within three or four hundredths of a second at almost every event we go to. But that’s where this sport is headed. The way the Pro Stock field is, there’s so much parity and there are so many cars so close together, every time somebody runs faster, everybody else just steps in to fill the void. The numbers just keep getting faster and faster and it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better, you can take that to the bank!"

Tom Martino – A new addition to Team Pontiac this year, Martino’s Six Flags Firebird has quickly made its presence felt with a runner-up finish at Richmond. He is currently eighth in the Winston standings.

"We’re just ecstatic with the performance of the engine in the Six Flags Pontiac over the last couple of races. We’ve nicknamed it T-Rex because of my youngest son Vincent’s love for dinosaurs plus the fact that it’s been running like a monster lately. We also seem to have gotten a handle on getting the power to the ground. We really think we have a good shot in St. Louis and if we’re racing on Sunday, anything can happen."

Bruce Allen – Outlaw Fuel Additives, a division of Pennzoil, jumped on board the Reher-Morrison Firebird at the beginning of the season and Allen rewarded them with a runner-up finish at the Fram Nationals in Atlanta. He is currently ninth in the Winston standings.

"Our season has been somewhat disappointing from a qualifying standpoint, but I think that once we qualify, we usually do pretty good. There are a lot of good quality cars this year. I think our weak point has been not making the run when we needed to or possibly not making big enough changes to adapt to the changing track conditions, or air conditions."

George Marnell – Marnell is also a new member of the Team Pontiac Pro Stock contingency this season. His Tenneco Firebird has shown consistency all year and remains a legitimate contender at every race.

"We feel that the Sears Craftsman Nationals is going to be a huge stepping stone for us. We haven’t run very well at the last couple of races and we feel that our Tenneco Firebird is ready to break out. We’ve done a lot of testing, made some adjustments and we’re confident that this car is ready to go down the race track."

Mark Pawuk – Pawuk’s Summit Racing Pontiac Firebird has charged into the top 10 for the first time since 1997. His season was sidetracked last year when he totaled his car during testing at Woodburn (OR) just days before the Northwest Nationals in Seattle.

"I still think a top-five finish is possible this year. I think that as competitive as our sport is, and all of the people qualifying and not qualifying, we have to have consistency which we’re starting to get, and I need to work on my driving, which I have been. Our goal every weekend is to try and go out and win. We’re coming to St. Louis hoping we make the right calls and get a good run Friday night. If we can do that, we’ll be awfully strong."

In Funny Car…

Cruz Pedregon – The Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird pilot has blazed his way to third place in the Winston standings with wins at Gainesville, Rockingham and Atlanta. At the first ten races of the season, and the Winston Invitational, Pedregon has qualified No. 1 eight times including the last four races in a row! At Houston Raceway in March, he shattered the national elapsed-time record by scorching the quarter-mile with a run of 4.819 seconds.

"It’s been a total team effort. This program is completely better. The main ingredient I’ve been pointing my finger to is Wes Cerny. The acquisition of Wes was the No. 1 goal of mine and Joe Gibbs and was absolutely essential if we wanted to compete for the championship. We are sitting here today with the national record and one of the best running Funny Cars in the business. That’s saying a lot because there are a lot of tough customers out there."

Tim Wilkerson – You can’t call Tim Wilkerson a dark horse anymore because the fact of the matter is, he hasn’t been able to sneak up on anybody in a long time. One of Funny Car’s future stars and currently fifth in the Winston standings, Wilkerson has qualified his Firebird in the top five at eight of the first ten races. He was runner-up last year at the U.S. Nationals and finished second this year at Pomona and Richmond.

"I fully expected that we would be running consistent and winning rounds. I don’t want to sound cocky or arrogant, but that is what we are fully capable of doing. There’s a lot of money and talent in this program and when you examine this team closely, it shouldn’t surprise anybody when we do as well as we do. As I come around as a driver, I think you’ll see this team do even better."

Al Hofmann – Hofmann’s Firebird secured major funding from GM Performance Parts in March, enabling the perennial fan favorite to continue pursuit of his first Winston title. At the Winternationals, Hofmann stunned the racing world with a run of 4.862 seconds, the quickest pass for a Funny Car at that time and good enough for the No. 1 qualifying spot. He came back two weeks later to grab his second consecutive No. 1 qualifying start at the ATSCO Nationals in Phoenix.

"We were pretty close to not coming back this year and when we were at the Winston Finals, we really debated on what we were going to do. What convinced us to come back was the support we received from Pontiac and the way they stood behind us through thick and thin. We’ve worked on some things over the winter to make this car a contender and I feel that we have the car and the team to win the championship."

Randy Anderson – Anderson’s Parts America Pontiac Firebird is 10th in the Winston standings with the team looking to win their first race of the season. Anderson is coming off a disappointing DNQ in Columbus and hopes to get the program turned towards the winner’s circle at St. Louis.

"I think you can be overanxious, but as a driver, I just go up and do what I’m supposed to do. We had some consistency problems with the Funny Car at the end of last year that cost us. We were in the top half and we struggled at the end of the season. We’ve done a lot of testing early on this year and we are still struggling with consistency. You can become too anxious, but we’ve been patient; at least as much as you can be with a 6000 horsepower race car."

Del Worsham – Worsham began racing with a new 1998 Firebird body at Englishtown last month with his fortunes taking a turn for the better with the change. At the Fram Route 66 Nationals in Chicago, the 28-year-old California Funny Car driver advanced to the final round before losing to Whit Bazemore.

"We didn’t get too greedy in Chicago, but if you’re not out here to win then you might as well go home. We felt good about our effort, we earned our way into the finals with some solid wins and we didn’t get any free passes. The next time, we want to put our Firebird in the winner’s circle because once you get this far, the only thing you can think about is winning."

Dale Creasy – The Creasy Racing Pontiac Firebird operates on a shoestring budget, but in 1998, they’ve been able to produce Herculean results, qualifying at every race with the exception of the Fram Route 66 Nationals in Chicago.

"So far, we’ve had a pretty good year. We’re going out and qualifying at every race and we’re not hurting a lot of parts. Our goal at every track is to get qualified early, evaluate our situation and then go at it hard on Sunday. Some of these teams with the big budgets look at us and may think that we’re a pushover. They had better be careful because anytime you race us you can count on one thing, and that’s the fact that this Firebird will get down the race track. We don’t have a lot of whistles and bells, but if you stumble against us, we’re going to take you out!"

In Top Fuel…

Cory McClenathan – The McDonald’s/Pontiac Top Fuel dragster remains entrenched in first place after early season victories at Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta and Richmond. McClenathan ran 322.91 mph at Phoenix in February and continues to maintain the high performance standards established last season by the Joe Gibbs racing team.

"Usually we don’t start off this well. We’ve always been kind of a late comer in the season. I feel real comfortable knowing that we have a good strong race car to begin with. The standings are very close and there are some other cars that are going to come on real strong. There are just a lot of good teams, but I like it being this close actually. I’d hate to be way ahead and be looking over my shoulder. Gary (Scelzi) had to do that last year with us winning all of those back-to-back races and coming on strong at the end of the season. I’d rather have it close right now, but things will change during this next swing coming up. We’ll have to wait and see, but it’s going to be a long, tough year."

Shelly Anderson – Anderson’s Parts America/Pontiac Top Fuel dragster is beginning to hit stride. Although failing to qualify at the first four races of the season, Shelly has started to run the big numbers that other teams expect from one of the premier programs in the sport.

"We want to win so bad right now. Maybe we didn’t appreciate it as much as we should have. Everyone on this team doesn’t just want to win, we want to dominate. We don’t just want to drive good, we want to have top speed and low ET. It’s always nice to go to a race and have a shot at winning. Growing up in a racing family you learn that you never go to an event just to qualify. If you do that, you’re never going to win."

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Mark Pawuk , Warren Johnson , Al Hofmann , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Cruz Pedregon , Cory McClenathan , Bruce Allen , Tom Martino , Tim Wilkerson , George Marnell , Shelly Anderson