RICHMOND, Va. (April 25, 2000) - If the past is any indication of what the future may bring, then expect record-setting times and top speeds this weekend at the 6th Annual Moto1.net NHRA Nationals on April 27-30 at Virginia Motorsports...
RICHMOND, Va. (April 25, 2000) - If the past is any indication of what the future may bring, then expect record-setting times and top speeds this weekend at the 6th Annual Moto1.net NHRA Nationals on April 27-30 at Virginia Motorsports Park. It is the sixth race on the 23-event NHRA Winston championship tour and a venue where historically, atmospheric and track conditions have been tailor-made for the naturally-aspirated engines of the factory hot rods .
In Pro Stock…
GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird driver Warren Johnson knows what top speeds are all about at Virginia Motorsports Park winning four out of the last five races there. At last year's event, the "Professor of Pro Stock" set what was then a national record of 202.24 mph, which he broke later in the season at the MatcoTools SuperNationals in Houston. It was also at Richmond in 1997 that Johnson became the first NHRA Pro Stock driver to exceed the 200-mph barrier with a run topping out at 200.13 mph. This year, the five-time Pro Stock champion scored a victory in March at the Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., was runner up at Pomona and Las Vegas and is currently second in the points standings. "We're hanging in there, and that's the most important thing," noted Johnson. "We feel pretty fortunate to be in the second spot right now with all of the problems we've encountered in the last few months. That's just the way it is, we'll be all right and have it figured out by Richmond. We'll definitely be competitive. "It's not going to be a two-car race this year. I guarantee that there will be another three or four cars in that mix by the end of the season. If you look at how strong the category is with the 16 cars that qualify, the people that do a good job driving, and as a team maintaining these cars between rounds, and addressing changing track conditions, there's enough intelligence out there to give us a very interesting season. I've been enjoying what I do out here and if someone does a better job, then so be it. That just means we didn't do a good enough job. We'll just try and shore up our weak spots and try to keep the strong points where they are."
Heading into Richmond, there are seven Pontiac Firebird drivers in the Winston top 10 including Summit Racing's Mark Pawuk who currently finds himself third in the points standings behind Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Warren Johnson. Pawuk's Pontiac Firebird has qualified strong all season, reached the final round at Phoenix and then scored a pair of strong semifinal round performances at Las Vegas and Houston. "As far as being consistent, I've been cutting the lights when I've needed to, and when you continue to go rounds good things will happen," Pawuk said. "We're way ahead of where we were last year, and we're pleased with our program right now. We're solid in the points and keep trucking along, but we need to maintain that momentum for the rest of the season. It's been a great start - two semifinal appearances and a final round for the Summit Racing/Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird in the first five races, so that's not too bad. We don't have a win yet this year, but when you keep going rounds I have to think it's going to happen. "That little bit of advantage we seem to have had last year in performance appears to be gone. We're right there near the front of the pack, but don't have the slight advantage over some of the cars that we had a year ago. It's great for the sport though. The Pro Stock class is by far the most competitive category in drag racing."
Jim Yates will make the short drive down I-95 from his home in Alexandria, Va., for this weekend's race. The two-time Winston champion is coming off a runner-up performance in Houston where his Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird marched to the No. 1 qualifying position, Yates second pole position in 2000. His effort at the O'Reilly Nationals has moved him into fifth place in the Pro Stock standings. "Bob (Ingles) keeps building us good power and the Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird has been running awfully strong. It's just a matter of getting the breaks to fall our way. We have a whole new combination in the car right now and it seems to be responding fairly well. It's just a matter of going to Richmond and doing the same thing we did at Houston. We have a whole new combination on the car, and we just have to run it in some different track conditions. "We have to be thankful that in Houston we advanced as far as we did. We went a lot of rounds there, and we made a lot of progress to get back to where we need to be at the top of the points list, but it will still take some time to get the experience with this car that they have with their car. Our learning curve is pretty much straight up right now. We're gaining on it pretty quick. We just have to remain consistent. Runner-up is not bad. When you go to the finals it shows you're gaining on a lot of people."
Expect Bruce Allen to break out with a strong performance at Richmond. The driver of the Reher-Morrison Pontiac Firebird stands ninth in the point standings and is looking for the right combination that will carry him to the top of the ladder. "The progress from last year is unbelievable -- we've made great strides with the Reher-Morrison Firebird," said Allen. "But like anything, once you start doing better, you want to do more. With hindsight being 20/20, just a few thousandths and we could've been in a couple of final rounds by now. When running against Warren (Johnson) in the first round at Pomona, I lost by a few thousandths of a second and Warren ended up going on to the final round. That doesn't mean that we would have made it that far if things had been different in that first round, but Warren and I certainly had the best race at Pomona. We just need to work harder and go faster so we can get some of those breaks. We're so close in being able to break through to the final round to win a race, but we're still not quite there and right now, that is very frustrating. "In the last couple of years, even though we struggled, we knew we had to be out there racing and working on our cars and engines to get to where we could win those close games in the ninth inning. I think we're there now. The difference is our mind-set. Before when we went out to compete we felt like we had to be really lucky to win a race or even win a round. Now that's not the case. We're fast enough to go out and win those rounds and win a race without being lucky. We can win a race just by being the fastest car on any given Sunday and that definitely makes it much more enjoyable."
Century 21 Pontiac driver Tom Martino hopes to get back on track at Virginia Motorsports Park. He qualified twelfth and lost in the first round to Mark Pawuk. He currently stands tenth in the point standings, but the potential is there for the Bob Cave-tuned Firebird to make big strides over the next few weeks. "What we have to do is make sure we qualify in the top half and get lane choice," explained Martino. "I know we're going to do some testing before Richmond to see if we can get this Century 21 Firebird running like it was a few races ago. I'm confident we'll get it figured out, it's just a matter of how soon we'll do it."
In Funny Car…
Every time Al Hofmann straps into his new 2000 Pontiac Firebird Funny Car, he knows that he has a racecar and a crew chief in Jim Dunn that can win races. The performance of Hofmann's Moonneye's/Red Line Oil Pontiac is beginning to pick up steam which was evident at the series' last event in Houston. Hofmann qualified sixth running an elapsed time of 4.918 before losing in Sunday eliminations to Tony Pedregon. Hofmann's 15 career victories place him sixth on the NHRA's all-time list for wins by a Funny Car driver. His opponents know that the he has the driving tenacity and skill to win on any given Sunday. "I can see this Mooneyes Firebird coming around more and more every weekend," said Hofmann. "You're going to see a big improvement in this program the closer we get towards the summer months. This new 2000 Firebird body is making a big, big difference on the difficult racetracks with its downforce and to be quite honestly, we couldn't ask for a better car." "I have so much confidence in Jim (Dunn) as an owner and crew chief. He has an excellent crew working for him. I know we can make the allotted time in between rounds and have the confidence to go in, not worry about qualifying and be focused on winning a race. That's something I've been lacking now for about three or four years. In 1995 we had a real strong year, and part of 1996, but pretty much fell off after Tom Anderson (crew chief) left. Ninety percent of these cars going down the track are crew chiefs, and right now I couldn't ask for a better one. I wish I'd done this ten years ago with Jim (Dunn). I really enjoy racing with him; he's a great person to be associated with and I couldn't ask for a better deal going right now."
Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac driver Del Worsham feels that consistency as much as horsepower will be the key to snaring his first victory of the season at Virginia Motorsports Park. Driving the new 2000 Firebird body along with teammate Frank Pedregon, the "California Kid" is seventh in the Winston points standings after qualifying fourth at Houston with a career-best elapsed time of 4.894 seconds. "We are taking a golf approach," said Worsham. "You know you have to relax and take an easy swing, and then it flies right down the fairway. If you try too hard to muscle it, you mess up. So we actually just relaxed the tune-up a little, and the Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird loved it. By being less aggressive, it frees it up. We need to find the key to getting this car to consistently get to the 300-foot mark. After that point on the track we're fine, but we have to find a way to get consistent at the hit. Now that we know we can run this quick, we need to just keep on doing it on a consistent basis. "We've kept the red car in the middle of the Top 10 all year so far, and I think we're pretty much where we're supposed to be. Starting in Richmond, we've got one small trend to reverse: we've got to get back to winning rounds. We won rounds at each of the first three races, then we qualified well in Las Vegas and lost in Round 1. We qualified great in Houston, and lost again in the first round. Frankly, I'd really rather be good than lucky. But I wouldn't mind being both."
Dale Creasy Jr., driver of the Mad Magazine Pontiac Firebird, has had his share of emotional ups and downs in 2000, but is keeping his spirits high and remaining positive as he eyes the rest of the season's schedule. The Creasy Family Racing team decided to forego the Houston event after a catastrophic fire destroyed their mad Magazine Firebird in Las Vegas. But you can't keep a good team down, especially one as determined and this band of Windy City racers. "We think we can get this Mad Magazine Pontiac Firebird figured out and be ready to go at Richmond," Creasy said. "This year, I've been improving on my reaction times. I'm continuing to learn and that's a never-ending process. But the more I have an opportunity to drive the car the better feel I have from race to race, and I'm learning to be able to catch the car a lot better when it begins to lose traction. "Even though we don't have the budget to compete with some of the well-funded teams, there isn't a whole lot we don't have, we just don't have the quantity of parts that some of the teams do. Last year, making four qualifying runs was a luxury and wasn't something we did unless we absolutely had too. If we can build an inventory of parts that will sustain us through the year, then we'll be able to make more passes and that will make for a better team, better numbers and a better position in the Funny Car standings."
Frank Pedregon, driver of the Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac is still looking for an improvement in his raceday performance, but is happy with how the new 2000 Firebird is handling. "The Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird is so sweet right now, it's just running so well and so easy," said Pedregon. "It's going to be a big step for us when we start winning rounds, and we're completely ready to do that. If our improvement curve keeps going like it is, we're going to be very much in the middle of things here very shortly. "Over the course of the last few races, Dave Fletcher (crew chief) has given me a car that's about as consistent as anything in the Funny Car class. When I'm strapped in the car and ready to run, I fully expect to go to the other end under power. The blue team has been getting me there so often, it's like 'There you go, another full lap' each time. And now we're getting quicker and quicker, with a 4.92 and a 4.98 in Houston. Del has been quick enough all year to win rounds, and he has. We've been quick enough to beat anyone for the last couple of races, and we're going to start winning in Richmond."
The 6th Annual Moto1.net NHRA Nationals presented by Chevrolet at Virginia Motorsports Park in Dinwiddie, Virginia, on April 27-30, is the sixth race on the 23-event NHRA Winston Championship tour. Same-day television coverage can be seen on TNN on Sunday, April 30, beginning at 4:30 p.m. Eastern.