Richmond Team Pennzoil to Turn Up Heat

Pennzoil Nationals title team to turn up heat RICHMOND, Va. (April 27) -- The professional drag racers of Team Pennzoil have made one thing very clear as they head into Virginia Motorsports Park for the Fifth Annual Pennzoil Nationals presented...

Pennzoil Nationals title team to turn up heat

RICHMOND, Va. (April 27) -- The professional drag racers of Team Pennzoil have made one thing very clear as they head into Virginia Motorsports Park for the Fifth Annual Pennzoil Nationals presented by Trak Auto - they will stop at nothing to put their title sponsor in the Winner's Circle on Sunday evening.

"There comes a time when you have to just win a race," said Pennzoil-sponsored driver Bruce Allen, who captains The Outlaw Fuel Additives Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird. "After all, that's what we're paid to do, win races. And it might as well be here at out title race. There are other aspects of our jobs that we are constantly executing. Being a spokesperson for Pennzoil, always presenting a top-caliber race team, interacting with clients and fans. But you can never escape the fact that our first job is to win races. That's exactly what Eddie (Hill), Mike (Thomas) and I all plan to do at this race. Win it."

So far 1999 has been a tough season for Team Pennzoil. As a group, Allen, Hill and Thomas have won just four elimination round races in the first five events and have seven did-not-qualify blemishes on their record. The slow start has the team more anxious than ever to get to Virginia and reverse their fortunes.

Here's a quick look at each driver's plan-of-attack for reaching the hallowed ground of the Pennzoil National's Victory Lane.

Eddie Hill, the pilot of the Pennzoil Top Fuel Dragster, endured a reality check at the NHRA's last event in Dallas when the legendary driver failed to make the qualifying field of a national event for the first time in two-and-a-half years. The uncharacteristic Sunday off gave Hill time to zero in on an electrical problem that has irritated the team for three races.

"We found what's been ailing us," Hill said. "And it turns out that it was the same problem that tripped up Gary Scelzi and Joe Amato earlier this year. It was a complete ignition failure that we have since fixed. Of course, both Gary and Joe rebounded from their DNQ's with wins at the very next event so we'd dearly love to continue that trend.

"Sitting out last Sunday reminded us all that nothing is a given. It has really brought the team together and everyone has worked double-time at getting us set to go in Richmond. The competition is so close now and these cars are so sophisticated that we're usually running in an all-or-nothing scenario. You either fly down the track or shake your tires off. You can't back it down just to have a mediocre run that will get you in the field. You have to go for it every time down and that's exactly what we plan to do in Richmond."

Mike Thomas, the driver of the Pennzoil Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird, appears to be on the edge of having a break-through race. After switching to a new crew chief and clutch technician earlier this month, Thomas has been streaking down the racetrack with regularity and was clearly a top contender in Dallas, qualifying in the No. 3 spot just behind current Winston points leader Kurt Johnson and reigning champ Warren Johnson.

"We are so ready to win," Thomas said. "The last thing we needed to correct was an uplift problem we were experiencing at the top end of the track, which was causing us to spin a little. Our new crew chief Rick Hickman has solved the problem and we're all set to go.

"We could have contended better in Dallas but the car slipped out of the groove and we couldn't get all of our power onto the track surface. The new changes we've made should fix that once and for all. We've got all the pieces in place to win. We've got a great, revamped crew, as much power as anyone, and the car is as close to perfect as it's been in a long time. I want this race big time and I'm going to do everything I can to get it."

Bruce Allen, the driver of The Outlaw Fuel Additives Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird, has had the toughest start to the season of any member of Team Pennzoil. Allen has qualified for only one event and has recorded just one elimination round win so far in 1999.

A large reason for the 14-year veteran's struggles are due to a later-than-expected switch to a new car. Allen was hoping to take delivery of a new Don Ness-built Firebird during the preseason in time to adequately test the machine. But construction delays pushed back his receipt of the vehicle until mid-March and he's been forced to test between races. Still, the Arlington, Texas resident refuses to offer any excuses.

"Every team out here has times when they struggle and we're no different," Allen said. "It doesn't do any good to complain. You just have to work through your problems.

"The new car is really coming around. It appears to be pretty close to where we want it to be. Lately, we have been focusing a lot of our attention on our race engines. Fortunately, our business is making race engines so we have all the necessary equipment at our disposal. On the other hand, when you make race motors for a living, it's a real strain to have periods like this when you're struggling.

"Hopefully, we can get it together in Richmond. It's a great track and it's down near sea level so it can be very fast. We ran a 6.93-second lap there two years ago, which was extremely quick back then. Our good friend Mike Edwards' recent success has given us some inspiration. He was struggling like us until two races ago when everything came together for him. Now he's been to two finals in a row. We need that kind of turnaround."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Thomas , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Bruce Allen , Mike Edwards