Team Pennzoil hoping for Kansas crown TOPEKA, Kan. (Sept. 23) -- The most exciting part of any race is the finish. It's where winners are decided, championship trophies are handed out and potential challengers are noted as the future of the ...
Team Pennzoil hoping for Kansas crown
TOPEKA, Kan. (Sept. 23) -- The most exciting part of any race is the finish. It's where winners are decided, championship trophies are handed out and potential challengers are noted as the future of the sport. The 10th annual Parts America Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka, which begin Thursday, signify the beginning of the homestretch for the 22-event National Hot Rod Association circuit. With just five races left in the season, the action promises to be fast and furious as every driver attempts to leave their mark on 1998.
The professional pilots of Team Pennzoil have devised a simple plan to carry themselves through the remainder of the year. "We've got to win some races," said Pro Stock driver Mike Thomas, who logged the last win for Team Pennzoil on May 31. "It's time to show everyone that we've got the power to finish the day in Victory Circle."
Thomas's sentiments are echoed by all of his Pennzoil teammates and they each have their own route to Victory Circle already mapped out. The following news and notes reveal each driver's strategy heading into Heartland Park Raceway.
Eddie Hill, the Top Fuel pilot of the Pennzoil Dragster, believes breaking a few records could propel him closer to a trophy weekend. Hill, a winner at the track in 1993, has an affinity for Heartland Park. Most notably, he was the first driver to eclipse the 300-mph mark in the state of Kansas when he posted a 300.80-mph lap on Oct. 1, 1993.
"If the weather is good," the 62-year-old Hall of Fame pilot said, "it's conceivable that both the elapsed time and the top speed records could fall again this year. The track in Topeka is superb. It's always extremely fast. All we need is a dry surface to run on." Currently, the NHRA Top Fuel records stand at 4.539 seconds and 323.50 mph.
"Thoughts of Topeka always make me smile," Hill said. "Having won there before, well, it's just makes you feel like something special could happen every time you go down the track. Our car is running great. We were as consistent as the winner at the last race in Reading (Pa.) posting times of 4.639, 4.642 and 4.650 seconds during qualifying. We just need to find a little luck in eliminations and we'll be winning races. Topeka has been really lucky for us in the past and I hope that continues this year."
Hill has reached the elimination round of every race in 1998 and has qualified in the top half of the field on 12 occasions. He has recorded eight elimination round wins this year.
Mike Thomas, the Pro Stock driver of the Pennzoil Pontiac Firebird, arrives in Kansas brimming with confidence. After a three-race streak that saw Thomas exit in the first round of eliminations, he returned to form in Reading with a trip to the quarterfinals. The most impressive part of his first-round win came at the starting line when he posted a 0.412-second reaction time to steal the victory on a hole-shot.
"If I can keep my reaction times that sharp, then we'll be hard to beat," Thomas said. "We found a small lifter problem that had reduced our horsepower a fraction and it hurt us a little over the last few races. Now, with that problem repaired, we have just as much power as we had in Chicago (when he won the event by driving past points leader Warren Johnson.) We all feel pretty good about our chances right now.
"This is a great facility. It's one of the best tracks on the circuit and we have run well the last few times we've been here. Look for the Pennzoil Pontiac to make a move this weekend. It's time to win a race again."
In addition to his event title in Chicago, Thomas has been the most successful driver for Team Pennzoil this year with 13 elimination round wins.
Bruce Allen, the Pro Stock driver of the Outlaw Fuel Additives Pontiac Firebird, was a semifinalist at last year's event and hopes to win it all this year. His method of attack is simple -- he will be the best-prepared driver in attendance.
"We won't be arriving in Topeka until just before the race starts because we'll be doing some extensive testing in St. Louis on Wednesday," said Allen, the fourth-best Pro Stock driver of 1997. "We've been running below par due to a problem we've had finding traction at the long end of the track. We've totally redone the back half of the car including the suspension shocks and mountings, in an attempt to fix the problem. Now we want to test our changes before Topeka. That's why we're stopping in St. Louis.
"Heartland Park is too good a track to squander away any chances of running well. The traction there is always great and we just love the entire complex. It always amazes me that this particular event attracts so many people from all over the world. I think it's because real race fans know that Kansas has the hottest track in the NHRA."
Allen has qualified for eight events this season and has won 10 elimination round races.