SONOMA, Calif. (July 27) â€“ Itâ€™s hard for drag racing fans to erase the images of the sport's most horrific accidents. For Team Pennzoil, the thoughts of Sears Point Raceway and Top Fuel driver Eddie Hillâ€™s dramatic 310-mph blow-over two...
SONOMA, Calif. (July 27) – It’s hard for drag racing fans to erase the images of the sport's most horrific accidents. For Team Pennzoil, the thoughts of Sears Point Raceway and Top Fuel driver Eddie Hill’s dramatic 310-mph blow-over two years ago will be ingrained forever.
Surprisingly, in spite of the constant video reminders of that fateful day when Hill’s Pennzoil Dragster completely disintegrated before a shocked full house of spectators and fellow racers, the optimistic Texan can’t wait to return to Sonoma’s famous track Aug. 6-8 for the 12th annual running of the Autolite Nationals.
“I have too many great memories of Sonoma to let any recollections of my wreck bring me down,” Hill said. “I won the race in ’93 and we were the quickest car every single round that year. Considering the track temperatures were over 150 degrees, I’m still pretty proud of that particular weekend. We were untouchable. And, believe it or not, I still have plenty of good thoughts about the weekend of the wreck to let it really bother me.
“First and foremost, I found out that weekend for sure that the good Lord isn’t done with me yet or He would have just taken me right then. Secondly, the lap when I wrecked was still good enough to make me the No. 1 qualifier. That’s always cool. I remember during the helicopter ride to the hospital they told me, ‘Congratulations, you’re on the pole.’ But, in the same breath they also told me that my $100,000 hot rod was completely destroyed.
“The neatest part of the whole experience came on Race Day when my wife Ercie and I walked out to the starting line and lit the staging lights with our feet. It was all we could do because they wouldn’t let me run. The crowd went crazy. It was so humbling and yet so terrific. It’s one of the all-time best memories of my life.”
Hill, who suffered only two broken toes and a shoulder contusion, was anxious to drive the day after his accident and had a legal back-up car but the NHRA would not let him compete because the car had not made a qualifying lap, which was a steadfast rule then. The rule has since been modified to allow legal machines to be run on Race Day without having to qualify. The addendum to the rulebook is commonly referred to as the “Eddie Hill Rule.”
“Maybe we can put the past behind us with another win this time around,” Hill said. “The car is sure running quick enough to get the job done. We just need a little luck and the way I look at it, luck has never been in short supply for me at Sonoma.”
Mike Thomas, the driver of the Pennzoil Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird, was on a serious hot streak entering this race one year ago. The Knoxville, Tenn. resident roared into the elimination rounds in the top half of the field and was within reach of the semifinals when he uncharacteristically lost on a holeshot. It’s a mistake he vows not to make again.
“We need to get right back in the same position we were a year ago and capitalize on it this time around,” Thomas said. “The end of the West Coast swing only magnifies the points race. Every single round seems to gain more and more importance. This car has the power to make a charge. It’s up to me now. I’d love to win this race.
“Sonoma is always in the middle of the summer and it’s hot and greasy out there. The racing can be very tricky. It definitely helps to have some experience running on that track. That’s good news for us because we’ve always run well there. I’m excited about this race.”
Bruce Allen, the driver of The Outlaw Fuel Additives Pro Stock Pontiac, is hoping to continue his recent string of success in Sonoma. After a slow start to the season, Allen switched to a new car that has since carried him to several elimination round appearances and helped him climb several spots in the Winston championship points race. It’s a trend he hopes to continue in the Wine Country.
“Sears Point is a very difficult track to get a hold of,” Allen said. “It’s usually the extreme example of what Pro Stock drivers call a one-shot qualifying track. It’s because the temperatures are usually so high during the daytime sessions that you can’t make a good run. Therefore, the entire field is always set Friday night. If you don’t do well then, you’re done. This year they are letting us run a little later Saturday so maybe we’ll have two legitimate chances to qualify.
“The Outlaw car has shown that it can run with the other cars that consistently run in the top half of the field. I’d like to think we could do well in Sonoma this time around. To be honest, we’ve never really had a good showing at that track. We’d like to change that statistic.”
Mike Ferderer, the driver of the Pennzoil Super Gas Pontiac Grand Prix and Gumout Super Comp Dragster, has half a dozen wins to his credit this season and has spent several weeks in the upper reaches of his two division’s Federal Mogul championship points standings. The Buckley, Wash. native now hopes to bolster his Driver of the Year bid in Sonoma.
“Seattle’s my home track and my favorite track, but Sonoma’s a close second,” Ferderer said. “I’ve won there in the past and I also finished in the runner-up spot so I feel like I know what I can and cannot do on that track. The facility has great air conditions. It’s close to the ocean. That really helps this naturally-aspirated engines make power.”