Last Race of the Season Well Worth the Wait; Atchison Wins Funny Car Title While Millican Puts Exclamation on 2005 Season ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- It may have taken an extra three weeks to complete, but it was well worth the wait. The Udderly Smooth...
Last Race of the Season Well Worth the Wait; Atchison Wins Funny Car Title While Millican Puts Exclamation on 2005 Season
ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- It may have taken an extra three weeks to complete, but it was well worth the wait. The Udderly Smooth World Finals at Rockingham Dragway saw history times two as Rob Atchison used a record setting day to claim his third straight Funny Car title and Clay Millican won his unprecedented ninth consecutive race at the track he has virtually owned since 2001. Joining Atchison and Millican in the professional winners circle were Mike Janis in Torco Pro Modified and Frank Gugliotta in Torco Pro Stock.
Fans were also treated to record setting performances in each of the pro classes, as Millican demolished the Top Fuel standard with a pass of 4.484 on Saturday night, Mike Bell backing up his record setting pass of 6.046, Atchison posting a 5.685 on his way to locking up his championship, and Robert Patrick setting the Torco Pro Stock record with a pass of 6.360.
Atchison, from London, Ont., removed all doubt about the championship picture when his record setting run against Thomas Carter coupled with Jim Sickles' troubled filled shut down run against Fred Tigges, propelled the Canadian to his third straight crown.
"It hasn't even sunken in yet," Atchison said. "It just happened. The performance hasn't even sunken in yet. We came off the trailer running hard, had a few glitches, but that's drag racing, we ironed them out and away we go."
Even though Atchison has built up an impressive resume the past three years, this was his first win at Rockingham, putting a dramatic finishing touch on his championship.
"This was our first win at Rockingham, we tied the most wins in a season (seven) in Funny Car, our third straight championship, the world record-and we backed it up twice.an unbelievable weekend, a dream weekend."
The third championship came the way Atchison wanted it to be settled-on the track.
"We were running numbers that nobody else has run," Atchsion said of his 5.694 and 5.685. "They (Sickles' team) talked a pretty good game, but you got to talk it and then back it up, and we did a pretty good job of that."
Atchison lowered the record to 5.694 when he dispatched Thomas Carter in the first round. Atchison backed up that run with a 5.713/246.30 against Neal Parker, who ran a respectable 5.830/234.49. This set the stage for the final against familiar foe Mark Thomas, and Atchison rose to the occasion with his final record setting effort, posting a 5.685/247.07 against Thomas' 5.812/240.81.
With all of the goals reached for 2005, and all the fast numbers in the books, Atchison turned his attention towards 2006.
"We've got tons of tricks left. We've just gotten started."
Millican's win put the finishing touches on his fifth consecutive World Championship in Top Fuel. His ninth win of the season came against Doug Foley, an opponent he is quite familiar with. This was the fifth time that Millican, from Drummonds, Tenn., and Foley have squared off this season, with Millican coming out on top four times. The pressure was off of the Werner team.
"It was nice to come in here purely to have fun having just a couple of goals in mind," Millican said. "We came in here, and I said that we wanted to get the world record, which we normally do. We were planning on testing on Monday, but we ended up testing in qualifying. We came here with one goal in mind, to get our IHRA world record back. That was a big deal for the whole team."
Millican did get the record back, running a 4.484 during Saturday night qualifying.
"After Saturday, today's race was just gravy."
Millican faced Bobby Lagana in the first round, with both cars experiencing troubles. Millican slipped by Lagana with a 5.029/247.66 against a 5.228/233.96. Millican then defeated Louie Allison, who shut off early. That set up the final round against Foley, and Millican ran a 4.554/319.14 to Foley's 4.649/293.35.
In Torco Pro Modified, Janis, from Lancaster, N.Y., put some of the demons to bed that have been plaguing the Widowmaker in 2005, defeating Carl Spiering in the final. Outside of a win in Virginia, this was a year that Janis and his team would have like to forget.
"It has been an up and down season," Janis said. "This is going to make the winter go by a little easier and brings us in on a high for next season."
Janis and his team struggled for much of '05, and a weekend like this was exactly what the team needed.
"We started the year with a lot of DNQs, and even this weekend, we started off shaky. We even prepared for the worst, but we stuck together, and it all worked out."
The weather conditions which produced the quickest pro fields in every class but Torco Pro Modified caused a lot of adjustments.
"The car responded to the changes, which was the first time it did that all season," Janis said. "We found our game plan. The one round, we broke the tranny, and that round against Castellana we both got a gift as we both shook the tires."
Janis dispatched some of the biggest names in the class on his way to the win. He got past Billy Harper in the first round as Harper shut down early. Janis' round against Castellana was unspectacular as both cars ran high six second passes. His real test came in the final as he defeated Spiering with a 6.135/234.61 to Spiering's 6.173/231.87.
2006 will see some changes for Janis and his team, and this win gets him ready for next year.
"We've got a new Cobalt being built, some new sponsorship, and this was a great way to get ready for next year."
In Torco Pro Stock, Frank Gugliotta finished his late season surge with a win over Robert Patrick, running a 6.404/218.44 against Patrick's troubled 8.487/114.24. Patrick had been rivaling Steve Spiess as having the car to beat all weekend, eventually lowering the world ET record to a 6.360.
But it was Gugliotta, who had most recently won in New England who came out with the Ironman.
Gugliotta has been known for his late season surges.
"I got to get on this a little bit earlier in the year. We did struggle at the beginning of this year, just like last year, finished strong this year, and just want to build for next year."
Gugliotta has struggled at Rockingham Dragway in the past, and started off slow this weekend, but found the right combination to walk away with his third Ironman of the year.
"The Rock has not been good to me. It's seems that every time I've come here, even in Top Sportsman, I couldn't get past the second round. I've never had any luck here. We struggled Friday night, and Saturday, and the first round this morning. We pulled a clutch out of the box, and got lucky, pulling a .38, and said, 'alright, maybe we can play ball today."
Gugliotta's day of eliminations started with a win over Pete Berner, posting a 6.481/216.90 to Berner's 6.497/195.03. He then beat a surprising Bert Jackson, who upset Rick Jones in the first round. Jackson had Gugliotta on the tree, but Gugliotta made too much power and his 6.389 was enough to get by. Gugliotta then took down John Bartunek in an exciting side by side race, running a 6.393/218.37 to Bartunek's 6.425/216.65. This set up the final showdown with Patrick.
While Steve Spiess ran three consecutive 6.36s, and Robert Patrick walked away with the world record, it was Gugliotta that had the final say.
"Those are the most important-wins. Records are nice, but I really like the wins. You don't get an Ironman for the numbers."