Commerce, Ga. - - It took 20 races for Bob Panella, from Stockton, Calif., and teammate Jeff Gracia, from Ontario, Calif., to qualifying one and two at an NHRA national event and they had to come all the way from the west coast to the east coast...
Commerce, Ga. - - It took 20 races for Bob Panella, from Stockton, Calif., and teammate Jeff Gracia, from Ontario, Calif., to qualifying one and two at an NHRA national event and they had to come all the way from the west coast to the east coast for that to happen.
In their second qualifying pass on Friday, Panella and Gracia, through the luck of the qualifying draw, lined up side-by-side. The pair speed down the Atlanta Dragway quarter-mile with Panella's Chevy S-10 grabbing the top spot on the strength of a track record elapsed time of 7.471 seconds at a track record speed of 180.69 mph. Gracia, in a GMC Sonoma, was a blink of the eye behind with a pass of 7.499 seconds at 180.43 mph, good for second.
Panella had this to say regarding finishing number one. "The best part of the whole deal is that both our trucks are one and two; the first time that that has ever happen. Jeff started driving for Panella Motorsports in November of 1999. It's now May of 2001. That's a long time to wait for this to happen. I've been number one before, but to have us one and two, that's great. Now if we both can be in the finals together tomorrow, that would be the most important part.
"Being number one is still important. It's all about being consistent as often as you can and being number one as many times as you can throughout the weekend. Obviously, getting ready for tomorrow is the most important right now. We know what we have to do. We'll be all right for tomorrow.
"This could be Jeff's (Gracia) weekend. He'll definitely be competition. Our other competition will still come from the same two - - Greg Stanfield and Randy Daniels. But when the track is hot, you never know. That's when experience comes into play. Also, the Coughlins' trucks are running good this weekend. They've got as good as there is for crew and help. It will make for some interesting racing."
Gracia added, "Trying to qualify one and two is something that Bobby (Panella) and I have been trying to do all along. It shows all the progress we've been making back at the shop, working on horsepower and stuff. Hopefully, we'll put both trucks into the finals tomorrow."
Final eliminations begin on Sunday at 11 a.m. (ET). If you can't attend the Advance Auto Parts Southern Nationals in person, be sure to catch final round action on television: Sunday, May 6-ESPN: 5-7 p.m. (ET).
In the opening round of eliminations, Panella will be matched against John Coughlin, from Columbus, Ohio. Coughlin qualified #16 with numbers of 7.574 seconds at 177.16 mph. On the other side of the elimination ladder, Gracia will square off against Bart Price, from Hayward, Calif. Price nailed down the 15th qualifying spot with a pass of 7.573 seconds at 178.83 mph.