INDIANAPOLIS (August 30, 1999) - During the last twelve weeks of NHRA Winston Championship Drag Racing there has been a dramatic improvement in the performance of the Outlaw Fuel Additives Pontiac. After a disappointing DNQ at Columbus in June,...
INDIANAPOLIS (August 30, 1999) - During the last twelve weeks of NHRA Winston Championship Drag Racing there has been a dramatic improvement in the performance of the Outlaw Fuel Additives Pontiac. After a disappointing DNQ at Columbus in June, Bruce Allen's Firebird qualified 14th at St. Louis, 13th at Denver, 12th at Seattle, eighth at Sonoma and fifth at Brainerd. It is a gradual, steady progression that has given the Arlington, Tex., racer a rekindled enthusiasm and confidence in his team's ability to compete with Pro Stock's upper echelon.
Bruce Allen is no stranger to Winston Pro Stock competition and his success in the sport is well documented. Since joining the Reher-Morrison team in 1985, he has won 12 national events in 31 final-round appearances, in addition to his two wins in the Holley Dominator Duel (1985-86). His last national event win came at Montreal in 1992 and his last final round was last season in Atlanta. Allen has finished in the top 10 of the Winston standings ten times, with his best season coming in 1989 when he won four races and ended the campaign in second place. He has finished third in the Winston standings three times (1985-87) and is seventh on the NHRA's list for all-time wins by a Pro Stock racer. He was runner up at the U.S. Nationals in 1985-86 losing in the final round in both years to Bob Glidden.
The 45th annual U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park on September 1 - 6 is the 16th race on the 22-event NHRA Winston championship tour. TNN will carry the final round of eliminations on Monday, September 6, beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern. First-round coverage can be seen beginning at 12:00 Eastern. The Big Bud Shootout for Funny Cars will be telecast on TNN on Saturday, September 5, beginning at 4:30 p.m. Eastern.
After your performance during the last two months of racing, do you feel like things are starting to turn around for the Outlaw Fuel Additives Pontiac Firebird? "I think a lot of the things we've been working on for awhile are beginning to surface. Our engines are running really good and I think they're running probably better than what our car is running. Obviously Warren (Johnson), and Kurt (Johnson) and the Jegs team are right there powerwise, but I'm confident that we're about as good as anybody else. We weren't before so I think the performance of the engines have really improved. Also, the way we're running the Outlaw Fuel Additives Pontiac Firebird is getting better and it shows from the progress we've made in the last couple of months. The thing is, you just have to make one run to get in the field but you have to do it at the right time. We've been lucky to do that, and now we just need to become more consistent and be able to put some rounds together on race day."
What are some of the areas you're focussing on? "It's a never ending cycle of course, but anytime you improve the engine substantially you go through a series of process and elimination where you add more gear, less gear - more bite, less bite. Like anything you do, you have to find out where you are in relation to how much power you can apply to the surface. We're constantly asking ourselves what can we do clutch-wise, what do we have to do to get a little more elapsed time to go along with the improved performance in the engine without being so aggressive that you can only make one run. That's what happens to a lot of people including us. If the session's good and we make the right calls then we'll make a good run. If it's not, then more than likely we're going to shake, or spin real hard or do something where we don't make it down the track. That's from not knowing what to change or how to change it. You don't necessarily detune the engine like you do a fuel car but there are some changes that you can make that are more forgiving where you have a bigger window of adjustment in your car. That's kind of what we're searching for now."
How would you evaluate your season coming into the U.S. Nationals? "You're always disappointed that you're not doing better unless of course you're winning every race. But being realistic, we were probably running about as good as we could at the beginning of the year. I don't mean as good as we wanted to, but from an engine standpoint we were making good runs with our car, we just weren't running fast enough. You have to get to the point where you take a realistic approach to what you are doing and figure out what to work on. We were attributing our problems to not getting as much out of the car as we should. We made several really good runs at the first three or four races where we just pounded the track - we were one of the best cars to 60 foot, 330, and all of that, but the engine just didn't run good. It took us awhile to get some new parts, and I just don't mean a cam or a manifold, I mean new engines with a new design. When we put more power in it, the car stepped up and got faster. Since then, we've been working on getting another engine that's equally as good. Then we'll be able to work on both engines and continue to make them more powerful. After we're satisfied with our progress there, we'll go back to sorting it out with the car. We debuted a new car at the Houston race and before that we ran a car that we hadn't used before. We've actually run three cars this year and to be honest, we've been searching for a combination that will make us competitive. If you know what to work on it's easy. The hard part comes in trying to figure out exactly what to work on. From that standpoint, we're in a little bit better shape than we were at the beginning of the year and now we're getting closer to where we need to be."
Are you confident that you're learning things about the car that will be applicable next year? "I'd bet on it! I feel like that's where we are now. We'll continue to make small gains and improve, and next year I think we can pick up right where we left off. "
Do you still enjoy the competition? "When you're younger and you first start out racing, you never know how far away you are from actually being able to do it for a living. You have that desire and fire, I mean it's just built in and you're going to work at it until you get the job done. After you've had some success, and then you're not doing quite as well as you once were, you still have to be willing to work at it just as hard to get back to the same level of success. Experience tells me that from a performance standpoint we're not quite there yet, but as soon as we get more competitive and put ourselves in a position to win, then that fire and desire will be just as great as it ever was. I can't wait to go to Indianapolis because I think we have a good shot at winning. But a few months ago I couldn't have said that, and it was difficult just going to the next race.
When you first started out back in the early 70s on the streets in Michigan, did you ever think you'd be as successful as you are today? "Realistically no. In any sport, whether it's football, baseball, golf or for that matter racing, very few people ever reach the top of their profession. If you're playing baseball in your background, sure you dream of making it in the Major Leagues some day. But when things get serious, are you willing to make the sacrifices to make it happen? Not very many people are, and then if you are willing to make the effort, there may be physical limitations or other obstacles that hold you back that you have no control over. A lot of things have to happen in addition to your own personal drive to reach the top, and looking back on it I feel that I've been very fortunate to be where I am today. But never in my wildest dreams did I think this is what would happen. There was a statistic last year at the Keystone Nationals where Warren Johnson and I were the only two Pro Stock racers who were also at the first Keystone Nationals. That was back in 1985 so I've been fortunate to be able to race for as long as I have and to be as competitive as I've been. We've had a couple of years where we haven't done quite as well as we would've liked, but we've finished in the top ten 10 times, and six of those years we were one of the top-four times in Pro Stock. So for the most part, for that length of time, we've managed to stay competitive, and that's hard to do."
What are some of the changes you've seen in the sport since you began racing 15 years ago? "Today there are a lot more teams that are competitive week in and week out. There's a much better effort from 16 to 22 cars than there was when I first started. In the early 80s there were four or five cars at the same level that 20 cars are racing at today. In the early and mid-80s the class was unique from the standpoint that the fastest cars had the best drivers. In drag racing that's the worst combination you can have because you can't beat somebody that's a good driver and has a fast car. That's what happened. Bob Glidden and Frank Iaconio not only had fast cars but they were great drivers. Some of that was because they were racing the most and they worked the hardest at it. Now, there are 25 cars and drivers that are like that. The level of competition has gone up exponentially, and now the field has tightened up to where that old cliché 'anybody can win on any given day' isn't very far off. A lot of that is because people drive better than they used too. The whole field pulls up to the starting line and occasionally someone might have a .500 light. But for the most part, everybody's going to be between .420 and .460. Also, back when I started, the best teams did everything for themselves. They didn't build their own cars, but they had in-house engine programs, and with their sponsors they had long-term programs. If you didn't do everything yourself you couldn't compete. Now you don't have to do that anymore. There are rental programs, there's a lot of common knowledge, there are crew chiefs that go to different teams from week to week, and that wasn't the case years ago. You pretty much made do with what you had. That aspect has made a big difference. Also the infusion of corporate money creates a different type of pressure. You have to make this fun and it's pretty hard to do that now. Fifteen years ago, if you went out and made a good run, you were going to qualify your car, and pretty solidly. Now, every session that you pull to the line you're concerned if you're even going to get in. The pressure starts Friday morning and goes all the way to the last qualifying session on Saturday. Thursday night is about the last night of the week that you sleep, so it's changed a lot."
"Another change is that not everybody does this to win. There are some drivers whose only goal is to qualify. When I leave Texas next week and head to Indianapolis, our goal is to win the race and we're going to do everything in our power to make that happen. But the fact that you only have to make one good run in qualifying to get in creates a situation where some guys just load it up for one session. They do whatever they need to do to make that one run to get into the race. Before, the cars were relatively consistent. You'd go up there, and make four qualifying sessions and you'd run about the same numbers every time. It varied, but it didn't change where you were on the sheet. Now, the slowest car from the first round can be the No. 2 or No. 3 qualifier in the second session, and that just didn't happen before."
Do you enjoy racing at Indianapolis? "I still love going to the U.S. Nationals. But the problem with Indy is that when you pull up there Friday night, your first qualifying session is the first time you've been on the track. In the last several years, that session has been the premier qualifying session of the weekend. Any kind of a hiccup, any kind of a mistake, any thing that happened, you went up there knowing that if on Friday you made a mistake, the rest of the weekend could be lost. I don't think that is very good racing. In most forms of racing like NASCAR and IRL, you have some time on the track to get comfortable, make adjustments and then make a qualifying run. Then if you mess up you go out there on the second day, and if you can still run good, you're going to get in the field. Our format in Indy is not very good. I don't like it very well, and I know this year on Saturday and Sunday we run after the fuel cars, but the track is no where near as good for us after the Fuel cars run as it is that first session. It's going to better than it was though, and we're running earlier on Saturday morning, so I think we'll have a couple of more sessions to qualify."
Is that why you have so many cars that test before a race? "That's another thing that has changed over the years. People are willing to spend the time and money, and their programs are deep enough where they can go to an event a week in advance and prepare on the same track they're going to race on. That changes the field entirely. If everybody pulled up on Friday night for their first run without previously being on the racetrack, it would be entirely different. There again, I don't know if that's good or bad, it just depends where you are in the scheme of things. If you have the backing and a program that allows you to be out on the road that long, that's great, but it just makes it that much more demanding."
Instead of testing, would you favor running a practice session the day before qualifying like they do in other racing series? "If you did that it would create the opportunity for everyone to participate. If you chose not to practice, and you just wanted to pull up there Friday, that would be fine. The way it is now, you come in a whole week ahead of time and a lot of times the conditions change by the time you come back to race. Also, when the Safety Safari prepares a track for a national event, it's a lot different than when it is during a test session. The people that prep the track on a weekly basis whether it be at Denver, or Indy, or Ennis, or wherever, the track is considerably different than when NHRA does it. So having a practice session on Thursday would be better. Now whether or not everyone would show up for that, I don't know, but they probably would. That would just be another day at the race."
Where do you see Bruce Allen and Reher-Morrison Racing in the next three to five years? "Financial backing in motorsports has become imperative. To be able to have a long-term program that you can build on over time, you have to have a three-year sponsorship commitment in place where you know you can hire the right people to work on your program. For us to continue to get better, and to be able to compete with Warren (Johnson) and Jegs (Coughlin) and teams like that, we have to have a major sponsorship that is in place so that we can procure the resources necessary to build on a winning team. If that's in place, then we have all of the equipment, all of the talent and all of the ability to compete with anybody out there. It comes down to desire and being realistic about whether or not you can afford to do it. If we have all of those things in place, I think we can contend and be a force. If any one of those things aren't in place, then it's not going to happen. I think from a team standpoint we have good people, good equipment, a long history of success, and our program is as good as any out there. We have everything in place to get the job done. We just need the financial backing and corporate dedication so that we can get the job done right." k