Bruce Allen Interview

(May 7, 1998) - —If you take a look at the list of winners at historical Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, Bruce Allen'’s name will come to the forefront. He won his first NHRA event at Englishtown in Modified in 1978, and took the ...

(May 7, 1998) - —If you take a look at the list of winners at historical Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, Bruce Allen'’s name will come to the forefront. He won his first NHRA event at Englishtown in Modified in 1978, and took the championship in Pro Stock in 1985 and 1989. He was also runner up in 1987, and came up short against Darrell Alderman at last year’s race.

This year marks Allen'’s 14th season as an NHRA Pro Stock driver. Since 1985, he has won 12 national events in 31 final-round appearances, including two wins in the $50,000 Pro Stock Challenge (1985-86). His six appearances in the finals of the Pro Stock Challenge (1985-88, 1991-92) are the most by any driver. His last national event win came at Montreal in 1992 and his last final round was at Atlanta on April 20. He has finished in the top-10 of the Winston standings ten times, with his best season coming in 1989 when he ended the campaign in second place. He has finished third in the Winston standings three times (1985-87).

Last season, the driver of the Outlaw Pontiac Firebird had his best season of the decade finishing fourth in the Winston standings with final round performances at Houston and Englishtown. It was a tremendous improvement for the Reher-Morrison team over their 18th place finish in 1996, and a stepping stone for what they hope will be better things to come in 1998.

Question: After seven races, how would you evaluate your season up to this point?

Allen: Ups and downs, highs and lows. Somewhat disappointing from a qualifying standpoint, but I think that once we qualify, we usually do pretty good. We haven’t had very good success making good runs in good sessions, and with as many good cars as there are, that can be a problem. If you miss on a Friday night session, or Saturday morning, and if you don’t make a good run when you need to, that can be real critical now. There are a lot of good quality cars this year. I think our weak point has been not making the run when we needed to or possibly not making big enough changes to the Outlaw Pontiac Firebird to adapt to the changing track conditions, or air conditions.

Question: Is there anything specific problem the team has been fighting?

Allen: I think if you have a real good setup, and you’re real comfortable with what you’re doing, then maybe that isn’t as big a factor as the conditions change. Maybe you hit it a lot closer just because you have a closer setup that is adaptable. Our setup is probably marginal, and as the conditions change, we have to make bigger compensations than we would like. We’re trying to narrow that down and find out if it’s adjustments that we’re not making, or whether our car setup needs to be changed to where it’s more adaptable.

Question: Why is the Pro Stock class so competitive?

Allen: I think that the rules have stayed the same for so long that there is a lot of common knowledge. The affordability of racing, Top Fuel and Funny Car appear to be more expensive to do because they require a lot of parts when they torch blocks and blow engines. Because it is more spectacular, the conception is that it is more expensive. In Pro Stock, because the cars just run down the track every time out, it looks like it is easy to do. But it’s not, and it is expensive because of the research and development that it takes to get to a competitive level. It costs a lot more to run those cars than what people realize. Teams that have good power and the ability to do engine work will sacrifice and sell that ability just so they can keep their own R & D program going. What that’s done is that it’s given teams the ability to become competitive if they are willing to spend enormous amounts of money to do so. A Pro Stock engine can go anywhere from $125,000 to $150,000, whereas a Top Fuel engine will cost maybe $25,000. It costs them a lot of money to make a run, but from a yearly budget standpoint, Pro Stock teams can spend just as much money. You just don’t see it at the race track. We’re doing dyno work, and we have people working all day, everyday doing engine development programs back at the shop that a lot of the time, never make it to the track because it doesn’t run good enough. In the fuel classes, everyone basically has the same amount of power where in Pro Stock, you don’t. Given enough time, I think you’ll see the trend change in Pro Stock, but newcomers are willing to spend way more money than you could ever get for winning a race or winning a championship just to be able to go do it. They race for the pure joy of competition. We used to have six or seven teams that had real competitive programs that year after year, would battle for the top spot. Now, you still only have six or seven teams who have their own development programs, but they’re sharing that information real deep down the line. So all of a sudden, you have 20 people with the same equipment, same engines and same program.

Question: Is the skill of the driver more important than the performance of the car?

Allen: No, I don’t think so. I think the performance of the car is by far the most important factor. You can’t even get in the field without a fast car, regardless of how good a driver you are, or how good your reaction time is. Being a good driver doesn’t put you in the field, and it makes absolutely no difference on Friday or Saturday. When you get in the field, because there is only three or four hundredths difference from top to bottom, the cars run close enough where a good driver can make a difference.

Question: How is the engine development program progressing at Reher-Morrison?

Allen: We’re doing real well. We had an engine that won this last weekend at the Texas Motorplex. Mike Edwards and the John Kight Racing program have been on our engine program this year. We’re one of the teams that have had our own engine development programs. From a monetary standpoint, we generate more income with the program to stay competitive. We’re a perfect example where we lease engines to them and that helps us with our engine development. We’re giving them an engine that’s as good as we run in our own car, and it’s not surprising that they run as good or better from time to time. If they make a good run and we don’t, they should run faster. Lately, we haven’t been making as good of runs, but it shows the potential that we have from an engine standpoint.

Question: Should anything be done to change the qualifying procedure so that too much isn’t riding on one qualifying session?

Allen: Make it like Winston Cup where they have first day and second day qualifying. On the first day, the front half of the field is set, and there’s no way you can get into that front half if you qualify on the second day. In drag racing, you could have Friday qualifying where you set positions one to eight, and then on Saturday, you set the next eight cars. Someone in the second eight may run quicker than the No. 1 qualifier, but they wouldn’t be able to start any higher than No. 9. This is pretty early in the season. We’ve had seven races, and there are only three cars in Pro Stock that have qualified in all seven races. That is parity in the class! Last year, we went all the way to the second to the last race of the season where there were five of us that had qualified all year. It’s changed quite a bit already this season. In Pro Stock, the Friday night session is the only run, for the most part, that sets up qualifying. From this time of the year on, it’s more critical because of Daylight Savings Time and how hot it gets during the day. It would be a bigger advantage to us if they just had us show up on Saturday and took the quickest 16 cars. Usually on the first run, we make a pass good enough to make the show. Our baseline setup is good enough to get down most tracks pretty good the first time. A lot of the cars may make one run on Friday night, it’s a killer run, and that’s the only good run they make the entire weekend. The problem that creates is that it puts cars in the field who can’t make a good run under race day conditions. If you’re a good racer and can make consistent run after run, it’s a huge advantage to be paired up against a car like that on Sunday. Because qualifying is like it is, that happens. It’s tough, but that’s the way it is.

Question: How did you get your start in racing?

Allen: The area we grew up in Michigan, there were a lot of muscle cars. And even though I don’t encourage it, there was a lot of street racing. That was a way that you could compete on a one-to-one basis. If you’re a competitive person like I am, the singular sports like tennis and golf are an excellent avenue to express yourself. In racing, you have team members, but when you pull up to the light and put the second bulb on, it’s just you and the other guy. When I was growing up, racing was a way that I could use the skills that I learned from working on cars and engines. I had a brother who was a couple of years older than me who had a fast car. He raced, and I wanted to be able to beat him. We were competitive in all sports no matter what it was. My dad was a real good mechanic and a real good hands-on person, and because he had the patience of Job, he was very understanding and could explain how things worked very well. He would show us one time, and after that, you fixed it yourself. It was just one of those things where the harder you worked on it, the better it got. Your car would get faster and faster and you could see the results right away. I liked that.

Question: Were there any specific tracks that you competed on?

Allen: I raced at the old Tri-City Dragway in Saginaw. That was an NHRA track. We had Detroit Dragway, Milan Dragway, Martin 131 Dragway, and Central Michigan. We had a bunch of tracks real close, and where we lived, you could race Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I couldn’t afford to do that back then, but I would pick out one night or two days, go race and see how I did against other people. Even back then, if you could spend more money, you could make you car faster. But still, you had to know what to do. Just spending money and buying chrome wheels didn’t necessarily make it faster. If you were mechanical, had a good understanding of what was going on, and talked to your heroes like, Wally Booth, Wayne Gapp and Dick Arons, you could learn quite a bit. I talked to an old friend from there just a couple of weeks ago, and he made the statement that we didn’t know how much fun we were having. And he was right, we were really having a ball and having the time of life. We didn’t have a care in the world because our whole life revolved around racing on the weekend. We were having a ball and didn’t even know it.

Question: Does the shorter off-season hinder a team’s research and development efforts?

Allen: The teams that have the best programs don’t have an off season anyway. They’re working on engine programs year around. The good programs and the ones that withstand the test of time never take time off. Right now, we’re at a point where we’re not finding big gains in horsepower, but incremental gains, that over the course of a season can add up to a big gain. Question: What improvements would you like to see in the sport over the next few years?

Allen: I think they need to find a way to promote the people who are involved in the sport and make the racers and the racing the headline. You need to have the sport more visible, promoted better and take advantage of the fact that we do have a unique product different from any other form of motorsports. That in itself, if packaged right, has a lot to offer.

Question: Over the course of your career, you’ve had pretty good success at Englishtown. How excited are you to be returning to Old Bridge Township Raceway?

Allen: It’s been good to us. I actually won my first race there in NHRA in Modified in 1978. I won there in Pro Stock a couple of times also. The fans are great, they really appreciate good racing and it’s a good facility. If the weather cooperates, we could have excellent racing conditions. Since they moved it from the middle of summer, it’s been fun to go there. We’ve had good luck there.

Question: Are you looking forward to the Pro Stock Challenge?

Allen: Anytime you’re in the elite part of a program, and you’re being honored for what you’ve done for a year, you have to be satisfied. We also have one of the best records in the Pro Stock Challenge. There’s only been a couple of times that we haven’t been in it. Our record shows that over the long run, we’re one of the best eight teams out there and our ability to qualify in the top half of the field on a consistent basis speaks well for our program.

Question: What would you like to accomplish before you finish racing?

Allen: I’d like to win a World championship. That would be my ultimate goal. Whether or not that happens, that is not going to be the end of the world for me. I already feel that I’ve had a successful professional career and been blessed just to be able to do this. I certainly want to win some more races and be a contender for the championship. That really gets my adrenaline going and that’s what I race for.. I love to compete and would like nothing more than to give Pennzoil and Pontiac a championship.

Question: Do you plan on racing for a few more years?

Allen: Lord willing and if the financial backing is there, we will continue. I think at some point your skills do diminish, and your desire, as far as how hard or how much you want something, effects the final outcome. I don’t want to be doing this just to do it. I’m not made like that. As long as I have the drive and the push to pursue the championship, and to win races, I will continue. But if a time comes when I lose my desire, I won’t do it. I don’t want to take somebody’s money and not give them a good investment on their return. I respect Rick Mears for getting out of it when he did. He could have won Indy a couple of more times. He quit because his heart wasn’t in it anymore. I respect that. That’s the proper way to do it and that’s what I would like to do.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Darrell Alderman , Rick Mears , Bruce Allen , Mike Edwards