Chevrolet Houston pre-race report

HOUSTON (March 20, 2001) - When the performance records fall this weekend at Houston Raceway Park, there's a strong possibility that a Chevrolet will be setting the new standard. All four of the four-wheel professional classes will be competing...

HOUSTON (March 20, 2001) - When the performance records fall this weekend at Houston Raceway Park, there's a strong possibility that a Chevrolet will be setting the new standard. All four of the four-wheel professional classes will be competing at the 14th annual O'Reilly Nationals on March 22 - 25, and the red bow-tie brigade will be well represented in each category, fighting for a Sunday spot in the HRP winner's circle. Chevy will be there when the victory celebration begins.

The O'Reilly Nationals is the fourth race on the 24-event NHRA Winston Drag Racing tour. NHRA Heat can be seen on ESPN2 on Thursday, March 22, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Eastern, and qualifying highlights will be telecast on Saturday, March 24, starting at 8:30 p.m. Early-round coverage of final eliminations will be telecast on ESPN on Sunday, March 25, beginning at 4:30 p.m. with final-round action on ESPN2 starting at 6 p.m. FUNNY CAR

Ron Capps (Skoal Racing Chevrolet Camaro) - "I learned a lot of patience at Gainesville. As far as the weather was concerned, Friday we didn't even think we were going to race, so you get in that mode of not racing and then we did get to race. The one thing that was nice was that we got our Skoal Racing Camaro into the show the very first session with a 4.88. To go out and get in the show early let us try some different things during the other three sessions. The second goal we had this weekend besides getting qualified was for my teammate Tommy (Johnson) and I to be on opposite sides of the ladder. And until the last session we were on the same side, but thank goodness we were able to finish that last session, and we did end up on separate sides of the ladder. Out of all the racecars out here, Tommy's car is the one that I fear the most and that includes Force (John). I'm not worried too much about Houston. It's always nice to go to a place like Houston or Gainesville because it's one of those tracks you don't have to worry about. There are tricky tracks out there and they're ones that you don't have to worry about and Houston is one of those tracks. It's one of those super tracks that always has good air, and it's a place where you can run your quickest elapsed time so it always makes you excited as a driver."

Tommy Johnson Jr. (Skoal Racing Chevrolet Camaro) - "We're consistent but still have a little bit more to go, but we're alright. I hated the three-week break we had. Now that I've been back in the car I'm ready to go to Houston to be right back racing again. During the first session at Gainesville, after being out of the car so long, it shook the tires. I could've pedaled it and kept it going, but I had been out of the car for so long that I lost my feel for it and it smoked the tires before I could pedal it. That's why I am excited to go to Houston. I will be fresh, and with more practice the better you are. Now I'm ready to race every week. Houston should be quick. The track in Gainesville is a little different in each lane and at Houston they should be about even. The weather is always good there as far as atmospheric conditions so it's usually fast. I think we'll see 4.70s in Funny Car and probably another record field. We've seen it in every race so far so I see no reason why it won't continue in Houston. Hopefully the Skoal Racing Chevy Camaro will be on top of it. I'm real happy with how things are going so far. The performance of the team is really good. We're running consistently. I would like to be running a little bit quicker, but at the same time I want it to be consistent, so we've got half the battle done. I don't mind racing Ron, but when we do race I know it's heads up. You don't know what other guys are doing, and you can't worry about them, but Ron and I know that we're probably going to run about the same. All the pressure is on me. I would rather race anybody else in the field then race Ron."

Jim Epler (Motley Crue Chevrolet Camaro) - "We're getting closer on our setup with these Chevrolet Camaros. We were so far over center on our horsepower that we couldn't get down the track for three runs at Gainesville. So we backed it way down and still ran 4.92 at 312 mph. Right now I think we've got the power to run in the low 4.80s, which is what we're looking for this year. So we're working on consistency-that's what we've got to fix. To be honest the rainout could help us. We're going to have to come back here, and we're heading to Houston, so we'll get four good qualifying sessions and what ever happens in eliminations. When we do come back to Gainesville we should be in better shape to go rounds because that's what it's all about. Houston's track is going to be exceptionally good. Every time we get to a good racetrack it seems like we get a lower bump. The weather can change on an instant on the Gulf, and it can be a mine shaft - it might even be too good. Generally for Houston it's good and we could see another record qualifying field. Our cars are working exactly the same - good or bad, they're doing the same thing. That's what we wanted with the two-car team. We've got that now and now we just need to get them performing equally good. I think Houston is going to give us that baseline we need. We just to get more runs on the cars."

Chuck Etchells (Kendall/Matco Tools Chevrolet Camaro) - "We learned we better go down the track the first session of qualifying at Gainesville. We just got lucky. My car shouldn't have been in the show really. You can't go one in four in qualifying especially when you've got 20 quality cars out here. When we come back here it's going to be a lot warmer with different conditions and we should be more ready for it once we get more runs on our Kendall Camaro. From now on at every race our top priority has to be to get down the race track during the first session and then tune it up from there. That's going to be our plan in Houston. We've got to find a way to do that. Hopefully it won't rain. We usually run fairly well there in qualifying and not well in eliminations. We're not sure why that is. I haven't driven there in two years, I don't really know what the track is like as a driver. But performance wise it should be there. It will be nighttime qualifying and hopefully it won't be too cold because then you get a lot of tire shake."

TOP FUEL

Larry Dixon (Miller Lite/Chevrolet Dragster) -- "We definitely have a lot going on this weekend and I hope that some of the success we have had here in the past can carry over. We're not going back to Houston this weekend with the same car and set up that we had last year, but Dick LaHaie knows this track and the weather conditions there and that has been well proven by the fact that he has tuned his drivers to the win three of the last four races at H.R.P. We weren't spooked about coming here, in fact I have good memories. Snake won in '94 and we were the first Funny Car to run in the teens (5.1 seconds) in 1989. Until LaHaie joined us, we never really had a handle on this place, but he certainly does and he has brought that to the team. It's kind of like Rusty Wallace at Bristol. He makes us more confident. I don't know if we have any kind of advantage here, but it certainly seems that way. We need to use our newfound power to help us find a better middle of the road set up if we want to go rounds. We need to know when to step it up a little and when to back it down just right to complement the track. But I am real excited about this weekend because we have a good running car. It was disappointing last weekend to be only four rounds away from finishing the race."

PRO STOCK

Kurt Johnson (ACDelco Chevrolet Cavalier) - "We know now that the Atlanta racetrack is better then the Gainesville racetrack. We tested out there on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then we came here and couldn't get the car hooked up on the starting line. Even though it ran well in high gear it still was off a couple hundredths of a second. We're going to have to do some testing before Houston. We know the Houston track is going to be good. If we can go back to Atlanta, make some changes we were going to make here and learn something there, and then go to Houston, I think we'll be fine. The starting line at Houston is good but a little bumpy down track. It will be the first time that we've had the ACDelco Cavalier there. Other people tested at Houston over the winter, but we expect to go there and have a good weekend."

Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Jeg's Mail Order Chevrolet Cavalier) - "Houston Raceway Park will always be a special track to us. We have a lot of success there. The weather can change extremely fast any time of the year and keeping a close eye on it is instrumental to being successful. We did some pre-season testing in our Oldsmobiles that should translate well to the new Chevy Cavaliers. We would like nothing better than to have the first all-brother final of the season with our new cars. It is extremely important to get some positive momentum going early in the season. If you start to develop a string of successes it can carry you through the season and catapult you forward in the points. Our goal is to get back on track and make a big move up in the NHRA Championship points. Over the next eleven weeks we will have eight races."

Ron Krisher (Eagle One Chevrolet Cavalier) - "We know we can make the car go pretty straight down the track. We've got some real good ideas, we don't know if they will work in Houston but we've got a game plan already. When we were in Houston we ran a 6.80 E.T. at 202.80. It was only the second run on the car and that wasn't with our race motor. So I'd say if there's some air out there we should see some fantastic times. We could possibly see the record go and there's probably four or six cars out here that could do it. That's pretty realistic. With Gainesville getting cancelled it kind of puts a damper on things. We're 10th in points right now, and we wanted to move up and we had it in our minds that we could move up. We wanted to go into Houston with a better comfort level than we have now and not making a couple of runs out here doesn't help that. It leaves a little hole in your stomach when you don't get to race and find out how the car is going to do on race day, because now we go to Houston and have to start all over again. Race day is always a little bit different then qualifying. It hurts us to not race. I don't know about everyone else, but it is a damper for us. But we have to go on. We'll go to Houston and go out and try and run fast."

Mike Edwards (Young Life Chevrolet Cavalier) - "We've learned how to get the Young Life Chevy to go straight. We've learned a lot about the characteristics of the car. They're totally different then what we used to run. We're still way behind but we're making progress. The last session at Gainesville was really good for us. I think we're moving leaning in the right direction and we'll be all right. We're going to make a few changes for Houston because the track is really good. After making a couple of passes, we'll evaluate our situation and then go from there. I went into Gainesville feeling real uneasy about these cars, but I left feeling quite a bit better. I know the Cavaliers are faster, we just got to make them more consistent on the starting line."

PRO STOCK TRUCK

Bob Panella (Panella Trucking Chevrolet S-10) - "We should've performed better at Gainesville. Don't get me wrong, we did run well but there's a lot left in this S-10. I don't exactly know how we missed it but I think I got a pretty good idea what it is. I wish we could've raced in Gainesville so I could've seen if I was right. We should have similar track conditions at Houston, at least that's how it was last year. We've got a lot of potential left and hopefully we can get the advantage back. Sometimes our team comes around on race day and we do better. But it really doesn't bother me that we didn't get the race in. I mean who wants to come back but we've got to do what we've got to do. I'm looking forward to going back to racing at Houston and trying some of the stuff that I think needs to be changed in the areas we're lacking. It's getting tougher and tougher in this field and you've got to make really good runs all the time. We've got as much power as anybody, we just haven't adjusted to it properly yet and I can't wait until that happens. You know if anyone's going to set the record it's either going to be at Gainesville or Houston, and getting that extra 20 points would be nice. We kind of gave up our chance at Gainesville so hopefully we'll get another chance at Houston. Whether we get the record or not is irrelevant. I just want to be comfortable with my runs and if I get the record that would be a bonus. The points would help us out a lot too."

John Coughlin (Jeg's Mail Order Chevy S-10) - "We all sat down and talked about all of the possibilities as a group. Then we made some decisions regarding our set up for Houston. The entire team is eager to get to Houston and begin making changes that will get us back on track. Everyone on Team Jeg's has been working nonstop to get us back on top. We are capable of winning every race that we compete in. If we stay focused putting a yellow and black Jeg's Mail Order Chevy S-10 in the winner's circle is just part of the equation."

Mike Coughlin (Jeg's Mail Order Chevy S-10) -- "We had the steam to qualify at the Mac Tools Gatornationals. We were running competitive mph all weekend. We just did not do it efficiently and effectively. Now is the time to make a move up in the points. Having success early in the season can really get the momentum going in the right direction."

-GM Racing Communications

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Rusty Wallace , Jeg Coughlin , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , Jim Epler , Ron Capps , Ron Krisher , Mike Coughlin , Chuck Etchells , Dick LaHaie , Mike Edwards , Tommy Johnson Jr.