Chevy Drag Teams Set for '99

Newsgroups: Organization: MNI - Motorsport News International Approved: From: Motorsport News International <> Followup-To: Date: Fri, 29 Jan 1999 09:37:57 ...

Newsgroups: Organization: MNI - Motorsport News International Approved: From: Motorsport News International <> Followup-To: Date: Fri, 29 Jan 1999 09:37:57 -0500

Chevy Teams Set for '99 NHRA Drag Racing Season

POMONA, Calif.; Jan. 30, 1999: Chevrolet drag-racing teams are prepping, testing, constructing, and even struggling to get their Chevy drag racers up to speed as the 1999 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series gets set to open at the AutoZone Nationals at Pomona Raceway Feb. 4-7. Top Fuel Dragster, Funny Car, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Truck and Federal-Mogul teams have spent a large part of January testing in such locales as Tucson, Phoenix, Houston and Gainesville, Fla., in preparation for the start of a new season of professional drag racing on the quarter mile. In 1998, Chevrolet Camaro Z28 Top Fuel Funny Cars won more titles than any other brand (five for Ron Capps in the Copenhagen Camaro Z28 Funny Car owned by Don Prudhomme, and three for Chuck Etchells in the Kendall Camaro Z28). Capps took the championship down to the final race against John Force, claiming the runner-up spot in the Winston Championship in only his second year in the Funny Car category. Etchells, fourth in '98 points, capped off the season with a win in the Winston Finals, then handed the reins over to Whit Bazemore, fifth in '98 points, for the '99 tour. It first appeared that Etchells would sit out the year as a team owner, but he soon announced he would drive a Camaro Funny Car for Sickles Corp. Motorsports, beginning possibly as early as the Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., in March. In Pro Stock, Tom Hammonds (sponsored by Winnebago, Mac Tools and Kendall Oil) and Kurt Johnson (backed by ACDelco) return in Camaro Z28s, as Mike Edwards joins Team Chevrolet for the first time in his Dewco Sales entry. Hammonds, an NBA power forward, has re-signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves following the end of the NBA lock-out, and plans to begin his NHRA Pro Stock season in Englishtown, N.J., at the Mopar Parts Nationals in May . Pro Stock Truck continues its steady growth, as 20 Chevy S-10s are expected to compete in Pomona, following a hugely successful first season in '98, which saw the S-10s dominate the top five in points, and claim both the national top speed and elapsed time records. Leading the pack of compact pickups is '98 inaugural Winston Champion Larry Kopp in a brand-new S-10 sponsored by Speedco Truck Lube. Kopp expects tougher competition this year from Chevy S-10 drivers such as John Lingenfelter, Jerry Haas, Bob Panella, Jr., Brad Jeter, Tim Freeman, Mark Osborne, and a slew of other Chevy S-10 teams who have improved on their racing packages. Chevrolet continues to support Larry Dixon's Miller Lite Top Fuel Dragster, owned by Don Prudhomme, as well as Cristen Powell's dragster. Cristen is in the process of finalizing sponsorship deals. Chevrolet announced at the end of last year that it would support two Federal-Mogul Funny Car teams: Jay Payne's Valvoline-sponsored Camaro Z28; and Tony Bartone's Quaker State/Roger Dean Chevrolet Camaro Z28. Payne recently obtained his Alcohol Funny Car license after years of competing in an Alcohol Dragster. He'll begin his quest for a Federal-Mogul title at the AutoZone Nationals in Pomona, close to his residence in Upland, Calif. Bartone will debut his Camaro Funny Car later in the season.



RON CAPPS, Carlsbad, Calif., COPENHAGEN CAMARO Z28: "It's going to be very, very exciting. My predictions are that you are really going to have to run consistent low 4.80s this year at the tracks with good altitude and cool weather, because if you don't, you are going to be in the second half of the field in qualifying. It's going to be tough. We know that green car can run, with Cruz Pedregon, and of course (John) Force has got the new, trick Roush Ford bodies. We get our '99 Camaro bodies for Phoenix. I'm really confident that we are going to be able to run in the low 4.80s. We know that the body is going to be as good, or maybe a little better than the '98 body. It's just going to be a matter of consistency."

ON THE COMPETITION AGAINST FORCE AND FORD: "Concerns? Certain things, yeah, they do concern me. I haven't even seen the body, so I can't say, but people have told me that it doesn't even look like a Mustang. But the NHRA makes the rules and we try to push them as far as we can. Evidently that is what they are doing. I was kind of hoping he could have run the '99 body last year (NHRA did not allow it), because I didn't want any asterisks if we took the championship from him, that he couldn't run his trick body. So I want him to have the best equipment he can have, rule-wise, and I want to beat him, and I want to say that we beat him at his best. I am not worried. I know Force has got the brain trust over there that has won eight championships, so I know they are going to run good and they are going to run hard and they are going to be consistent. We have to not worry about John Force, we have to worry about ourselves."

ON PUTTING A WHEELIE BAR ON THE CAMARO (following several wheelstands last year): "I think it's welded on! I think 'Snake' (team owner Don Prudhomme) made sure it was welded on. Yeah, we're going to have it on. We were able to take some weight off the car in other places. It's going to stay on. Believe me!"

WHIT BAZEMORE, Indianapolis, Ind., KENDALL/SUPERWINCH CAMARO Z28: ON HIS NEW ASSOCIATION WITH CHUCK ETCHELLS: "I like the way it feels. Some things are obviously very different, but the fundamental things are the same and that's putting on a helmet and driving a Camaro Z28, a competitive car. On the business side it's a lot different because I have different responsibilities now. Before I was responsible for raising the money and spending it and running a business and now my job is to help Chuck secure additional sponsorship funding, drive the car to the best of my ability and do the p.r. work for all of our sponsors."

WHAT'S YOUR '99 GAME PLAN? "It's so easy to say to win races and the championship. That's a given. My goal is to get better and do the best I can every single time I get into the car, to do the job to the best of my ability. If we do that, the team does that. This team has a good chance of being extremely successful this year. Tim and Kim Richards and I, and the team, already have a good working relationship, and it's only been a few days of testing."

CHUCK ETCHELLS, Putnam, Conn., HERBAL WEIGHT LOSS CAMARO Z28: "As everyone knows, my desire to drive is as strong as ever, so naturally, I welcomed this opportunity to stay active. I've known (crew chief) Tom Anderson for many years, and I'm confident he'll put a strong horse under me every time out. Even though we'll be running a limited schedule, we're looking to make our mark in Funny Car. Best of all, I believe that both the Sickles and Etchells teams will benefit from this. Since the Sickles Corp. Motorsports Camaro Z28 will carry some of my sponsors' logos, it will provide additional exposure for them. In addition, I will do my best to help out Jim Sickles, his Herbal Weight Loss team and their sponsors in whatever way I can, and the additional data we generate should prove invaluable to both organizations. Besides, if I'm able to take out a top contender, it will further establish this team while aiding my own team's chances for the championship. I can't wait to get started!" PRO STOCK:

KURT JOHNSON, Sugar Hill, Ga., ACDELCO CAMARO Z28: ON RECENT TESTING: "We made 18 runs in Bradenton (Fla.) last week. We made four runs on the first day, and the elapsed times only varied 8 thousandths (of a second). I was pretty excited to be that consistent on my first runs with the manual shifter."

DOES IT FEEL STRANGE TO SHIFT GEARS MANUALLY AGAIN? "It took a while to get comfortable with operating the levers, doing the burnout, and holding the transmission in gear when you let out the clutch pedal. Once you let the clutch out, everything is fine; it just clicks right into the next gear. I made 18 flawless runs with the levers, so we're pretty pumped."

TOM HAMMONDS, Crestview,Fla., WINNEBAGO/MATCO TOOLS/KENDALL CAMARO Z28: "I'm still physically able to go out and play, so why not take advantage of the opportunity and the talent that God blessed me with to go out and play. When that contract (with the Minnesota Timberwolves) is over the plan is to definitely race full time. Up until then I will continue to race 10-12 races throughout the summer to keep the Chevrolet name out there and hopefully win some races. I think we did pretty well this past season, hopefully we will continue to do well and strive to the point to where we could win a championship in the future."

WHEN IS YOUR FIRST RACE THIS YEAR? "We are targeting Englishtown. That was our target last year but with the delays and the construction of the car and us making the playoffs (last year), we were so late starting. Now that we have our Chevrolet Camaro, our brand new tractor and trailer that's being constructed now, I'm look forward to starting Englishtown and running through the season until training camp begins in October."

MIKE EDWARDS, Broken Arrow, Okla., DEWCO SALES CAMARO Z28: "It's going to be a struggle to make it to the first race. The Camaro is still in the paint shop. We should have been running this car four weeks ago. If we do get it ready, it's a shot in the dark. It throws us behind building the new car, and the weather in the Midwest didn't help. It's one race (we will miss). Hopefully we will get a little bit of time afterwards and maybe get a handle on it by that time."

ON THE POSITIVE SIDE: "I think this Camaro is going to be really good. Rick Jones is building it from everything he learned in the wind tunnel on the other Camaro bodies he's built. It's going to be a good car. I think it's going to be really good. I am looking forward to working with GM. We are just getting a late start. Hopefully we can get out there in time, we'll just have to wait and see."


LARRY KOPP, Baltimore, Md., SPEEDCO TRUCK LUBE CHEVY S-10: "I look for '99 to be a pretty tough year. There's going to be some fast trucks out there, some good drivers too. To repeat I am really going to have to be better than 100% everywhere I go, every time I go. We are going to try to maintain that. We have a new truck, built by Jerry Haas, and over the winter they (Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins) found a little bit of horsepower for us. We did some early testing in Florida. We did a 7.56-second elapsed time at 177 mph. That was encouraging. We put 11 passes on the new Chevy S-10 and all but two of them were in the 7.50 range. We were happy with that."

JERRY HAAS, Fenton, Mo., TEXAS HARLEY-DAVIDSON CHEVY S-10: "Don Smith (also racing in Pro Stock Truck this year) own a couple Harley-Davidson stores in Dallas and a Chevy dealership and we're carrying his Chevy S-10 in the trailer. He's helping me and I'm helping him. If I get a sponsor I will then be on my own. He's a super guy and I am really glad he's helping me somewhat. It makes it halfway possible to keep the doors open."

WHAT'S YOUR '99 GOAL? "Winning. I want to get me an Oscar bad. We missed it three times last year and we don't plan on doing it this year. We have a Rehr-Morrison engine that we're running. We are really pumped up about that. I think we will do quite well with it. But you don't know until you go out there and compare apples with everybody."


LARRY DIXON, N. Hollywood, Calif., MILLER LITE TOP FUEL DRAGSTER: DURING TESTING IN TUCSON: "We're definitely championship contenders, there's no doubt. With what we learned last year, our first year together with Dale Armstrong and Bob Brooks, our team just keeps getting stronger. I think what we left off with in 1998, at the end of the season, shows that we have a car that is very capable of winning. We just need to fine-tune some of our better points and strengthen our weak points. I think we have a strong car, just by us here testing with last year's number one, number three and number four points finishers, and we're outrunning them here in Tucson. So I feel really, really good about that."

WHAT CHANGES DID YOU MAKE FROM LAST YEAR? "We didn't reinvent the wheel or the world over the Wintertime. We just worked on a few areas of the car that we needed to. We come out of the box and the car is very strong. I think it will get stronger - the more runs we make with it, the stronger it gets. We worked on the engine, to try to make a little bit more power with it. We thought we were getting close until we saw (Gary) Scelzi go out there and run 326 (mph) towards the end of the season, and we knew we needed to work on the engine a little bit more, to make more power. I know the cars make 6,500 horsepower, but still, once you lock the clutch up and the engine and clutch go one-to-one, downtrack, the more power you have, the more speed you will run. That is when it is very important to have as much power as you can get. So we changed things with the camshaft and the cylinder heads. The car is responding to it. We also lightened the car up. We got about 40 pounds out of the car. If you've ever had to run a quarter-mile with 40 pounds on your back, you know it will make a difference. And then we were working on the clutch, still. We came up with a five-disk combination-type clutch before Indy last year and our car responded well. Now you are seeing a lot of the other cars start to run that. I believe we are a few months ahead of them, just in the fact we have that many more runs down the track with it."


JAY PAYNE, Upland, Calif., VALVOLINE CAMARO Z28: ON SWITCHING FROM DRAGSTER TO FUNNY CAR: "It's a lot different in the sense it steers a lot different, the wheelbase is shorter. When you are going at the top end you are under the body and you don't have the same sense because there's no wind on you. The body makes quite a few different noises that I'm not used to. It's completely different, I have to get accustomed to it. Right now we need to get our routine worked out. We have a new crew and a new car. They're doing fine. As a driver I need to get more comfortable in the car." ON ASSOCIATION WITH VALVOLINE AND CHEVROLET: "First off, we are associated with Valvoline, and now with Chevrolet. Whenever you are associated with good people it makes your team look more credible."

ON THE CAMARO BODY: "The Camaro body is the nicest, slickest and smoothest-looking car here. I am told by other Funny Car people that the Camaro body is the swoopiest as far as aerodynamics go. And, in layman's terms it's very pretty."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Brad Jeter , Kurt Johnson , Tony Bartone , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Larry Kopp , John Lingenfelter , Chuck Etchells , Cruz Pedregon , Don Prudhomme , Tom Hammonds , Tim Freeman , Jim Sickles , Jay Payne , Jerry Haas , Mike Edwards , Cristen Powell