Chicago Pontiac Racing Preview

PONTIAC EXCITEMENT RETURNS TO NATIONAL TRAIL RACEWAY COLUMBUS, Ohio (June 3, 1999) The NHRA's travelling road show converges on National Trail Raceway for the 35th Annual Pontiac Excitement Nationals Presented by Summit Racing. This race...


COLUMBUS, Ohio (June 3, 1999) The NHRA's travelling road show converges on National Trail Raceway for the 35th Annual Pontiac Excitement Nationals Presented by Summit Racing. This race is one of the longest running acts of the series' 22-event Winston championship schedule and a Central Ohio springtime tradition dating back to 1972. In Pro Stock, Warren Johnson's GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird will be the car to beat when qualifying begins on Friday, June 11. So far this season after eight events, the four-time Winston champion has won three races, nailed down the No. 1 qualifying position seven times and moved into first place in the points standings. At the Pennzoil Nationals in Richmond, Va., the Professor of Pro Stock set the national record in top speed at 202.24 mph and lowered his career-best elapsed time to 6.843 seconds. Johnson is a two-time winner of this race (1985, 1993) and has been runner-up five times. "When you lose, that means you've done something wrong and I try to be as analytically correct as possible when we race," Johnson said. "If you've done something wrong, or overlooked something, or you didn't give enough attention to detail in certain areas, whatever the case may be, there's a flaw in your program. That's the part that I really don't like. "Because I derive my livelihood from this sport, I really have no choice but to be as successful as I possibly can. That aspect is from the business side of it. For this to be a successful business, the race team has to be successful and that includes the people that you have. In NASCAR, you always hear them talk about how important chemistry is. That's absolutely true in any form of motorsports. Everybody has to work together to the point where they don't even have to say anything while they're working. They know full well what their job is and everybody else has confidence that they're going to do their part of it so when they do their own part, it all blends together. That's the chemistry you're looking for." Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird driver Jim Yates came close to winning this race last year and posted a runner-up finish to Jeg Coughlin Jr. He was also runner up in 1994. This season, the two-time Winston champion is currently fourth in the points standings and has advanced to the semi-final round at Pomona, Gainesville and Atlanta. "We just have to go to every race and run just a little bit faster each time out," Yates said. "We've got to keep pushing the envelope! We have to know where the edge is. Once we find out where that limit is, then we can back up a little bit and stay safe. Every now and then the Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird shows us a glimpse of what it's capable of doing. If we can finally get everything working together I think we have the performance to win some races. The good thing is that when the motor runs in the right power range, we can run with Warren and Kurt (Johnson). We have the potential to go into Columbus and win a race and it would be a nice way to head into the second half of the season if we could pick up a win there." Century 21 Pontiac Firebird driver Tom Martino knows the way down the National Trail Raceway quarter-mile surface. He won this event in 1997 and after his runner-up performance in Englishtown, N.J., on May 25, Martino has edged even closer to the Winston top 10. "Even without winning at Englishtown, it was a great weekend for the Century 21 Firebird program," Martino said. "To be able to qualify so well and then advance to the final round is a real and necessary boost. The fact that we accomplished this at both our own and our sponsor's home track makes it even better. "Between running at Budd's Creek the Wednesday before Englishtown and the results from Englishtown, we feel a lot more confident heading into the rest of the season with this car. Naturally, we'll keep working at making our Firebird better, so that we can have this kind of performance on a consistent basis. We've just gotten our first taste, and we are definitely hungry for more!" Steve Schmidt picked up one of his three career wins at National Trail Raceway when he defeated Warren Johnson in the final round of eliminations at the 1995 Pontiac Excitement Nationals. He's qualified the Dynagear Pontiac Firebird in the top half of the field at four races, has advanced to the semi-final round at Englishtown and is ninth in the points standings. "As I've said at the last couple of races, there's been a certain learning curve for Terry (Adams) since he's come on board as crew chief this year on the Dynagear Firebird," Schmidt said. "I think he's starting to get a lot more comfortable with the race car, and what the race car wants on these different race tracks. I'm certainly comfortable with the work he's doing, and I have confidence every time I get in this car that it's going to go to the finish line. "We've been working very hard over the last 30 days on the engine program, we've significantly improved it and it's shown over the last few races in our performance. We're certainly not where we want to be yet, but the guys at the shop, and myself included, are committed to this program and I have confidence that we'll be where we need to be before too long. " Bruce Allen, the pilot of The Outlaw Fuel Additives Pontiac Firebird comes into the Pontiac Excitement Nationals with renewed confidence after solid showings at Atlanta and Englishtown. The Outlaw crew seems to have found the correct set-up for their new Don Ness car and are finally reaching a steady level of competitiveness. Allen was runner-up at this event in 1985 and 1988. "The car is better now than it's ever been," Allen said. "We're all exceptionally anxious to get the Outlaw Pontiac Firebird out on the track again. For the first time in a long time I'm excited about racing. I really think we can start winning rounds and get back to fighting it out with the best teams. "We are really starting to make some nice advancements with our program. The engine's running great and the chassis adjustments we are making seem to be working. I'm as optimistic about our program right now as I've been all year. With each weekend on the racetrack this team seems to take another step in the right direction. We are continuing to close in on making this car a real contender." In addition to being the location of the Pontiac Excitement Nationals, Central Ohio is also the home of Finish Line Racing Engines, the manufacturer of the winning race motors for Pennzoil Pontiac Firebird driver Mike Thomas and Valspar Firebird driver Richie Stevens. Thomas, who owns Finish Line Racing, has successfully qualified for six of eight races in 1999 and has logged three elimination round wins. He is currently in 14th place in the Winston points standings. "I feel that the Pennzoil Firebird is finally starting to run up to its potential," Thomas said. "If we plan on getting back into the top 10 where we belong then we'll need to continue to improve, especially now that we're moving into the latter half of the season. This race car is a real contender. We've just made some mistakes along the way that have really cost us. Now we're just searching for a way to win another race. There's a lot of racing to do before the season is over. Hopefully, we'll be able to pull everything together for Columbus." Dynomax Pontiac Firebird driver George Marnell has qualified in the top half of the field at six of the first eight races of the season. But the two events where he failed to crack into the top eight were also disappointing DNQ's. At Pomona, the 48-year-old Las Vegas resident qualified No. 3, and at Phoenix, Houston and Richmond he was the No. 4 qualifier, clearly demonstrating that the horsepower and the race car are there to be a top-five contender. "I guess when we stumble we really stumble," Marnell said. "We're running this new Bob Ingles-built DRCE motor in our Dynomax Pontiac Firebird, and we have to figure out exactly what it wants as far as tune up and clutch is concerned. We're sneaking up on it even though it's a little different than the motor we had been running previously. The other motor was good, but this one makes more power everywhere. It accelerates at a different rate and that sort of thing, so we're getting closer to zeroing in on what it wants. "I can't tell you how disappointing it is to DNQ after the gigantic strides we've made from a performance standpoint. There is really no reason why we shouldn't be going to at least the semi-final round at every race. Pretty soon our luck is going to change." In Funny Car, the race for the championship is starting to heat up with Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird driver Del Worsham looking for his first win of the year. The 29-year-old Californian and two-time national event winner has qualified at every race and advanced to the semi-final round at Houston. His 340 points is good enough for seventh place in the Winston standings and less than two rounds out of fifth place. "We are absolutely a different team than we were one year ago, no doubt about that," Worsham said. "We're coming off a disappointing race in Englishtown, where although we didn't DNQ this time, we did blow up a lot of stuff and lose in Round 1. We need to figure some things out, get this Firebird straightened out, and get back to winning rounds. But I'm happy we've run well enough up to this point that we're not in the huge hole we were last year. We're working on it. We match raced during the off weekend to try and sort it out. We're stripping the car to the frame rails to try and find something. We've got a problem that has blown three motors up in two races, so it's got to be found and corrected. As the driver, I know I don't like driving down the track and seeing the blower lift up and flames shoot out. You better believe that I'm working this through in my mind about 23 and a half hours a day. "Everyone is fighting like dogs for each and every round, and we're all bunched up in the points race. Right now, there are only 105 points, that's just 5 rounds and a few qualifying points, between 5th place and 15th place. That's amazing. I'm very proud that we've been consistent enough to stay in the Top 10 all year so far. It's very easy to fall out on one bad race. We've been right there every weekend fighting like everyone else." At last year's Pontiac Excitement Nationals, JCIT Pontiac pilot Tim Wilkerson qualified in the No. 2 position before losing in round two to Dean Skuza. This year, the Springfield, Ill., native has missed two races, one because of a DNQ and another because the team did not enter the event. But during its last three outings, the Terry Manzer-tuned nitro-powered Firebird has picked up the pace, qualifying No. 1 at Atlanta and No. 3 at Englishtown. Despite missing those two races earlier in the season, Wilkerson is ninth in the Winston points standings. "It feels good to know that we have a car that can win races," Wilkerson said. "Our problem is that we've been lacking a little bit of good luck all year. We come out in qualifying and do something spectacular and then we come back on race day and can't seem to do anything right. We've kind of turned it around here in the last couple of months. "This JCIT Pontiac Firebird can run in the high 4.80s. Whether or not we can do that in Columbus remains to be seen. Last year we were able to figure that place out, and our car has a history of coming to life when the weather gets hot. Our goal will be to get qualified and then put together four good consecutive runs on Sunday. Maybe then we can get us that win." Al Hofmann is a two-time winner of the Pontiac Excitement Nationals (1992, 1995) and was runner-up in 1994. He enters this year's event looking for a consistent race car and a spot back in the Winston top 10.

"Things are looking better," Hofmann said. "We're still a little weak in the clutch program but the engine's much stronger than it was a month ago. If we can continue to make good power then we shouldn't have a problem, and we should be able to get this Pontiac Firebird back in the top 10 and maybe the top five. This car that we have right now is probably the best car we've ever had. We put it together one other time and had to take it apart and go back to the old car because it was so tough to run. But the potential of this car is just phenomenal." In Top Fuel, MBNA/Pontiac driver Cory McClenathan hopes that he can get his first win at National Trail Raceway since 1996. He is currently sixth in the Winston points standings and had a victory earlier this season at the Pennzoil Nationals in Richmond, Va. "We're in a position now where we've gone to a couple of semi-final rounds, we've won a race and now all of a sudden things have kind of gone sour for us," McClenathan said. "We've gone out two first rounds in a row and the indications are that we need to go test, try to figure some things out and get the car from point A to B every single time. Instead of just getting down the racetrack once a weekend, we need to do it every single time. We feel that our motor is making as much power as the best of them out here so we're not too worried about that. But we are concerned about the consistency of the car. Winning races is what we're here to do, not go out in the first round." The 35th Annual Pontiac Excitement Nationals at National Trail Raceway on June 10 -13 is the 10th race on the 22-event NHRA Winston championship tour. Tape-delayed coverage can be seen on ABC on Sunday, June 20, beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Thomas , Jeg Coughlin , Warren Johnson , Al Hofmann , Dean Skuza , Del Worsham , Cory McClenathan , Bruce Allen , Tom Martino , George Marnell , Steve Schmidt