MOPAR PREVIEW 1999 PONTIAC EXCITEMENT NATIONALS Columbus, Ohio, June 10-13 MOPAR PRO STOCK REPORT 1999 Pontiac Excitement Nationals Ask any race fan from the Columbus, Ohio, area to name their favorite NHRA Pro Stock driver, and it's...
MOPAR PREVIEW 1999 PONTIAC EXCITEMENT NATIONALS Columbus, Ohio, June 10-13
MOPAR PRO STOCK REPORT 1999 Pontiac Excitement Nationals
Ask any race fan from the Columbus, Ohio, area to name their favorite NHRA Pro Stock driver, and it's quite likely they'll tell you it's Larry Morgan. And if you're lucky enough to spend a few hours with this friendly Columbus native, you'll understand why he's one of the most popular drivers on the circuit.
Morgan, a 45-year-old career drag racer lives with his wife, Diane, and their two sons in Newark, Ohio. "Racing is the only thing I've ever wanted do," Morgan says, "and this is how I make my living. I live to race and I truly love what I do."
Morgan started driving race cars when he was 16, and before long knew he wanted to make his living by racing. "I started to get serious when I was running Super Stock in '84," Morgan said. "Super Stock was a great category to compete in because I really had to learn how to tune the car for track and weather conditions. I learned from the bottom up in building engines and setting up the chassis.
"In 1986 I decided to run Comp Eliminator under the infamous 'Rod Shop Racing Team' banner," Morgan continued, "and in '87 I moved up to Pro Stock because I got a factory deal.
"In '89 I won my first Pro Stock race when I beat my life-long hero, Bob Glidden, at the U.S. Nationals. Glidden had won the four previous U.S. Nationals and everybody was expecting him to beat me. Instead, I beat him. The crowd went wild."
What drives Morgan's interest in Pro Stock? "It's the appeal of the factory involvement," Morgan says. "Participation by Mopar Performance and Dodge have brought so much new technology to the class. There's so much more we can do with these Pro Stock cars - the sky's the limit."
What does Morgan do for fun after working 60 hours a week building race engines for himself and his customers? He's out racing what he builds. "for my money, there's nothing more enjoyable than getting behind the wheel of 500-cubic-inch Dodge Avenger door-slammer," he says. "My goal is to run in the 6.80s and over 200 mph before the season ends." Morgan's career-best elapsed-time is 6.91 and his top speed is 199 mph.
With the Columbus track minutes from Morgan's home, nothing would be better than a win this weekend in front of his hometown crowd. "Everyone comes out to support our team, and it makes me feel good," Morgan says. "It's like having home field advantage when we come here to race. I know every little bump, groove and crack up and down this quarter-mile. When you make hundreds of runs over the past 20 years on the same surface like we have, you become one with the car and the track. That's a feeling very few people can claim."
MOPAR TOP FUEL REPORT Team Mopar Top Fuel driver Mike Dunn continued his hot streak by winning the NHRA Fram Nationals at Route 66 Raceway outside of Chicago last weekend. It was Dunn's third national event victory in nine NHRA events this season and 19th (Top Fuel and Funny Car) of his career.
"I never get used to winning," Dunn said. "We struggled all weekend and only made one good run down the track during qualifying. We had our share of good and bad luck during this race." Dunn qualified 12th.
"We broke a fuel pump when we were warming up the car Sunday morning and had to replace it with a unit which hadn't been flowed. It was a chance we had to take, and that's why we leaned out a cylinder during round one against Dave Grubnic," Dunn continued.
"Then in the semis against Jim Head, we both smoked the tires and had to get on and off the throttle (accelerator). Fortunately, our Team Mopar Dragster got to the finish line first - that was probably our first break of the weekend.
"After losing lane choice going into the finals," Dunn said, "Kenny Bernstein put us in the right lane, which was not as good as the left lane. (Crew chief) Ken Veney had to make a judgment call on how much power the lane could handle. When I left the line I never saw Kenny.
"This win means so much to our team, because we've been struggling a bit during the last few races," Dunn said. "Now we have a 126-point lead going into the summer, when it's toughest to earn points."
Dunn's last Columbus national event came in 1991 at the wheel of the Snickers Funny Car. "It was a great weekend for our team," Dunn said. "We ran Jim White in Roland Leong's Hawaiian Punch Funny Car which made for an all-Dodge Daytona Funny Car final."
This weekend, Dunn will be trying to win his second race in a row and to repeat his '91 Columbus win - only this time in his Team Mopar Top Fuel Dragster. "It would be nice to claim a win in both Funny Car and Top Fuel in Columbus," he said.
MOPAR PRO STOCK TRUCK REPORT Team Mopar Pro Stock truck pilot Todd Patterson is looking forward to competing in Columbus. "They've made so many improvements over the last few years it's like a whole new track," Patterson said. "The shutdown area (from the end of the quarter-mile to the end of the track) has been extended and the track surface is all new.
"Unfortunately," Patterson continued, "the pit area still needs some work. This is the only race track we compete at that we need to bring a lawnmower. I'm serious. There are a limited number of paved pit spots at National Trail Raceway, and we usually get assigned a pit in the grass. Even though the track maintenance staff tries to keep the grass cut and trimmed, it grows so fast this time of year that our pit area becomes overgrown within days of being cut. Like the other racers, we take it in stride and laugh it off. It's one of those things you'll never forget in your racing career."
The Pontiac Excitement Nationals is the fifth of a six-race stretch for NHRA Pro Stock Trucks. "This track really separates the men from the boys when it comes to the engine tune-up and clutch combination," Patterson said. "With the hot, muggy weather and greasy track conditions, your crew chief can either make or break you. Fortunately, we have one the best - my crew chief Donnie Gardner is a former Pro Stock driver and is really familiar with these types of conditions. Donnie really knows where to jet the carburetors for the high levels of humidity we get in Columbus along with setting up the clutch for the track conditions."
MOPAR ASSOCIATE NOTES Skuza aiming to get even In a few years, Matco Tools/Team Mopar Funny Car driver Dean Skuza will do his best to teach good sportsmanship to his now-infant son. But in the meantime, Skuza doesn't want to get mad - he just wants to get even. That's because the 32-year-old Cleveland, Ohio, native advanced to the finals of last year's Pontiac Excitement Nationals only to lose to Frank Pedregon.
"We had this race won," Skuza said. "Our Avenger was running great all weekend, and going into the finals we were confident that we had the race won. All I had to do was cut a good light and the race was ours. Unfortunately, the magneto shaft broke, advancing the ignition. And when that happened, the tires went up in smoke and we lost to Frank. We were disappointed because we were so close to winning. This year, we'll make sure it doesn't happen again."
The Skuza team showed signs of turning things around at last weekend's national event outside of Chicago. The Lance Larsen-tuned Avenger soared to the #2 qualifying position (4.937/307.58) and advanced to the semi-finals. Skuza is fifth in Funny Car points.
MOPAR SPORTSMAN NOTES A select group of Sportsman racers from across the country will compete at the Federal-Mogul Allstars competition, held this weekend in conjunction with the Pontiac Excitement Nationals. The annual Allstars competition features eight-car fields from each of NHRA's eight sportsman eliminators representing the seven NHRA/Federal-Mogul Divisions. The racers earn points from competing at home division races from the current and previous year to qualify for the Allstars. If current Federal-Mogul Funny Car world champion Frank Manzo wins the Allstars competition this year, it will be the third consecutive year he has wheeled his Dodge Avenger to victory. "We've been very fortunate come away with the trophy and prize money two years in a row," Manzo said. "There are a lot of good teams competing at the Allstars, and when you run with the best, there are no 'freebies.' We make sure we're on top of our game."
Another winner who is back this year is Chuck Rayburn running his 1971 Dodge Challenger R/T in Stock Eliminator. Rayburn won this event in 1996 and is looking to take home another win for the NHRA Pacific Division. "For me to tow all the way from northern California to central Ohio to compete at the Allstars says a lot for the level and intensity of competition," Rayburn said. "My 440 Six Pack Challenger seems to run good here, and I've made many new friends and fans alike from my travels to Columbus. Winning this event is so important, it's like an achievement of a lifetime."
MOPAR FAST FACTS The first female driver to win a national event in Columbus was Judy Lilly, who in 1973 drove a 1968 Hemi(r) Barracuda to a Super Stock eliminator win.
Originally known as the "Springnationals," this event was held at three other race tracks before establishing its permanent home at National Trail Raceway in 1972.
SCOTT GEOFFRION UPDATE Team Mopar Pro Stock driver Scott Geoffrion will learn after more tests later this week whether a painful back injury will require surgery. Geoffrion fell off the roof of his California home three weeks ago while retrieving a baseball for his son.
"The bone scan came back negative - there's no fracture of any kind," Geoffrion said, "but the doctor says the L5 disk is herniated. If I don't need surgery I'll start physical therapy as soon as possible. But right now the doctors say we have to wait and see.
"As far as my wife is concerned, I can't get back to racing soon enough," Geoffrion said. "I watched qualifying from Chicago on television the other night and I have to admit I'm not a good spectator. As soon as I can I want to come back to the track - even if I can't drive - to pull for my teammate."
MOPAR REWIND ...from the 34th Annual Pontiac Excitement Nationals, Columbus, Ohio, June 11-14, 1998
QUALIFYING * Mike Dunn qualified the Team Mopar Top Fuel Dragster ninth with an elapsed time of 4.690 seconds at 311.74 mph.
* Dean Skuza's Dodge Avenger Funny Car was the seventh quickest qualifier (5.047/304.36).
* Scott Geoffrion qualified his Pro Stock Dodge Avenger ninth (7.079/194.46). Larry Morgan was 15th at his home track, with a 7.088/194.25. Darrell Alderman and Larry Nance did not qualify.
* Dodge Avengers paced the Federal-Mogul Funny Car field. Frank Manzo was the #1 qualifier (5.785/248.68) and Bob Newberry was second.
ELIMINATIONS * Mike Dunn beat Shelly Anderson in the first round before losing to Joe Amato in round two.
* Dean Skuza won three rounds before losing to Frank Pedregon in the finals.
* Scott Geoffrion lost in the first round; Larry Morgan lost in the second round.
* Bob Newberry and Frank Manzo met in the finals where Newberry won. During the weekend, Newberry ran low elapsed-time (5.752) and Manzo ran top speed (249.37 mph).
* James Paul was the Super Comp champion in his 1923 Dodge.