Chevy Dominates Atlanta With Funny Car, Pro Stock Sweep Pedregon, Connolly Both Claim First Wins of the Season COMMERCE, Ga., May 7, 2006 - Rain delayed the start of eliminations for today's 26th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern ...
Chevy Dominates Atlanta With Funny Car, Pro Stock Sweep
Pedregon, Connolly Both Claim First Wins of the Season
COMMERCE, Ga., May 7, 2006 - Rain delayed the start of eliminations for today's 26th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals presented by Pontiac by more than four hours, but when eliminations were finally completed the Chevy red bowtie was proudly waving in the winner's circle of both the Funny Car and Pro Stock classes. Tony Pedregon was a Ford killer in his Q Racing Chevy Monte Carlo as the former John Force Racing driver took out in order the three Fords of John Force, Eric Medlen and Robert Hight to win his first race of the 2006 season. Dave Connolly also won his first race of the year and sixth of his career after qualifying his Skull Gear Chevy Cobalt 14th. He defeated No. 16 qualifier Greg Stanfield's PiranaZ Pontiac GTO in the final with an elapsed time of 6.695 seconds at 205.69 mph as Stanfield's GTO stepped out of line and slowed to a 7.531 e.t. at 127.34 mph.
"I don't know how many times a No. 14 and a No. 16 qualifer meets in the final," laughed Connolly. "Stanfield's a great driver, and if anybody can win from the No. 16 position, he can do it. He got the job done in the final. If his car wouldn't have gotten squirrelly, he probably would've kicked our butt and won out of the 16th hole. Especially in this class, it's so important to make the right run at the right time. We missed a little bit Friday night and Saturday it got hot, and actually we ran well for the sessions, but unfortunately it didn't move us up the ladder and we had to battle from the 14th hole."
This was the first race that the Skull Gear/Knoll-Gas Motorsports team had new crew chief Tommy Utt calling the shots, and the change resulted in wins over Jason Line in Round 1, Allen Johnson in Round 2, and Larry Morgan in the semifinals to make the team's second final-round appearance (Las Vegas) of the season.
"Tommy was definitely the difference this weekend," said Connolly. "He's worked for Cagnazzi Racing for a long time, and he's been in the business a long time. He's a great crew chief, very educated. He's been with us all year, so he's familiar with the car, and he's been familiar with those motors for the last year and a half. That definitely comes into play. He got to basically pick the ball up and roll with it right off the bat first week out. That was the best car we've ever had come Sunday. Sometimes you just need to make a change, and we made a lot of progress. We got the car a little better and a little better after every pass. I think things are really starting to look up for us, and we're going to start running on a competitive level week after week again.
"The Cagnazzi Racing guys have been awesome to us. I mean, they've helped us out in more ways than one. They're fantastic people to be associated with and I can't thank them enough. I definitely wouldn't be here without them."
Stanfield, a former Pro Stock Truck event winner, upset points leader and No. 1 qualifier Greg Anderson in the first round with an elapsed time of 6.714 seconds and 205.47 mph to Anderson's 6.749 e.t. at 205.44 mph. Stanfield went on to defeat Mike Edwards in the second round and Jim Yates in the semis before facing off against Connolly.
"We were in that [right lane] for two runs," said Stanfield, "but it never acted like it did in the final. We were loose, it was going down through there loose, but that run there was pulling hard, hard left, and then all of a sudden a right-hand turn. It was time to abort before I tore something up. If we wouldn't have made a good run on Sunday afternoon, we wouldn't even be here right now. We don't have anything to be ashamed about. I just want to win bad, like real bad. Greg (Anderson) is fun to race, real fun to race. We have a lot of respect for that team - they're the best team out here. All in all it was a good race, a good weekend."
"In previous meetings this year, I've said that (Greg) Stanfield was a great driver and today was no exception," said Anderson. "You can't give an inch in this class. Even a small error will do you in. We had a weather swing and we missed the setup slightly, and that cost us this time. We made an error and we got beat."
Yates in the Sea-Ray Pontiac GTO holds on to fifth in points after making it to two semifinal rounds (Las Vegas, Atlanta) and one final (Houston) in the last four races.
"We've got a great winter car," joked Yates. "We've got this Pontiac GTO figured out when it's cool. We ran well on Friday and qualified (a season-best) No. 4. Saturday we tried some things we probably wouldn't have tried if it was cool, but it was hotter so we tried some stuff and it didn't work. Today it was a lot cooler after the rain and the car ran great. We're probably the most improved in the class, and that's what we need to do, keep improving and keep getting better. It was a good weekend and we're pretty happy."
In Funny Car, Tony Pedregon drove his Chevy Monte Carlo past Whit Bazemore in Round 1 before knocking out the John Force Racing triumvirate to claim his first win of the season and 30th of his career. He defeated the 13-time Funny Car champ and former boss Force in Round 2 on a hole-shot, Eric Medlen in the semifinals, and then completed the Force Racing trifecta by defeating Hight with another hole-shot win in the final. Pedregon had a winning elapsed time of 4.740 seconds at 325.69 mph to Hight's quicker 4.738 e.t. at 321.81 mph.
"Great day, great day at the races, good day in the office," said Pedregon, "and we beat some awful good competition. That really makes it a little more worthwhile. I heard [Hight], I heard him the whole way down. Usually when you can hear them, it's a close race. Really at about halftrack that sound wasn't going away, but the best part of that race was just watching that win light come on. I knew it was a close race, and there's just nothing like winning. I think I owed to my team and I owed it to my sponsors to really pay them back in this way with a win.
"This was a good race. Being in this position, not being in the top 10, I put pressure on myself and pressure on my team. I told them our expectations are a lot more than what we've been doing, but I really believe in my heart that we hadn't performed to what our potential is. If persistence means anything, we were very persistence because we believed that it was just a matter of time. There isn't a better way to make up for the start of the first six races.
Del Worsham in the CSK Chevy Monte Carlo also advanced to the semifinals as Worsham defeated Jim Head in Round 1 and fellow Chevy driver Gary Densham in the second round before facing Hight. In his the semifinal, Worsham left first on Hight but couldn't hang on as Hight ran a winning elapsed time of 4.752 seconds at 319.52 mph to Worsham's 4.825 e.t. at 319.52 mph.
"It felt really good to go to the third round, let me tell you," Worsham said. "That was about as big a lap [against Densham] as our Friday night run. It put us back where we wanted to be, and it was definitely a worthy run to move on to the semis with. You want to earn it, and we did. That was a battle, and that race against Robert was pretty wild. It was close down there, and I didn't see him for a long time, but he came roaring around me. As much as I was hoping he'd never come by, he still deserved it and he whipped us. We made some big progress this weekend, and we gave Robert a good battle. We just have to keep building on this."
In the Sportsman classes, Frank Manzo from Morganville, N.J., drove his Chevy Monte Carlo to the Top Alcohol Funny Car title over Steve Harker. Other GM winners included Vinny Barone from Dix Hills, N.Y., who drove his '34 Chevrolet past Sal Biondo's '93 Beretta to claim Comp Eliminator, Michael Iacono from Wading River, N.Y., won Super Stock in an '89 Camaro, and Bernie Cunningham from Riverside, Calif., drove a '98 Firebird to the Stock Eliminator crown.
The next stop on the 23-race NHRA POWERade circuit is the 42nd annual Pontiac Performance NHRA Nationals at National Trail Raceway in Columbus, Ohio, on May 18-21.