Fan favorite Hill misses cut Thomas to carry Pennzoil's title hopes on Sunday DALLAS (April 24) -- It was a cool Houston day in March of 1996 the last time legendary Pennzoil Top Fuel pilot Eddie Hill did not qualify for an elimination session...
Fan favorite Hill misses cut Thomas to carry Pennzoil's title hopes on Sunday
DALLAS (April 24) -- It was a cool Houston day in March of 1996 the last time legendary Pennzoil Top Fuel pilot Eddie Hill did not qualify for an elimination session at a National Hot Rod Association event. Now 45 races later, on the same track where he set the drag racing world on fire with the sport's first four-second lap -- a 4.990-second pass on April 9, 1988 - the 63-year-old Wichita Falls resident failed to find the right combination to get down the track and, consequentially, will have a rare Sunday off.
"I didn't see this coming and I just don't know what to say," said Hill, whose best run of the weekend was a tire-smoking 5.388-second pass at 273.30 mph. "Obviously we're devastated, and for a number of reasons.
Not making the show is the top one. We also have sorely disappointed all of our wonderful hometown fans who came to see us and we've let down our sponsor Pennzoil. Plus, this will really hurt us in the points race. I can't remember the last time I was this low."
Hill was attempting to make the field of the Third Annual Castrol Nationals presented by O'Reilly Auto Parts at the Texas Motorplex. Hill's Sunday absence, along with teammate Bruce Allen's inability to make the cut, leaves Team Pennzoil with just one representative on race day -- Pro Stock driver Mike Thomas.
"One of the guys on the crew was trying to cheer me up and he reminded me that our reigning back-to-back Top Fuel champ Gary Scelzi missed the cut at the last race in Houston," Hill said. "But that just rings hollow to me. I can't believe this happened to us right here in our backyard at a track that we've made so many great memories. I guess we're fortunate that this is a rare occurrence for us. But it still hurts.
"We have to try to get this car figured out in a hurry because the next race is in just a few days at the Pennzoil Nationals in Richmond (Va.) and that's our title race."
Mike Thomas, the driver of the Pennzoil Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird, spun his way through his final qualifying lap and tripped the timers in 6.984 seconds at 197.86 mph. His previous lap of 6.933 seconds at 198.54 mph was both the third quickest and the third fastest Pro Stock pass of the weekend and places Thomas in the No. 3 position on the qualifying ladder. He will open Sunday's elimination session against Mike Trumble Jr. who qualified 14th with a 7.007-second lap at 196.89 mph.
"We were trying some things in that last session and it didn't turn out exactly how we hoped," Thomas said. "But overall we couldn't be happier with the Pennzoil machine. It's working extremely well and I'm really anxious to get after tomorrow.
"We struggled early this year and it put our backs against the wall. The pressure was definitely starting to build. But now I credit our Pennzoil team. They really responded well to the challenge of making this car better. Sometimes it's hard to fight out of a dry spell and yet we found a way to do it. I feel a lot better about the crew and the car now and I like our chances to move up in the Winston points standings. We need to go a few rounds tomorrow at the very least but we'll certainly be taking them one race at a time. I'm not leaving anything to chance."
Bruce Allen, the driver of The Outlaw Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird, finished the qualifying rounds with his best lap of the weekend -- a 7.030-second lap at 196.37 mph -- but still failed to make the field of 16 cars that will race on Sunday. Allen finished in the No. 22 spot, 0.019-thousandths of a second behind the 16th and final qualifier.
"Last year we came out here, qualified well and blasted WJ (Warren Johnson) in the first round," said Allen, who resides in Arlington. "This year we look like a group of third graders. I was really hoping to turn this bad luck streak around at this race and I thought we had done that on Friday night. Then we come out here this morning and blow our race motor during the quickest session of the weekend. Just like that, we're packing up early again.
"It's terrible to have a race like this anywhere. But here we all have our friends and family rooting us on and all the guys from the shop are also here with their families so you really want to put on a nice show for them.
"We can't dwell on this for long because we've got back-to-back races and we must get our good motor repaired and ready to go in just a few days. We've got a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it in."