Englishtown: Tuners dealing with possible setup change

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. - Each weekend the crew chiefs for each team in the NHRA POWERade Series are forced to make decisions on how to tune their hot rods. They use information from the previous event at the same track and combine it with the daily ...

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. - Each weekend the crew chiefs for each team in the NHRA POWERade Series are forced to make decisions on how to tune their hot rods. They use information from the previous event at the same track and combine it with the daily atmospheric conditions to make the best calls they can. A good setup and the best driving help teams earn the Wally trophy in each professional category.

This year, however, they are going to have another hoop to jump through in New Jersey. When the teams meet at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., they will not have year-old data to fall back on. The race, held in May for much of the last decade, moves to a mid-June date this season.

"Quite obviously, it's going to be a lot hotter than we're normally used to when we have gone there," said Alan Johnson, who tunes Top Fuel points leader Tony Schumacher's U.S. Army dragster. "We'll do the same thing we always do -- we'll take what the track gives us and nothing more. We'll adjust as we go and find the right combination."

The tuning decisions will aide teams in their quest for victory at the 35th annual K&N Filters NHRA SuperNationals presented by Strauss Discount Auto at Raceway Park, June 17-20. Doug Kalitta, Whit Bazemore, Greg Anderson and Shawn Gann are the defending winners in their respective categories for the $2.1 million race, the 11th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Del Worsham has driven the red Checker Schuck's Kragen Chevy Monte Carlo to three victories this season and is second in the point standings after 10 races. Along with his father Chuck and co-crew chiefs Marc Denner and Chris Cunningham, the two-car Worsham team will make changes together.

"The fact that we are going to Englishtown at a different time of year is a challenge, but it isn't as big a stumbling block as you might think," Worsham said. "We'll look at the track, look at the weather and make our calls based on that combination of factors. What we've done in Englishtown in the past few years will probably be irrelevant, but we have plenty of experience at finding tuneups for hot tracks. You just have to translate that to the conditions."

Lee Beard is coming off his 50th career victory as a crew chief. He helped guide Funny Car points leader Whit Bazemore and the Matco Tools Dodge Stratus R/T team into the winner's circle at Topeka, Kan. recently. Beard said the fans make the track worth racing on no matter the time of year.

"I think changing the date will definitely throw us a curve because we haven't been there in June for quite some time now," Beard said. "I can remember racing at Englishtown for match races in July and it was so hot and miserable during the day you could hardly stand it. But the match races were at night and it was a fun place to race. They always have a huge crowd. A lot of really educated drag racing fans are from that part of the country. I've won there a couple of times and I always get excited about going there."

Nick Boninfante Jr. is also a big fan of racing at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. He tunes the Caribbean Soul/Trick Tank Funny Car driven by Bob Gilbertson.

"Englishtown has always been one of my favorite tracks," Boninfante said. "We've raced there in May and July and now we are going to race in June. But I don't think there will be a big change in our tuneup. That track is always one of the best prepared on the circuit and with all the trees around the track, the air is almost always perfect. It could be 85 degrees and sunny or 40 degrees and cloudy. We'll find out when we get there."

While some crew chiefs are already making plans to adjust the car specifically for Englishtown, Mike Neff is concerned with the next event - regardless of the location. Neff, tuner of the Oakley Dodge Stratus R/T Funny Car driven by Gary Scelzi, said the weather will be an issue for all competitors in all categories.

"Pretty much every time we go to a race the conditions are different, so we can adjust around that. I would rather (this race) be a little earlier in the year. (The weather) can be pretty nasty that time of year with the heat and humidity. But it's the same for everyone. You've got to go down the race track. That's the main thing. No matter what the conditions are, having a consistent race track is what you need to win any race."

Denner said the reason he and Cunningham have jobs tuning the Worsham cars have everything to do with making the right call at the right time.

"You look at corrected altitude, track temperature, ambient temperature, humidity and you combine that with your own feeling about what the track can hold," Denner said. "You use your data base, your knowledge and your best guess. Hopefully when you put it all together, you come up with the right answer. If it was easy, we'd take volunteers out of the crowd to tune these things."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Gilbertson , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Shawn Gann , Mike Neff