GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 12, 2001 - It's been four weeks since the racers from the National Hot Rod Association last did battle at Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix, Ariz. Many have taken advantage of the late-winter hiatus to prepare...
GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 12, 2001 - It's been four weeks since the racers from the National Hot Rod Association last did battle at Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix, Ariz. Many have taken advantage of the late-winter hiatus to prepare for the tough schedule ahead beginning with this weekend's 32nd annual Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.
The 32nd annual Mac Tools is the third race on the 24-event NHRA Winston championship tour. Qualifying highlights of the Gatornationals can be seen on ESPN on Saturday, March 17, beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern. Same-day coverage of final eliminations can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, March 18, starting at 5 p.m. Eastern.
What have you been doing over the last month to prepare for the hectic schedule ahead?
Mark Pawuk (Summit Racing Pontiac Grand Am) - "The first thing I've been doing is trying to spend as much time as I can with my family. I'm going to be gone so much that I wanted to spend as much time as possible with Bonnie and the kids, so we've been going skiing once a week, just trying to do as much as we can together. That was the first thing. The second thing is getting our new Grand Am from Don Ness and trying to get it ready. We're going testing at Bradenton this week to try and get some new parts and pieces in line so we can start running faster."
Jim Yates (Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Grand Am) - "We've been testing the Splitfire Grand Am and I think we may have burnt ourselves out a little bit. We tested so much that we got to the point where we weren't making good decisions. Finally, thank goodness, we stumbled around and figured out what we were doing wrong. On the last two passes we ran a 6.83 and 6.82 which was our best during testing. We wasted four days to make two good runs but we're still feeling confident. I guess it doesn't matter how long of a road you have to take as long as you get to your destination. I'm disappointed with how long it took us to get there but I'm extremely excited about the destination we got to. I think everything we did wrong will come back and pay benefits over the course of the year because we're going to run into those situations again. Hopefully we'll learn from our mistakes. I keep telling everyone on the team that this is only the beginning and we have to remember that. We're here just to try and figure out what we need to do and come up with a plan on how to get there. It's going to take us awhile, but everyday that we make progress is a good day."
Bruce Allen (Reher-Morrison Pontiac Grand Am) - "We've mostly been working on our engines trying to get them to run better. We've also been doing a lot of customer work. We're in the unfortunate position of not having enough money sponsorship wise to fund the car so the shop is the sponsor. We have an obligation to take care of the business aspect to get funding for the race team and this is the time of year when we can get some projects done. We've also been working on engines for truck customers like Rick Jones and Don Smith. We've done some car things too and we're getting ready to go test to see if what we've done is good or bad - just basically formulating a plan. We've been hard at it. We've got a lot of parts and pieces, and we've got enough stuff to run really good, be competitive and win races. It's just a matter of it all coming together on this Grand Am. That's easier said than done. There are a lot of good programs out there and everybody has the same objective. You can't slack off out there because of the level of competition. You've got to have a good focus with a dedicated program to get the wins."
Del Worsham (Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird - "A lot. We've used some of the time to inventory new parts and freshen everything up. Those first two races came closer together than they have in the past, so we kind of just put our heads down and worked as hard as we could until they were over. Now we have time to sort back through everything and make sure we're ready for the rest of the grind. But the biggest thing we did was take our cars to the General Motors wind tunnel. That was not only awesome to do, but very worthwhile. We learned a lot about maximizing the downforce while minimizing the drag, and that's the ultimate objective. It was the first time Pontiac has brought us up there and we were honored and very appreciative. We plan on using the stuff we learned throughout the season. It was a fantastic opportunity."
Frank Pedregon (Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird) - "The blue Firebird team is based in Indiana, but I live in Southern California where the red team is based so I do what I can to help the red team out when we're home for stretches like this. They had a lot of work to do on their car and a lot of new parts, so in times like these the blue-team driver becomes the red-team 'gopher' when we're there. I help take some of the load off the crew by helping out running errands and picking up stuff. Both teams have been working hard and the wind tunnel thing was a major step in our program's growth. We've never done that before, and I know Del, Rob Flynn and Dave Fletcher were really thrilled about it."
John Lingenfelter (Summit Racing GMC Sonoma) - "We tested the Summit Racing Sonoma in Gainesville last week and we've been doing some engine development - we feel we've gained a little bit. We learned a lot while we were testing and feel more confident. I never like to tell what we're doing, and the other thing is if you brag about what you think you've got you usually get down there and jinx yourself and look bad. So I'd rather be conservative and run better than what people expect from us than the other way around. But we do feel like we made a gain in the engine department, and we did test it so we feel good about that."
What can we expect at the Gatornationals?
Mark Pawuk (Summit Racing Pontiac Grand Am) - "I wish I knew. I hope we can start going rounds like we did in Phoenix. But you just don't know because our class is so tough and the weather conditions play such an important factor. Making that right run, in the right session, in the proper lane means so much that it's hard to tell But after struggling in Pomona, and then going to Phoenix, running better there and cutting better lights, I'm actually pretty enthusiastic about Gainesville."
Jim Yates (Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Grand Am) -- "There's been such a variation of the weather in Gainesville. We had some of the best air we've ever had while we were down there testing, but when we go back it could be hot and humid. The conditions there vary so much. But I'm pretty excited about going back to the Gatornationals because I think we've got the car where it's working well. Maybe we'll have a little bit of an advantage over the others. Based on how we ran at the last race I think we've got the potential to put our Grand Am in the finals if we just do our job. We have a really fast car, and I'm working on my driving everyday so we should make it to the winner circle."
Bruce Allen (Reher-Morrison Pontiac Grand Am) -- "It could be good or bad. The track is really nice and smooth and people run well there because the track is smooth. If we have overcast skies, a high barometer and a smooth racetrack, there will be some really fast runs. It's a great race. People come from everywhere to this event, it's really well attended and there's a lot of tradition. I really enjoy racing at the Gatornationals."
Del Worsham (Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird) -- "More of the same incredible show we've been seeing in the Funny Car class. If Phoenix blew the old records away, I'd say Gainesville has every chance to do it again. It all just comes down to the weather. If the weather cooperates, it will be huge. It took 50 years for there to be an all four-second field in Funny Car, but one race later I already consider that normal. You better bank on four-second fields as standard stuff if you want to compete here. When the weather works against us, we'll still see very stout 5.0 fields. It's almost unbelievable to think about, but it's reality. This is the big leagues and you'd better be prepared at this level to play."
Whit Bazemore (Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird) -- "I don't see why we won't see that same excitement and drama here at Gainesville. That was really special for the fans at Phoenix and it was just an outstanding show. We didn't get that No. 1 qualifying spot at Phoenix, but we will be trying really hard this weekend at Gainesville. If we do things right and maximize our potential, we should be right there. I love this track, it is one of my favorites and is one of the greatest racing circuits on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing series. I have been coming here since the early 80's and to win here would be very special. In 1984, Kenny Bernstein and Joe Amato both ran 260 mph and then in 1992 Bernstein recorded history with the fastest run in a dragster at over 300 mph. The track has a history of huge performance, and I think that bodes well for the performance of our Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird. Don (Schumacher) is very determined to win races and championships and Schumacher Racing proved their ability with Tony's dragster over the last couple of years. As a driver, you want to put yourself in the best position to accomplish your goals and that is what I have done by coming over here. I never imagined Lee Beard would join our team and show the performance he has so early, but he is highly motivated to win races."
Frank Pedregon (Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird) -- "I know we plan on running hard, so I suspect everyone else is too. That's what is so great about Funny Cars right now. It's the sheer number of very good teams out there, we all know how many good cars will be showing up, so there's no way you can even show up at a race without an aggressive attitude. We all push each other even faster, and the times just keep getting quicker and quicker. We're not moving the bar at the all-time ET end of things, we're all pushing the standards from the other end, bunching more and more cars into that 4.80-4.95 range. Gainesville will be impressive."
John Lingenfelter (Summit Racing GMC Sonoma) -- "The goal for us is to qualify in the top half of the field. We feel like we could've been in the top half at Pomona if we would've had our act together. The track is great in Gainesville and the air is usually really good. I think you will see some top numbers there too. Gainesville and Houston are usually the two fastest tracks. The weather looks like it's going to be good too."