Gainesville Pontiac Racing Saturday Report

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 18, 2000) - Qualifying was completed today for the 31st annual Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway. In Pro Stock, Warren Johnson and the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Firebird will start Sunday eliminations...

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 18, 2000) - Qualifying was completed today for the 31st annual Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway. In Pro Stock, Warren Johnson and the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Firebird will start Sunday eliminations from the No. 1 qualifying position with a track-record elapsed time of 6.849 seconds at 200.83 mph. Ron Krisher is qualified fourth in a Firebird, Mark Pawuk is fifth in the Summit Racing Firebird, Bruce Allen is sixth in the Reher-Morrison Firebird, Tom Martino's Century 21 Firebird is qualified seventh, Steve Schmidt is eighth in the Dynagear Pontiac Firebird and Jim Yates is ninth in the Splitfire/Peak Firebird. Richie Stevens is 10th, George Marnell is 16th, and Jamie Yates was 27th. Jeg Coughlin is qualified second in an Oldsmobile and Troy Coughlin is third in an Oldsmobile.

In Funny Car, Todd Paton in the Nitrofish Firebird is qualified in the No. 7 position with an elapsed time of 4.916 seconds at 315.42 mph. Gary Densham is qualified ninth in the NEC Firebird, Tim Wilkerson is 10th, Del Worsham is 12th, Al Hofmann is 13th, Frank Pedregon is 14th, Cristen Powell was 17th, Bruce Sarver was 19th and Dale Creasy Jr. was 22nd. The No. 1 qualifier was John Force in a Mustang with an elapsed time of 4.836 seconds at 321.50 mph. Whit Bazemore is qualified second in a Camaro, Tony Pedregon is third in a Mustang, Ron Capps is fourth in a Camaro and Jim Epler is fifth in a Camaro.

In Top Fuel, MBNA/Pontiac driver Cory McClenathan qualified in the No. 8 position with an elapsed time of 4.695 seconds at 301.67 mph. The No. 1 qualifier is Gary Scelzi with an elapsed time of 4.619 seconds at 318.54 mph. Doug Kalitta is qualified second, Kenny Bernstein is third, Joe Amato is fourth and Tony Schumacher is fifth.

Television coverage of the Mac Tools Gatornationals can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, March 19, beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.


Warren Johnson (GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird) - "There was a little bit of cloud cover today that helped cool the track off, but at the same time there was a lot of dust out there that made the cars loose in the middle. Atmospheric conditions have given us almost 100-percent humidity which scrubs the speed off on these naturally aspirated engines, but overall it's not too bad. I knew yesterday that the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Firebird wouldn't get bumped out and that's your primary concern when you get here. Everybody's run pretty consistently in relationship to each other all weekend long. There haven't been any real surprises. The No. 1 qualifying effort is a credit to the whole team because it's not just any one individual that produces those performances. It's the people that work on these cars, the sponsors, the parts suppliers and everyone that's involved in this program. Obviously I need to have enough focus to know in which direction we need to go, but at the same time there are a lot of people who contribute greatly to our success. As long as it's not raining, snowing, sleeting or hailing tomorrow, then it will be perfect. I don't think anybody can be completely confident going into raceday. You have to look at the fact that there are 16 cars that are qualified within eight hundredth's of a second, so you're not talking about a major performance disadvantage for anybody. When you have changing track conditions like we'll have tomorrow, anyone who does an exceptional job in preparing their car to get down the racetrack, even though they may be in an unfavorable qualifying position, has the potential of winning. It's that close out here. It's less than the blink of an eye right now." No. 1 qualifier - 6.849ET (track record)/200.83MPH

Jim Yates (Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird) - "We're getting closer and closer to the right combination for this track. I think that the left lane is just a little bit faster. We made some major changes to the Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird and it seemed to respond pretty well. Now we've picked up a miss which started from about the eighth mile on. We'll do the drill, change a bunch of parts tonight and get ready for tomorrow morning. At least it shows we still have the potential, we just have to try our hardest to get the car down the track. We'll probably be first pair out in the first round, so the two lanes will probably be about equal at that point in time. As the day goes on, the bald spot will become much more pronounced in the right lane. Hopefully we can run fast enough in the right lane to secure lane choice. It's going to be tough just trying to beat Steve (Schmidt). We know we have the potential, the key will be in getting the car down the track." No. 9 qualifier - 6.917ET/199.79MPH

Tom Martino (Century 21 Pontiac Firebird) - "We're terribly disappointed that we didn't run better today. In the morning session, we should have been able to go 6.91 in the left lane and 6.92 in the right this afternoon. (Note: Martino recorded a pair of 6.95s). The car is just not responding the way we'd like it to. On the last run, it left well, but from second gear on it was like a Funny Car - shaking and spinning the tires and moving all over the track. We have some big decisions to make before the first round tomorrow. Richie (Stevens) will be tough, but he only ran a hundredth faster than we did in that last session, and we know there are between three and four hundredths left in our run. We're also happy to have lane choice, because that is always a factor. Here in Gainesville, the left side is better. In tonight's session, the fastest 10 cars to 60 feet all ran in the left lane. It's our job to determine how we can take advantage of this and win some rounds in the Century 21 Firebird." No. 7 qualifier - 6.914ET/199.32MPH

Mark Pawuk (Summit Racing Pontiac Firebird) -- "We're real happy with the way the Summit Racing Firebird rebounded today. We still didn't make a great run, which I'm sure there were a lot of guys who also didn't, but this is a really tricky racetrack - the first half has really thrown us a curve. We went out, and for the kind of run we made, had a pretty good e.t. The right lane doesn't appear to be as good as the left, so we're looking forward to moving over there tonight, we'll try to make another consistent run and get ready for tomorrow. We just keep trying to tune on this car and it seems to be wanting less and less at this particular racetrack, so we've been adjusting accordingly. It was definitely a nice comeback though. We were gambling a little bit this morning because we weren't quite sure what the car was going to do. We weren't sure if we were going in the right direction with the program, but even though we have a ways to go, we're headed in the right direction. There's plenty of racetrack out there once you get past the first 100 feet. The first 50 to 60 feet is real tricky - at least for us it is. We're getting a lot of wheel speed and the car wants to get out of control. If you can't get it pinned down on the first part of the track then usually it hurts the car in the one-two shift and bogs the engine. We're trying to get less aggressive in low gear to make the car run down the track a little better." No. 5 qualifier - 6.892ET/199.11MPH

Richie Stevens (Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird) - "We're in the field and that's always the No. 1 goal at every race. We tried to step on it a little today to get in the top half of the ladder but, as it turned out, no one was able to move around much in the standings. The weather just didn't cooperate. It was too windy and the track was a little warm. I though we could sneak up in the last session today but it didn't happen. It's great to get in the show again and it's great to get back in the top 10. We were in the top 10 of the points for most of last year and we got used to being a front runner. We were all a little upset that we slipped out of the standings at the last race, even though it was just a few points difference and it's still so early in the year. One sure way to stay near the top is to go some rounds tomorrow. That's the plan and I really believe we have a car that's capable of winning it all. To win on Sunday, you have to be consistent. This weekend we've run a 6.92, 6.93, 6.94, and a 6.95. That's pretty consistent. I'm excited." No. 10 qualifier - 6.922ET/197.83MPH


Al Hofmann (Mooneyes Pontiac Firebird) - "It fell off from halftrack on. The Mooneyes Pontiac Firebird seemed to run pretty good early, and in a lot of places a 4.99 is a pretty good run. It's just not too good here. We have a new team, new parts, new cars - I don't think it'll take us long before this program gels. This Firebird is one of the few cars that went to the end four times within a hundredth of a second. I don't think that's too bad. If we can go out there tomorrow and put together four of those then that just might win this race. We're at Star Wars conditions with these kind of track conditions. When we get to tracks like Las Vegas and Atlanta and Virginia, a five-oh is going to look pretty darn good. I'll take a string of them. I like our chances tomorrow. Anytime you're in a 16-car field that's this close, you have to like your chances." No. 13 qualifier - 4.999ET/295.21MPH Del Worsham (Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird) - "We're getting it - we're making progress. That's a 5.05 and a 4.99, along with a run that was about to be a 4.95, but we ran out of motor. Under any other circumstances I've ever been around that would be something to be jazzed about, but here it seems like they must be handing out 4.80s and low 4.90s out for free to everyone else. This run was a pretty useful one for us though because we changed some things on the Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac after torching a head last night. We needed to change the approach a little because it didn't want to make it all the way without hurting itself yesterday. So we changed some things this morning, and that can be nerve wracking because you can only make educated guesses as to how it will react. Our 2000 Firebird handled it just like we thought it would and now we should be able to put some more power to it and move up some more. We set our new personal best two weeks ago in Phoenix at 4.95 and I'll be very disappointed if we don't reset it again this afternoon."

Second Session: "That one got away. It was our best run of the weekend, and I guess probably my best run ever. We were pulling away and the car was really moving. It's pretty easy to get a comparison since Frank ran a 5.00 in the other lane, and at half track we were six-hundredths ahead of his pace. That belt was new this morning, and there's not a hurt part on the car so it was just a broken belt deal. Sometimes there's no explaining it. The car has done everything we've asked it this weekend, but it's disappointing not to put that kind of run on the board. Still, we know what it will do. I wouldn't want to race us tomorrow. Before the run we all spent a lot of time together, getting the blue car dialed in a little more, and the whole team effort paid off. Nice run by Frankie and Dave Fletcher. We both aim to win tomorrow." No. 12 qualifier - 4.999ET/302.62MPH

Frank Pedregon (Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird) - "We had a little problem there that slowed the Checker Schuck's Kragen Firebird down and that's disappointing. We should be running 4.99s like Del (Worsham), but we haven't gotten it all together yet. We're putting together a string of solid runs, but right now we're not quick enough to be too happy about it. You can be consistent all day, but when the field is running this fast you need to stay up with them. This final pass will be a real big one for us. We can't assume for one second that the 5.09 will make the field. We have to improve and put someone else on the hot seat."

Second Session: "That's why we have a two-car team, right there. We got the minds together, got the tune-up tweaked, and made a big stride. And now we race my brother Tony tomorrow, so that will be fun. We'll take all we've learned, and take the data from Del's pass, and give it our best shot. Man, the red car was really haulin' on that pass, at half track he was pulling away. This whole effort is really coming together, we've got a lot to be proud of. I can tell you right now that this blue team will be heading to the line tomorrow to win. We're not going up there to look good, or make a good run. We're going up there to win." No. 14 qualifier - 5.009ET/302.62MPH

Tim Wilkerson (Sioux City Kenworth Pontiac Firebird) - We're still trying to get a handle on this 90-percent deal. It's knocking the front of the heads off. We just changed this Sioux City Kenworth Pontiac Firebird around enough to get it down the track. You have to remember that we have a lot of friends out here who want to see us do well. A lot of the guys from the old crew and a lot of people who want to see a good team succeed. I'm not doing this on my own by any means. The run felt okay. Fred Mandolini and myself are trying to figure out how to make this car run. He's learned a few new things and I'm hoping his knowledge and experience will keep us consistent. That's really what I lack. I make drastic moves and do the wrong thing. We're working on it. We'll keep it the way it is, park it for today and analyze all the things that are hurt. It's not hurting things too badly, but it's cooking the front two holes. We're going to drop the compression a little bit and see if that helps. We'll see - we're still learning. We don't have the number of laps that everyone else has to fall back on." No. 10 qualifier - 4.945ET/307.23MPH

Gary Densham (NEC Pontiac Firebird) - So far the NEC Pontiac Firebird has been really consistent and fast, and I think we have a real good chance on this type of racetrack. The guys don't need the aerodynamic advantage on this good of a racetrack and we've shown that. We ran real good speed every run, the motor's looking good and we should be competitive on Sunday. To win tomorrow we'll have to be fast and consistent. It's one of these races where the track is so good that you have to ready to step it up. I've got a pair of great guys with me calling the shots and the improvement of this program is beginning to show. Greg's (Amaral) been with me for years and is one of the brightest young guys I know. Larry (Meyer) brings the experience of working with other winning teams that we've never had before and I think we're going to have an outstanding team." No. 8 qualifier - 4.931ET/308.85MPH

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Bruce Sarver , Frank Pedregon , Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Jamie Yates , Warren Johnson , Jim Epler , Tony Pedregon , Al Hofmann , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Ron Krisher , Dale Creasy Jr. , Gary Densham , Todd Paton , Cory McClenathan , Bruce Allen , Tom Martino , Tim Wilkerson , George Marnell , Steve Schmidt , Cristen Powell