Houston: Pontiac Racing Saturday final qualifying notes

BAYTOWN, Tex., March 24, 2001 - Qualifying for the 14th annual O'Reilly Nationals presented by Pennzoil was completed today at Houston Raceway Park. In Funny Car, Del Worsham held onto the No. 1 qualifying position. The CSK Firebird ran 4.810...

BAYTOWN, Tex., March 24, 2001 - Qualifying for the 14th annual O'Reilly Nationals presented by Pennzoil was completed today at Houston Raceway Park. In Funny Car, Del Worsham held onto the No. 1 qualifying position. The CSK Firebird ran 4.810 seconds at 313.22 mph to give Worsham his first pole since August 1991 - a span of 189 races. Whit Bazemore had the quickest time of the last round driving the Matco Tools Firebird to the No. 2 starting position with a run of 4.846 seconds at 312.28 mph. John Force is third in a Mustang, Ron Capps is fourth in a Camaro and Gary Densham is fifth in a 0Mustang. Bruce Sarver is qualified sixth in a Firebird, Al Hofmann is 10th, Frank Pedregon is 11th, Scotty Cannon is 12th, Jerry Toliver is 13th and Tony Bartone is 16th. In Pro Stock, Mike Edwards is the No. 1 qualifier in a Cavalier with an elapsed time of 6.843 seconds at 200.65 mph. Warren Johnson improves today with the quickest elapsed time in the final session at 6.845 seconds and a speed of 200.74 mph. The GM Goodwrench Service Plus Grand Am driver will start eliminations from the No. 2 position. Ron Krisher is third in a Cavalier, Darrell Alderman is fourth in a Dodge, Mark Pawuk is fifth in a Grand Am, Brad Jeter is sixth in a Grand Am, Jim Yates is seventh in a Grand Am and Kurt Johnson is eighth in a Cavalier. Tom Martino is qualified ninth, George Marnell is 10th, Richie Stevens is 11th and Bruce Allen is 14th.

In Pro Stock Truck, Bob Panella held onto the No. 1 qualifying position after two very quick sessions today. His Chevy S-10 set both ends of the national record yesterday with a run of 7.420 seconds at 182.11 mph and that's the performance number that will hold up head heading into Sunday eliminations. Randy Daniels will remain in the second position in an S-10 with a pass of 7.425 seconds at 181.45 mph. Jeff Gracia drives his Sonoma into the No. 3 spot with a final-session lap of 7.435 seconds at 181.45 mph, is Greg Stanfield is fourth in an S-10 and Mike Corvo Jr. is fifth in a Sonoma n S-10. John Lingenfelter makes his way into the show in the Summit Racing Sonoma. Lingenfelter had a 7.487 elapsed time during the morning round which places him in the No. 8 spot.

Mike Dunn captured the No. 1 position during the last qualifying run with a 4.534 elapsed time at 323.50 mph. Larry Dixon is qualified second, Gary Scelzi is third, Doug Kalitta is fourth and Doug Herbert is fifth.


Warren Johnson (GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Grand Am) - "We've been working on the 60-foot times since we go the car, and our effort is starting to pay off. Today's quick run was the result of the changes we made in the clutch last night. We're just starting to get comfortable with this setup, and there is definitely room for further improvement. We don't know where the edge is, so we're going to be cautious tomorrow. I haven't had the best reaction times out there with this new clutch combination, but they're at least acceptable. The speed is up because the car is moving harder on the gear changes. With the old setup we were spinning the tires on the gear changes and losing momentum. We made changes to the chassis before Gainesville, and along with the changes inside the bellhousing we made this weekend, we're getting closer to happy combination. It's like when we debuted the Firebirds in 1996 - they weren't the fastest cars at first, but we steadily improved the package. The Grand Am is a whole new package in terms of wheelbase, body envelope, and weight distribution. The vertical center of gravity has changed considerably because of the new composite body. There is so much difference it's almost like reverting back to the Cutlasses we ran six years ago."

Richie Stevens (Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird) - "We needed that. We were pulling our hair out hoping to make it in the field and we had to pull our old car out to get in. We just haven't had enough test time with the new Grand Am. We're going to stay here Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and get as many laps as we can on the racecar. We'll try to get on par with Yates and Pawuk and teams like that. We didn't want to take any chances by not qualifying like we did in Gainesville. We knew if we took the old car out we'd have a shot of getting in and we did. The first run with it we probably could have gotten in, but we had two broken springs and didn't know it. We got back, found the problem, went back up and had the same identical run giving us the 6.88 which was good for No. 11. We've been struggling all year. We went to Pomona with the new car and had maybe 10 runs on it. Up until now we probably have about 35 runs on it. We still have a lot to learn."

Bruce Allen (Connoco Pontiac Grand Am) -- "We actually did pretty well today considering we didn't make a run in the good session last night. We broke a transmission. But to make three runs that qualified us in every other session and still stay in the show is pretty good. We were probably sixth or seventh performance wise for each round. There's not a lot that separates this field. No. 1 qualified with a 6.84 and the bump is 6.89. We're there with a 6.88 so I'm not complaining. There were a lot of good cars that weren't in that last session and we were a little worried about that. But you have to be confident that you can step up and we did. We're fast enough and that's encouraging."

Tom Martino (Century 21 Pontiac Grand Am) - "We knew after our last run in Gainesville that we were happy with our CENTURY 21 Grand Am, and that we were looking forward to coming to Houston. As I said yesterday, this is the first time in quite a while that we left one track and came to another, made a minor adjustment and ran well right out of the box. What's encouraging is that two of our runs here this weekend weren't very good, and still they were pretty fast. The run we made this morning was a good one - if we done that last night, we would have been in the Top Five. But I can't complain about our results so far this weekend. We basically left the car alone and made some changes to the engine, and it definitely responded. We'll try a little more of the same for tomorrow, and hopefully beat my good friend Kurt Johnson. After all, when I won my first race here in 1997, one of the people I had to defeat was KJ - maybe it will be the start of a good day!"


Mike Corvo Jr. (Motorhomes Unlimited GMC Sonoma) - "We've pretty much picked up from where we left off at Gainesville which is really impressive since we're coming into a new arena and running just s good if not better. We ran our career best on Q2, Rick (Jones) made some changes with the clutch and David (Reher) made some gains with the motor. This Reher-Morrison horsepower has picked this Sonoma up a bunch - we've got some confidence heading into tomorrow. We went into Pomona down on power so reaction time was super critical. I started thinking about it and that only put more pressure on myself. Gracia came out on Q4 and made an incredible run, and then Daniels, Panella and Stanfield are right there as well. This is my favorite track. I got my NHRA license here in 1994 and my wife's from Houston. I met her here and took her home to Chicago. This is a great place - I'd love to win this race. We got Craig Eaton in the first round so hopefully we'll be able to take out that Dodge."

Jeff Gracia (Panella Trucking GMC Sonoma) - "Right now we have a pretty good truck for tomorrow. Bobby (Panella) made three good runs and we kind of pulled the data from his lap prior to this one and it paid off. That's the fastest lap I've ever run and right now we're the fastest GMC Sonoma out here. If I do my job driving, and the truck stays as consistent as it was today then we have a pretty good shot tomorrow. A perfect scenario would be for Bobby and me to race in the final but more important is keeping the truck consistent. If that happens then everything else should take care of itself."

John Lingenfelter (Summit Racing GMC Sonoma) - "We had good numbers but they really weren't good passes. The first pass this morning it went hard left, so I short-shifted about a thousandth early to stay in the groove to get the front end back down, and then down the rest of the track the Summit Racing Sonoma ran pretty good. We had a decent 330 but nothing like it's capable of. And then last shot, it spun the tires hard in second gear and that hurt us again. We know there's a lot more in it, you just hesitate to make big changes when it's raceday. We stayed over in Gainesville and changed a lot of stuff out. We're probably going to stay over here and work on the four-link."


Del Worsham (Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird) - "One week ago we ran 4.88 in Gainesville and our guys about jumped out of their skin. It was a new career-best at the time, and a big run for us, but it was perfect and we knew we could run quicker. After the 4.81 last night this 4.88 feels like a nice safe conservative lap, but we all know it isn't. It was just as hard to run that 4.88 as the one a week ago, we're just thrilled we could put up the 4.81 and a 4.88 back-to-back in completely different conditions. This is the sort of stuff you have to do in order to win around here, so we feel pretty good about how we're doing. One more lap to go. We'll try to run another strong lap with this Checker Schuck's Kragen Firebird and we'll just have to see if anyone can bump us off the top spot. It would be a huge accomplishment for us to qualify No. 1."

Second Session: "We ran the 4.88 in the right lane to try and get a baseline for tomorrow to see where we are just in case we have to run in that lane. We came out tonight, the last two cars on the track and Force has been known to pick your pocket on that last pass. We tried to throw a big number up there with the hope of possibly putting up a national-record number and it didn't stick. The fields are so tight right now that reaction times are going to play an important role in winning and losing races. Before that wasn't necessarily the case. You shrink a 16-car starting field to within five hundredths from top to bottom and two hundredths on the tree can either make you or break you. I'd be kidding you if I said we didn't want to beat Force to the finish line running side-by-side. Our CSK Pontiac Firebird almost made it too, it was really close to hooking up and going and it would have been a big number. When Force's 4.85 came up I was pretty releived."

Frank Pedregon (Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird) - "We have the mindset that a 5.04 is not nearly good enough to make the show. Yes, I'm glad we got it A-to-B on that run, but it dropped a cylinder at the hit and never picked it up again. Now we have to make the same run on all eight pipes and we'll have a solid number. If we don't run a low 4.90 or a high 4.80 I think this whole team will be disappointed, but the key thing is to get this Firebird in the show."

Whit Bazemore (Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird) - "I needed that. Our entire Matco Tools team has been working very hard and that was a really good run. We are a new team that has very high expectations from our sponsors, Matco Tools and Pontiac, our car owner Don Schumacher, but more importantly among ourselves. We want nothing more than to be the best and to go out there and run a 4.84, which was low e.t. of the day. That feels pretty good. To run the quickest run of the day is always a good accomplishment and that showed a little bit of our potential. This Matco team is all working really well together and we have a good competitive team. It is als oa fantastic to see a pair of Pontiacs leading the field here this weekend. Usually, with a new team it takes a while to get competitive, where a team functions together in a way that is fluid and smooth, and this team has come together really quickly and made it look easy. Tomorrow we have to be ready to race and I have total confidence in the car. I'm very motivated as well. We're going to go up there, try to do a perfect job and try to win rounds. The pressure is on and I have always performed better when the pressure is on me. After Phoenix we're going to go up there and do everything we know how to do to win the drag race."

Jerry Toliver (WWF/XFL Pontiac Firebird) - "We've been close all weekend - this WWF Firebird has been running on the ragged edge. We finally got it dialed in where it wouldn't smoke the tires. When your backs up against the wall like that, where you need that last lap to get in the show, it's nerve racking. Especially coming in here after not qualifying for the last race - we were looking at double jeopardy and not liking it very well. I don't think I've ever started at the racetrack as hard in my life trying to keep that car in the groove. It stuck, it was a little lazy in the beginning, but ran 310 so at the other end it was flying. We've backed this thing down so much in so many areas, trying to get it down the racetrack. This a good strong team with a lot of depth and if there's anybody who can figure it out it's Dale Armstrong. In the long run we're going to be a lot stronger."

Jim Dunn (Mooneyes/Red Line Oil Pontiac Firebird) - "We couldn't get down the track at all and couldn't figure out what was wrong. We changed our warmup procedure at Gainesville and it made the clutch too aggressive. We thought we had too much power so we changed our warmup back to where it was and it was actually running better the second run. We were a thousandth ahead of Tony (Pedregon) at 600 feet and he ran a 4.88. But the back of the fuel tank broke, shut the fuel off and threw the blower belt off. We were lucky that's all it hurt. But tomorrow, it's lock and load."


Mike Dunn (Gwynn-Steinbrenner/GM Mobility/GMC/Yankee Dragster) - "We kind of got off track going for that speed record. To get the speed, on our car anyway, we had to run it kind of soft down low and then keep all the sparkplugs in it so it would run the big speed on the other end. We finally realized we weren't getting where we needed to be so our focus then turned to running good e.t. We knew that if it stayed on all eight cylinders that it would back up the record, but unfortunately it didn't. It was flying, I mean the RPM came up just like it did when we ran the 330, but at 900 feet it put a couple of cylinders out and that killed our MPH. Right now I'd love to back up the record but I'd rather have the win. We're still probably not where we need to be because you look at Scelzi, and you look at Dixon and they're going down the track every time running 4.50s. They really have the upper hand right now. But hopefully, we learned some things on that run that we'll be able to use tomorrow. We know if our car can go down the track that we have a shot at winning the race, we just have to do that four times on Sunday."

-GM Racing

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Bruce Sarver , Frank Pedregon , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Darrell Alderman , Brad Jeter , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Al Hofmann , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Doug Kalitta , Ron Krisher , Jeff Gracia , Randy Daniels , John Lingenfelter , Gary Densham , Scotty Cannon , Bruce Allen , Tom Martino , George Marnell , Mike Corvo Jr. , Jerry Toliver , Don Schumacher , Mike Edwards