Herbert, Densham, and Krisher log best runs for Wednesday'S Mac Tools U.S. Nationals testing at IRP. CLERMONT, Ind. -- Top Fuel driver Doug Herbert recorded the quickest performance Wednesday during testing for the 48th annual Mac Tools U.S.
Herbert, Densham, and Krisher log best runs for Wednesday'S Mac Tools U.S. Nationals testing at IRP.
CLERMONT, Ind. -- Top Fuel driver Doug Herbert recorded the quickest performance Wednesday during testing for the 48th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park. NHRA Teams are preparing for the world's most prestigious drag race, to be held Labor Day weekend (Aug. 28-Sept. 2). The $2.2 million race is the 17th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
Herbert powered his Snap-on Tools dragster down the quarter-mile in 4.651 seconds at 314.68 mph during his only day of testing. Darrell Russell, the 2001 NHRA Rookie of the Year, clocked the second quickest Top Fuel run in testing, turning the clocks off with a 4.656 at 320.74 pass in his Bilstein Engine Flush dragster. Current POWERade points leader Larry Dixon drove his Miller Lite dragster to two shut-off runs, one at 4.656 at 281.51 and another at 4.680 at 272.97. Last years Top Fuel testing leader, Tony Schumacher, piloted his U.S. Army dragster to a 4.663 at 314.90 pass for his best numbers of the session.
Funny Car veteran Gary Densham and his teammate Tony Pedregon logged the quickest runs Funny Car runs. Densham's final run of the test session was his best, driving his Auto Club Ford Mustang to the finish line in 4.777 at 320.62. Pedregon gave Force Racing the two top spots during testing as he recorded a pass of 4.811 at 316.01 in his Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang. Cannon drove his Oakley Camaro to a 4.841 at 314.46 on the first day of testing for the third best Funny Car time during the test session. Cannon's teammate, Whit Bazemore had his best run on the second day of the session as his Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird recorded a 4.854 at 313.47 pass. Current POWERade Funny Car points leader and 11-time series champ John Force drove his Castrol GTX Mustang to a best run of 4.859 at 309.38.
Ron Krisher made the best Pro Stock pass during the first day of the test session as he steered his Eagle One Chevy Cavalier down the track quicker than the existing track record with a pas of 6.862 at 200.66. Defending series champ Warren Johnson clocked a 6.864 at a track-best 200.75 for the second best Pro Stock run. Kenny Koretsky was impressive as he matched Johnson's 6.864 pass at a slower 199.86. Jim Yates, who is currently second in the standings despite not winning an event this season, made it down the track in 6.870 at 200.04 in his Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird. V. Gaines was the fifth Pro Stock driver to run quicker than the existing track record (6.879 seconds) as his Western Motorsports Chevy Cavalier ran a 6.875 at 200.66. Greg Anderson, who leads the POWERade standings for the first time in his career, had a best run of 6.887 at 200.62.
MAC TOOLS U.S. NATIONALS TESTING DRIVER QUOTES
LARRY DIXON, Miller Lite dragster, 1995 and 2001 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Top Fuel winner; Currently first in NHRA POWERade Top Fuel standings, leading Kenny Bernstein by 80 points:
After such an amazing start to the 2002 season, your points lead has shrunk since the St. Louis race. Do you think this test session will provide you with the information to get back to that early season dominance? "To be honest, I really haven't even thought about the points. Right now, everybody on our team is really focused on trying to have a good showing here at Indy. We won here last year, and obviously we would like to repeat, but we're trying to get our car adapted to the track and weather conditions here so we can have a good showing next week. Yesterday we set the car up to run to the 1,000-foot mark and we ran a 4.68 (seconds) and a 4.69 at 270 (mph). We're trying some other things, but it's all about trial and error. That's why we're here.
Your trying to become the first Top Fuel driver to defend the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals title since Joe Amato did it in 1987-88. Do you have a good shot at that? "That tells you how hard it is to win this race. This is the biggest and most important race we go to and everybody puts their best effort in. I imagine no one is going to let anyone cakewalk through this thing so we're just trying to be as prepared as we can be."
Every race is critical when your battling for a championship, but would winning Indy again this year be that much more important? "The points thing is secondary. It's like bonus points for winning Indy. We won here last year and we got the most points. That's what happens when you win. Winning the race is the first thing on our minds."
There have been a lot of great drivers that have competed in this prestigious event and have never won it. You have won it twice already. "True, but it's hard to impress the people in this camp. You have (team-owner) Snake (Don Prudhomme) who has won this race seven times and (crew chief for teammate Ron Capps) Ace (McCulloch) who has won it six times, so I'm way down on the list. But I think back to all the years my dad came to this race and never won here. To have won this race twice already in my brief career is certainly the highlight."
DARRELL RUSSELL, 2001 NHRA Rookie of the Year, and driver of the Joe Amato-owned Bilstein Engine Flush Top Fuel dragster; Currently fourth in the NHRA POWERade standings:
This is the biggest race of the year. This is the Grand Daddy. "It's the Super Bowl of drag racing. There are two things that everybody remembers at the end of every year. It's who is the POWERade champion and who won Indy. It's can definitely define a driver's career to be able to win this race. There is nothing bigger, there is nothing more prestigious. It's the race that every driver wants to win."
Is there a special feeling for you leading up to Indy? What kind of emotions do you go through? "I try not to make it any different than any other race. I just go up there with the same mindset that I would at any other race before or after that. As you start going rounds on Monday, it's probably going to be a bit more taxing. There is going to be a lot more media around, the fans and just the pressure at being at Indy. It's the race that if you win it is all worth while."
How important was that crew chief change in Las Vegas to turn your team around for the rest of the year? "It's speaking dividends right now. We have gone from 15th in the points up to fourth and we are very close to third. I've won three races and the car is much more consistent than it has been in a long, long time. It was a hard decision for Joe Amato to make but it was a business decision. Fortunately for me it worked out very well. (Crew chief) Wayne's (Dupuy) tune-up works well with my driving. There is chemistry there. That's very important in any form of sport whether it is football or basketball or even drag racing. You have got to have that chemistry. It's looks like we have found it and things are starting to click. I think there are a lot more good things in store for this team."
At any time during your little slump during the early part of the year were you at all concerned about your job? "No I wasn't. Joe Amato told me point blank that the problem was with the performance of the car and not with the driver. I am his man and he has all the faith in me. He kept telling me over and over, 'Look, we are going to do this together'. He was actually coming to me with a lot of questions on what we should do as far as making a change and getting my input. No, not at one time was there any issue about my job being in jeopardy."
What do you think the turning point was in your season? Was it your win at Topeka? "There is no question about it that was probably the most special win for this team. With all the problems that we had coming into that race and the team was basically new. We still had some temporary crewmembers on the team. To come in there and to actually beat Larry Dixon by outperforming him like that, it was definitely a turning point for this team. Things have just skyrocketed since then.
How much does a guy like (crew chief) Wayne (Dupuy) know? He really has worked with a lot of young drivers. Actually how much about this sport does he know? Does he kind of get overlooked by some of the fans out there? "I think so. The thing with Wayne is that he has always worked with teams that were low budget teams. They didn't have enough money to run for championships every year. I think because of that there was no one out there that really saw him as a potential champion crew chief. When Joe had to make this decision and gave Wayne this opportunity, Wayne himself told us that it was his opportunity to make a big run at this. He said, 'I can't mess this up. I know I can do this and I want to do this.' He was looking for a home and he wants someplace that he can basically call his home for the next three or four years. I think that is what Joe is going to do. I think things are definitely coming around because he is coming into his own. I can see him everyday with the confidence he is getting. It's really fun to watch.
Obviously you are happy with the turnaround that the team has made, but how frustrating is it knowing that here you are in the points and if you had had a little better start to the season, you would be right there running down Larry (Dixon)? "That's hard to say. That Miller Lite team and that Budweiser team, they are awfully tough. We don't know what would have happened if we had a better start. That is something that I do think about on occasion. Right now I am really concentrating and our whole team is concentrating to move our way to third place and see what's left. We'll see if we can start picking away at second and then go from there. We are trying to set realistic goals and that is what this team is looking at."
Who do you think will be your biggest competition at Indy? "I think every car that qualifies is going to be intense competition. Everybody pretty much throws everything out for this race. It's the big one. The top eight cars out there are going to be hard to be able to come out here and make something happen. Larry Dixon and Kenny Bernstein and Doug Kalitta is starting to come around. Tony Schumacher is showing signs of life and even Cory Mac (McClenathan) is right there. It's going to be a tough one, no question."
WHIT BAZEMORE, Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird, 1997 and 2001 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Funny Car winner and 2000 runner-up; Currently second in NHRA POWERade Funny Car points standings:
You are No. 5 in the standings going into the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, what's the goal for the final seven races of the season? "Well our goal is to go from fifth to first in the POWERade championship standings. Realistically we want, and we need, to go out and win races. We have had a disappointing season so far, I think. We had too many losses early in the season. We know what some of our weaknesses are and we our addressing those to fix them. If we can fix them, and I think we made huge progresses during testing, we will be way stronger than we have been. And if that's the case, who knows what our potential is. It could be real good."
Last year at Indy you were just dominating. You won the race, were the No. 1 qualifier, and you set the track record for time and speed. Is this test session going to help you do that again this year? "It's going to be hard to reset the track record with the tires we have now, but we have some good information from both days of testing and we've made some progress with our car which is really exciting. It's just a matter of going back to the shop and preparing all of our equipment perfectly. Just getting ready for Indy next week. It's the Grand Daddy race and we want to make sure that when we roll into the gate next week, we're 110 percent as prepared as we can be. We are here to win this race and that's it, nothing else. I feel really good, but it's a drag race. I can't say we're going to come out here and kick everyone's ass. (John) Force's (three) cars look awfully good lately. There also are some other good teams that have been struggling and need to turn it around, and they are certainly capable of turning it around. It's going to be tough, but we feel pretty confident we can race with them."
How's the two-car team going, you and Scotty Cannon, in its first full year? "It's starting to work out. To be honest with you, I think it took a lot away from our team just because it just takes a huge effort to get it up and going. Then it's a learning process. We didn't go out and hire some other crew chiefs to come in and run that car. We took Mike Neff form the Matco Tools team and put him in charge of the Oakley team. Mike and (Bazemore's crew chief) Lee Beard worked hand-in-hand last year. I think it's fair to say the two-car team slowed us down a little bit, but now we are starting to see things pick up. We have both cars running competitively instead of one or the other making it down the track. Long-term it is definitely going to pay dividends.
RON CAPPS, Skoal Chevy Camaro, two-time Budweiser Shootout winner ('98 & '99); Currently seventh in POWERade Funny Car points and is the No. 6 qualifier for the Budweiser Shootout and will face Tony Pedregon in the opening round:
Your season probably hasn't gone the way you had planned so far? "It's been a tough year. We felt good after Sonoma being in the final round but we stumbled again and we know why and we're beating ourselves up over it. You have to go on though. The hard thing is that we have the sponsor and the team and pretty much everything else you need to win a championship and be successful and when it doesn't happen it's hard. Whoever beats Force first for a championship will be a huge deal."
Do you think you'll turn your season around in the final seven races of the year? "You don't give up. It's tough. You can ask anyone in the Funny Car class, but for the past 10 years you'll go up and make a run, and it won't be a good run. You'll say that the track is junk, but then John Force will come up and run a 4.80 and you just look at each other. It's times like that that make or break a team. You either say 'wow' and give up, or you find a way to keep going. Not that we haven't quit running for the championship, but after Sonoma when we went to Brainerd, we were just trying to learn some things for next year. On Friday we decided to test a couple of things and then we lost the run to weather and on Saturday we were trying to salvage our old tune-up. You just keep at it. Indy is a great race. It's one of those races that could turn everything around. We're just going to keep digging."
What does it mean to you to race at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals? "That race is huge. You almost can't put it into words. You could go up to the staging lanes and pick up a pebble or a rock from 1965 - that's how much history is here. You've got the speedway across town. This whole town is a racing town with all the Indy car teams here. Then you add the Budweiser Shootout for the Funny Car guys. For me, when my good friend Blaine Johnson was killed and I was standing at the starting line behind the car - there's so much built up in this race personally. It's a pretty big deal emotionally and performance wise. You know when I'm in Snakes shop in California and see all of his trophies and everything that he has won, right in the middle of that trophy case are the U.S. National trophies. Even right in the middle of his championship trophies. That tells you right there how important this race really is. If you're a buff of any motorsport and grow up reading about it and then go out and win it - that's a big deal."
GREG ANDERSON, Vegas General Construction Chevy Cavalier, former crew chief for six-time Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson; Defending Pro Stock winner of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals; Currently leading the NHRA POWERade point standings for the first time in his career; 2002 is his first full season of NHRA competition:
You're in the points lead for the first time in your career, did you think you would be atop the standings in your first full year of competition? "Absolutely not. We had pretty much talked about it and thought we could probably make it into the top five of the standings and challenge for the championship next season, but not this year. So, we're way ahead of schedule. Especially with the slow start we got to this season, we're way ahead of schedule we think. It's not that we're completely shocked or anything, we had high expectations and high hopes with a lot of confidence in ourselves, but realistically did we think this would happen - no, absolutely not. "
What was the turning point for your team this season? "The time when everything started to come together was in Las Vegas. We completely re-worked our engine combination and we completely re-worked the car combination. (My team) sat down and decided to stop bickering and fighting trying not to prove each one of us was smarter than the other and we all decided to work together. It's been going forward since then. Now we work together as a team instead of individually, and the motor program elevated at the same time, and we have gone forward every week."
You're leading the points battle, Jim Yates is only 12 points behind you, and Jeg Coughlin is in the third spot, only 35 points off the lead. What does that say about the competitiveness of the Pro Stock category? "Everyone who watches this class understands how ridiculously competitive it is. You sweat out just trying to qualify for every race. Just because you come into Indy as the points leader doesn't give you anything on anybody. You have just a good of a chance to not qualify as anyone here. Every race we go to , the first race we have to race is the qualifying race, then another race on Sunday. Your scared to death going from one track to another thinking, 'Am I going to qualify, am I going to qualify.' You can't race if you don't qualify and there are 30 cars that show up every week that can qualify for the 16-car field. So it's who does the best job and makes the best run at the right time. The guy that doesn't, goes home. I have been kind of watching the last 10 races in a row, there have been two or three of the cars in the Top 10 that don't qualify. You just know it's going to happen every race and hope it's not you."
Has this test session provided you with some valuable information so you can try and defend your Mac Tools U.S. Nationals title? This test last year is probably what enabled me to win the race last year. The car ran flawless through the race and that is why I will come back to this test session every year from now on. It gets you so prepared for the race. This is one of the few places that the conditions when you test are very close to what you see when you come back and race. Usually you have a big discrepancy from one week to the next based on how they prepare the track. Well, this week NHRA came in and prepared the track just like they are going to do it next week. You are going to have a very similar race track next week. The track is wonderful out there, and that is just going to make more cars run faster. That is going to tighten up the field. You'll probably have 30 cars within three-hundredths of-a-second next week. That brings the margin of error down to zero."
JIM YATES, Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Grand Am; Two-time NHRA Pro Stock champion; Currently second in the Pro Stock POWERade standings, 12 points behind Greg Anderson despite not winning an event in 2002.
How do you view the competitiveness of the Pro Stock category? "Most of the fans seem to enjoy seeing the competition so tight in Pro Stock. The idea of having two cars that close together is amazing. We put 16 cars in the field on Sunday that are within three to four hundredths of-a-second on our worst day. There's a lot of close competition because even that three to four hundredths gets cut down when reaction times are factored in. The other guy that may be the slower car can cut a good reaction time and we can win lights typically in the one to two thousandths range, which makes it exciting for most of the fans. I guess if you're looking for a runaway, you're not going to see it in Pro Stock because just about every round is side-by-side and within inches. That's the beauty of the class right now. Sometimes the guy that wins a race may not even qualify at the next event. That's not because he is doing a bad job, it's just the competition is that close. Anybody can win on Sunday. All you have to do is qualify and you can win on race day."
How have you been able to stay near the top of the standings and distance yourself from the rest of the field? "Basically it's by our performance. This year we've had the most consistent car in Pro Stock. We've qualified No. 1 six times this year. We've qualified at all but one race. Ron Krisher is the only guy that's qualified at all the races this year and our average qualifying position is probably about three now and that's a real tribute to the quality of the team we have. Plus we were leading the points chase up until last week. And that's what it takes to be a champion, to get all the points you can. Our goal is to win the championship. We need to get all the points we can get.
"We're all human. The cars are controlled by humans. All the shifts have to be made by the guy driving. On a typical run you try and shift within 50-60 rpm every gear change. The key is keeping the car inside the groove. The guy that can get down the track in the bad session in the bad lane -that's a good driver. You just have to stay on top of your game and win rounds."