Indianapolis: Rookie Lampus realizes he's still learning

INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 4) -- ExpressAutoParts.com Top Fuel driver Don Lampus' first trip to the U.S. Nationals, which ended Monday in the first round of eliminations, had a dejà vu feeling for the first-time participant. The former off-road racer ...

INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 4) -- ExpressAutoParts.com Top Fuel driver Don Lampus' first trip to the U.S. Nationals, which ended Monday in the first round of eliminations, had a dejà vu feeling for the first-time participant. The former off-road racer likened his initial experience at the world's biggest drag race to the first time he competed in the Baja 1000.

"I feel exactly like I did after my first run down the Baja Peninsula," Lampus said. "We came through the finish line at that race and the time keeper lady told us that we finished in seventh place. Then she saw the expression on my face and she said, 'That's really good. Do you know how many people race here every year and never even finish?'

"We were thrilled to have finished the race, especially because it was our first time running the Baja 1000. But we also knew that we had a car that could have done better. That's how I feel right now. On one hand it's awesome to have come to Indy and raced so well against the best drivers in the world. We qualified 11th at the U.S. Nationals; that's saying a lot. On the other hand, this ExpressAutoParts.com car is much better then it looked today."

After qualifying with a 4.745-second lap at 312.93 mph, Lampus opened against fellow rookie Melanie Troxel, who had posted a 4.689 at 313.37 mph to qualify sixth. Like many of his races this year Lampus got off to a huge headstart, leaving the line with a .467-second launch to Troxel's .517-second start. But Lampus' machine drifted out of the groove during the run and his tires lost traction, allowing Troxel by for a 4.735-second, 267.59-mph win.

"I felt so good before the race," Lampus said. "I had a good burnout and I wasn't over-anxious or anything. I was ready to race. I even drilled her to the (starting) tree. But the funny thing about this track is the groove isn't straight. It goes towards the centerline and back out again. You really have to drive the car a lot and I just wasn't able to drive it as well as I needed to and we smoked the tires.

"Even though it's our first U.S. Nationals and we qualified well and earned enough points to stay in the Winston top 10, I'm still disappointed that we didn't do better. The guys gave me a great car once again but I didn't capitalize on it. I wish we could go to Englishtown (N.J.) right now and start the next race. I'm anxious to make up for this one."

Lampus followed his first Baja 1000 by winning the '96 SCORE championship. Only time will tell if his first experience in Indy will spur him on to a similar fate in NHRA drag racing.

Final eliminations of the U.S. Nationals will air today from 5-7 p.m. ET. The next event on the NHRA schedule is the rescheduled elimination rounds of the Matco Tools SuperNationals in Englishtown, which will be run Saturday.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Melanie Troxel