Clermont, Ind. - - After a layoff of nearly 10 weeks, Team Panella and drivers Bob Panella, Jr., from Stockton, Calif., and Jeff Gracia, from Ontario, Calif., have their sights set on the championship at what is considered the most prestigious...
Clermont, Ind. - - After a layoff of nearly 10 weeks, Team Panella and drivers Bob Panella, Jr., from Stockton, Calif., and Jeff Gracia, from Ontario, Calif., have their sights set on the championship at what is considered the most prestigious event on the NHRA circuit - - the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park in Clermont, Ind., just outside the motorsports capital of the world - - Indianapolis.
Panella enters the event as the two-time and reigning Winston Pro Stock Truck champion, the defending U.S. Nationals champion and the current leader in the Winston Pro Stock Truck point standings. But due to the abrupt notification of the elimination of the Pro Stock Truck class in 2002 by NHRA, Panella is not happy entering this event, the first of the final five races of his Pro Stock Truck career.
"We're going to finish out the year like I originally planned to do. But the action by NHRA sure does take the fire out of it (racing the final five events). It's pretty hard to leave here (Stockton, Calif.) and go there (Indianapolis) to defend my championship and win another one. For what? There is no championship. I'm not the reigning champ of anything. That part of it is tough. Remembering that Winston is part of my championships, I give thanks for Winston and all they have done for the sport of drag racing and for the Pro Stock Trucks, but it's kind of hard to go racing with a sanctioning body that doesn't care about you and did nothing the four years this class has been in existing to promote it. It amazes me. I, and a lot of other drivers, break their asses to go forward in this sport and they (NHRA) put a stop to it just like that - - no big deal to them. I guess that's racing," expounded Panella, the only driver to qualify at every Pro Stock Truck event since its inception in 1998.
"As far as Indy and the last five races, I'm not going to let anybody have it (the Winston Championship and the race wins). None of my competition is going to get a free ride from me. I am damn sure going to put up the best fight I know how. We've tested and we are ready for Indy. As I said before, ' We're going to finish out the year like I originally planned to do.' I've made the commitment to run this class and I'm going to finish my commitment."
On Thursday, Panella will attend the Car Craft All-Star Team awards banquet. He is a finalist in the Pro Stock Truck category. Friday he will begin qualifying for a race coveted by many but only won by a few.
Teammate Gracia, fourth in Winston points, feels the recent test session helped Team Panella get ready for the final races. "The testing got us back in the driving mode. After nine or ten weeks off, it helps to once again sharpen your reflexes, especially on the (starting) lights. Hopefully the testing will payoff and we can run good at Indy. Last year I was number 17 qualifier. I definitely want to improve on that. I don't want to be watching on Monday. My plans call for qualifying deep (near the top) in the field and going some rounds. This race is the biggest and our (Pro Stock Trucks) last time going there. I've got five chances left to win a race and Indy would be a nice one to win. Also, if you only won one race all year Indy is the one to win."
Qualifying for Pro Stock Truck begins at 5:30 p.m. (ET) on Friday, August 31, with a single pass. Two additional qualifying passes are scheduled for Saturday, September 1, at 11:45 a.m. (ET) and 4:35 p.m. (ET). The final two qualifying passes will take place at 10 a.m. (ET) and 2:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, September 2, thus setting the 16-truck field for eliminations. Final eliminations for all classes will get underway at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, Labor Day, with winners being crowned in all professional classes by late afternoon.