CLERMONT, Ind. -- Defending Top Fuel winner Tony Schumacher clocked the quickest performance Wednesday during testing for the 47th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park. NHRA Teams are preparing for the world's most...
CLERMONT, Ind. -- Defending Top Fuel winner Tony Schumacher clocked the quickest performance Wednesday during testing for the 47th 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. 29-Sept. 3). The $2.6 million race, which will feature over 11 hours of coverage by ESPN and ESPN2, is the 18th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
Schumacher powered his U.S. Army dragster to a 4.569 second run at 321.77 mph and then showcased crew chief Dan Olson's consistent tune-up with a follow-up effort of 4.635 at 318.47. Winston points leader Larry Dixon drove his Miller Lite dragster to a shut-off run of 4.657 at 262.16, while Kenny Bernstein also shut his Budweiser King dragster off near the 1,000-foot mark and coasted to a 4.837 at 232.97.
Tommy Johnson Jr., Scotty Cannon and Ron Capps logged the quickest runs of the day in Funny Car. Johnson saved his best for last as he covered the distance in 4.830 at 313.91 in his Skoal Camaro near the end of the session for the day's quickest pass. Cannon drove his Oakley Camaro to a 4.834 at 312.82, also near the end of the session. It was another solid run for Cannon, who posted a 4.870 at 314.57 late on Tuesday. Perhaps the most impressive Funny Car run was turned in by Capps, who cruised to a 4.848 at 305.91 in his Skoal Chevy Camaro at mid-day. Capps backed-up his early effort with a 4.862 at 310.13 at the end of the day. Two of Wednesday's best full quarter-mile runs came from Jerry Toliver, who drove his WWF Racing Pontiac Firebird to a 4.951 at 304.36, and Gary Densham, who posted a 4.922 at 316.12 in his Technology and Engineering Ford Mustang. Defending event Funny Car winner Jim Epler clicked off his NAPA Camaro near the 1,000-foot mark and coasted to a 4.893 at 276.66 for his best effort of the two-day test. Ten-time NHRA Winston champion John Force continued to hold the best Funny Car performance for the two-day test, at 4.819, 309.59 in his Castrol GTX Mustang.
Jim Yates posted three solid runs in his Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Grand Am to lead the Pro Stock contingent on Wednesday. His best effort, a 6.896 at 199.51, was followed by a 6.946 at 198.10 in the heat of the day. Ron Krisher clocked a 6.893 at 200.53 Tuesday for the best overall run, and powered his Eagle One Cavalier to runs of 6.973 at 198.36 and 6.989 at 198.32 in the heat and humidity on Wednesday. Larry Morgan, Mike Thomas, Kenny Koretsky, Danny Coffman and Mike Weinle all made passes on Wednesday. Thomas posted the best run of the newcomers, driving his Grand Am to a 7.000 at 196.59. Morgan steered his Dodge R/T to a best effort of 7.024 at 196.89.
Randy Daniels clocked the quickest Pro Stock Truck run of the day with a performance of 7.533 at 179.85 in his Chevy S-10. Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Steve Johnson made a couple of runs Wednesday K&N Suzuki (7.409 at 178.60 and 7.453 at 174.96), but none were better than his Tuesday effort of 7.327 at 180.75.
LARRY DIXON, Miller Lite dragster, 1995 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Top Fuel winner; Currently first in NHRA Winston Top Fuel standings, leading Kenny Bernstein by eight points:
How do you like the new track surface? "It's awesome. We are able to run real good here with very poor weather. It kinda shows how good the surface is. The rubber is sticking to it. I'm excited about getting everybody over here next week and firing off. I think the fans are going to be treated to a real good show. We used the test to get a head start on things because we were a little unsure of the surface. If it was the old surface in this weather it would be ugly. I'm proud that NHRA stepped up and spent the money on the track surface. The fans will definitely be rewarded and they'll see a hell of a show. If we have the right weather we will see national records fall here. It all depends on the weather. The racetrack is now capable of holding record runs. With hot and humid conditions you could see 4.50 or 4.55 be the low (elapsed time). If we have good weather, in the 70s and cool, there could be a national record produced here. Indiana weather is hard to predict. It could be cool and that wouldn't surprise me and it could be hot and humid and it wouldn't surprise me. Fortunately the weather was hot and humid during testing so at least we know kinda where we're at and where the track is at in those conditions."
What are your thoughts about being the Winston points leader heading into the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals? "I'm putting the points on hold, I want to win Indy. Just like everybody else that's entered, I want to win this race. If we are fortunate enough or lucky enough to win, then the points will come with it. This is Indy. This is the one race everybody wants to win real bad."
What has been the key factor to your team's surge this year? "I think it took us a year to get adjusted to the 90-percent rule. It took us a little while for everything to come together. There was some things with the engine that (Dick) LaHaie (crew chief) wasn't happy with last year that he wanted to work on over the winter. He was able to fix those things over the winter and I think we've had a pretty damn good car all year long."
What's your strategy going to be next weekend? "You've got to have your act together for this race. In '99 we won Brainerd and we were a few rounds out of first place coming in here and we turn out and don't even qualify. What I like about NHRA drag racing versus Winston Cup is that if you have an off-week you take a provisional and go on down the road. Here you have to earn your spot every single week. It doesn't matter if you won last week or if you are leading the points. That doesn't matter. The best 16 Top Fuel cars will show up and race on Monday. It doesn't matter if you are a former champion or not."
It seems like Dick LaHaie has really brought a lot of chemistry and consistency to your team. "I think Dick is an awesome tuner. Not that long ago he was driving these cars so he can give me a lot of advice. There's a lot of things that I've learned from him. For the most part he makes sure our car goes down the race track. That philosophy can win you a lot of races. When it goes down the track it runs good too. His style works. He's proven in past years with himself, Scott Kalitta and Doug Herbert, that his style wins races and championships. "
You were fortunate enough to do in your rookie year what a lot of drivers out there are still trying to do -- win at Indy. What does racing at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals mean to you? "This is our Daytona or Indy 500. This is the one. In the beginning of drag racing, this is all there was. One race. The Nationals. This is the one everyone went to. Growing up my dad raced Top Fuel cars and we always towed the car from California to come to this race. This was the biggest and best race. If you did well here you could match yourself against anybody else in the sport. This is the one all the old school guys -- Prudhomme, Ace (Ed McCulloch) and LaHaie -- this is the one they all look at. They don't keep track of how many times you've won Phoenix. They keep track of how many times you've won Indy. Prudhomme has won seven times. Ace has won six times. Just because I know those stats, you know the importance of this race. Shirley (Muldowney) didn't make a comeback in Atlanta, she's making her comeback here at Indy. This is the one that means the most to everybody."
What are your thoughts about Don Garlits' return to competition? "For me, to be able to have an opportunity to compete at the same event with (Don) Garlits and Shirley, two of the biggest legends of the sport, that's amazing. I can't wait. It would be like if you were a current basketball player and had the chance to play in an all-star game with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan."
TONY SCHUMACHER, U.S. Army dragster, defending Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Top Fuel winner and '96 runner-up; '99 NHRA Winston Top Fuel champion; Currently eighth in Winston Top Fuel points; Produced quickest quarter-mile time during testing (4.569 seconds, 321.77 mph):
You guys really unleashed the best run of testing this morning with the 4.56. Where has that kind of performance been hiding for you guys this season? "That was a solid run. We've been working on some real new stuff. The (clutch) discs have been a real problem for us all year. We ran a (4.61) here in testing a week ago. We are trying to continue on and stay in that zone. For the first time all year we had a run that was equivalent to the runs we were making last year. We also know why the car did it. That's huge."
What do you think about the new track surface? " I'm glad they put a new track surface in here -- it's awesome. The track is real smooth and both lanes are equal. We made good, hard runs in both lanes. That's what it's about, two fair lanes. Let's not have a lane decide the winner, let's let the team and car do it. It's Indy, it should be the best track at the biggest race of the year. It's the most honored and desired race to win. It should be as fair as it can be. Put it all in the team's hands. Let everyone battle for that trophy."
Is there any added pressure for you coming in here as the defending winner? "This is Indy, there's pressure here every single time you come here. That's why I love this race. I'm not really sure what added pressure feels like. We've had such a trying year that to come out here and have a chance to win it again with a car that's running good, that's exciting."
WHIT BAZEMORE, Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird, '97 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Funny Car winner and 2000 runner-up; Currently second in NHRA Winston Funny Car points standings:
What do you think about the new track surface? "The track is excellent. It is literally perfect. It is really smooth and nice. You can feel it driving and you can also see it on the computer graph. They did an excellent job. We're very happy. We're just trying to gain a baseline for this track since it is essentially a different quarter-mile in a way. We are just trying to feel it out and get a read for next weekend so we can get a little bit of a head start on the competition. The car has been running awfully well. It's a shame we have to run singles out here in testing. A lot of guys out here have been running really well during this test session. The two night qualifying sessions we have this year will be pretty incredible. I can't wait. It's going to be brutal. I would imagine that it even if the temperatures are in the mid-80s, it will be a very tough 16-car field to get into. If we luck out and have some low 70s, it could be really stellar."
RON CAPPS, Skoal Chevy Camaro, two-time Budweiser Shootout winner ('98 & '99); Currently fourth in Winston Funny Car points:
Given the heat and humidity at the time of the day, your 4.84 was pretty solid. "It was a pretty smooth run. If there was any question about the track going into today, our run answered it. The folks at IRP should be proud because they did a great job with the track surface. It was pretty hot and humid and the car ran a 4.84 and I clicked it off about 100-feet before the finish line. It was as smooth as can be. I think Ace (Ed McCulloch, crew chief) and the guys are really trying to picture Chicago, but add in these weather conditions, because the track is that good, if not better. It's the same kind of track. It kind of takes out of the equation a marginal track and a short (concrete) pad, which is essentially what we had here before. Both lanes are great. The two later qualifying sessions -- on Friday and Saturday -- if it is cool enough all of the teams out here will have a chance to set a national record. That's how good the track is."
What are you guys focusing on with this test? "The Funny Car class is so tough now that you really don't have a chance to try some different things during qualifying. If you get in a position where you're qualified well, you still need to use the remaining runs to gear up for race day and you can't really test at the track. This gives us the perfect opportunity to try some new things."
Does your Brainerd victory give you guys a lot of momentum coming into the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals? "The win at Brainerd has been waiting to happen. We should've won at Seattle. There's been several opportunities this year where we should've won the race. We were the most consistent car at Denver and kinda gave that away. It is just a matter of finishing the job. It's been there and we've known it and that's what's been more frustrating for the guys inside this camp. It's gratifying to finally finish it. It's a big boost to come into Indy with a win. The cool thing is that you come in here after winning at Brainerd and Ace has had a smile on his face for a few days after the win. Well, this morning he put his Indy face on. It's all business now. He has won this race six times as a driver, five in a Funny Car and once in a dragster. He told me last year before the race that we were going to win. That was a race last year we should have won. When he gets that look in his eye, and he's told me several times this year that we're going to win Indy. I have no reason to doubt him with his track record here. I don't think I've raced six times at Indy and he's won six times at Indy."
This is the biggest drag race in the world, but for Funny Car drivers, a very busy one with the Budweiser Shootout going on at the same time. "There's a lot of stuff going on for Funny Cars here and add to that the fact that Mac Tools is one of our major sponsors, so it's a very big deal for us. All of our major sponsors come out to this race. We've been able to give them a Budweiser Shootout victory two times and almost win the race a couple of times. There is a lot of pressure and you have to pace yourself emotionally. It's such a long race. That's all a part of it. For the Funny Car guys the Budweiser Shootout is so historic. With Snake winning it and winning the race, it was big. There's no reason why we can't do it too. It's eight of the toughest cars and there's probably three or four guys who should be in it, but aren't. We have (Whit) Bazemore in the first round and if we can get by him we've got either (John) Force or Del (Worsham). We've definitely got our work cut out for us in that race. It will be a lot of fun."
JIM YATES, Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird, two-time NHRA Winston Pro Stock champion; Currently second in NHRA Winston point standings:
It looks like you guys found the problem from yesterday. "Yesterday we struggled. We had our race motor from the last race and we were struggling with it. We knew we had a problem there. We were thinking it was carburetor problem or fuel pump or ignition. We changed everything on the car three times yesterday. The motor just wouldn't run. I never blame the motor. We worked on it all day yesterday and couldn't get it to run close to Krisher because they were pretty fast. We decided to change motors. We put in our test motor. This motor has never been down the track at a national event. It's a good, strong motor. It has run really fast compared to the guys who are testing with us. We went out there this morning and ran 6.89. For the conditions we had at the time, that's probably the best run of the test session. Then we came back and went 6.94. We changed some parts on the car. I believe the 6.94 was even better than the 6.89 given the air we had at the time. On the last run we ran our best speed of testing."
What do you think about the new surface? "The new track surface is so good that we have to adapt to go down it. There's not a bump in it. The only bump is going into the waterbox for the burnout. There's not a ripple in the track. I'm impressed. It's nothing like Indy of the past. It's one of the best surfaces I can ever remember seeing."
With 11 different winners, is this one of the most competitive season's you've seen in Pro Stock? "There's so much parity right now in Pro Stock between the performance of the cars and there's not a big lane differential. There's so many good drivers in the class right now: Jeg Coughlin, Greg Anderson, Brad Jeter and Bruce Allen has always been a great driver but now he's got a great car underneath him. These guys have fast cars and they are going to come out there and win rounds. It's anybody's race right now. That's why we have had 11 different winners this year. It's not just Jim Yates or Warren Johnson, but there's a lot of quality drivers and teams out there. On any given day anybody can win. I think this year we've proven that."
What's your strategy for the final stretch this season as you pursue your third Winston championship? "We're going to keep our chin up and stay focused on the finish line. We're going to keep looking forward. We've been through a lot of tough stuff this year. We've made a lot of mistakes and made a lot of good decisions and here we are number two. If we got down the first time we messed up we would have lost our confidence. I think that's the thing we have done well and we have our confidence. No matter how things have gone we have kept our focus and confidence. We seem to be able to come back to the next race and come back out and run good and win some rounds. We are fighting for every round right now and we're trying really hard to remember that we're in this to win the championship. In order to do that we have to keep racing and winning rounds."
RON KRISHER, Eagle One Chevy Cavalier, 2000 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Pro Stock runner-up, currently seventh in NHRA Winston point standings:
"The track is awesome. It is the best race track we've been on all year. I think it is fantastic. Today the track was over 130 degrees and we were able to run well. I don't think the track is fast enough to hold a national record because the air never gets good enough here. The track is certainly record quality but we'll need some really cool weather to see a record run. Even if the humidity is down and the temperature is down it would be tough to do it because the barometer needs to be really low for record conditions."