GM Racers Prepare For 51st Annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Storied Indianapolis Raceway Park Will Host Labor Day Weekend Tradition INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 29, 2005 - With its history, prestige and reputation of creating legends in a single weekend,...
GM Racers Prepare For 51st Annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals
Storied Indianapolis Raceway Park Will Host Labor Day Weekend Tradition
INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 29, 2005 - With its history, prestige and reputation of creating legends in a single weekend, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals is without a doubt the crown jewel on the 23-event NHRA POWERade tour. With only six races left on the schedule, it also marks the beginning of the final charge toward the end of the season where every round and every run can make or break a driver's bid for the championship.
"There's no question that this race is more important than every other one," said three-time and defending U.S. Nationals champion Greg Anderson. "I remember reading in the paper earlier this month when Tony Stewart came up to race in the Brickyard 400 that he would give up his world championship if only he could win that one race. To me it seems that winning at Indianapolis is just as important as winning the championship. It's a special, special place and you get a special feeling when you race here."
For the fourth consecutive year, the driver of the Summit Racing Pontiac GTO is embroiled in a fierce battle for the POWERade Pro Stock points championship, a title he's held for the last two years. After struggling earlier in the season, Anderson has bounced back with five national-event victories to lead the category (including the series' most recent event in Memphis on Aug. 21) and sits atop the points standings heading into this year's contest at Indianapolis Raceway Park.
"We slowly crept back and got our ship righted," said Anderson. "We had a lot of adversity this season - we're already on our third different car. Things have happened this year including breakage and other issues that we haven't had before. We've battled back and got our game to where it needs to be, or at least close to where it needs to, and we're getting happy again. Maybe after having to grit through a season like this and having to scratch and claw for every point makes us respect much more what we've been able to accomplish during the last two seasons."
Anderson spent two days last week at Indianapolis Raceway Park preparing his Pontiac GTO for the upcoming U.S. Nationals. The 2004 Driver Of The Year has won three times at Indianapolis (2001, 2003-04), and advanced to his first career final round in 1999 where he lost to Warren Johnson. Anderson is looking for his third straight U.S. Nationals title, something that hasn't been done in the Pro Stock category since 1992-95 when Warren Johnson captured four in a row.
"You come, you unload and on Friday you have a single night session right away that could determine the pole," explained Anderson. "For many years it has been the best round of qualifying so you need to have the most data you can get when you show up for that first run. That's why we feel that it's so important to test here. You can never have enough information on any specific track that you race on, and to be able to do it one week before a race, to me, that's the best data you can have. A lot of things will translate over to race weekend and we'll certainly be smarter when we come back.
"We're still trying to find a happy spot with this new chassis, and even though this Pontiac GTO has been very good lately, we definitely keep gaining on it every week. We're pretty pleased right now, but you have to look for even better and that's what we tried to do during our two days of testing at Indy. We experimented with shocks and springs and stuff like that, trying to find something that will help us. At the same time we wanted some laps on this racetrack because even though it will be different when we come back, there are some characteristics that are going to be the same."
Joining Anderson at the Indy test session and readying their Pro Stock Chevy Cobalts for the upcoming U.S. Nationals were Ron Krisher and Dave Connolly. Krisher was runner-up at Indianapolis in 2000 and captured the pole for the "Big Go" in 2002. Still looking for his first victory in 2005, the Ohio native has advanced to the finals twice this season (Phoenix, Seattle) and feels his Chevy Cobalt is the best it's been all year.
"We began to learn some things during testing on Wednesday about the carburetors and how to run the clutch - running a big clutch against a small one," said Krisher. "We learned some things but we didn't run our race stuff - it's just too good and I didn't want to risk it. The starting line will be the same next week although the track will be different - they didn't spray a lot during testing. It's wasn't a killer track, and won't be when we come back for the race, so I think the information we have will be pretty comparable. We've got a good baseline. We start off with the night qualifying session and often times that ends up being the fastest session. I've seen it where after the Friday night session no one qualified because of what the weather did, and not testing at Indy is a gamble we didn't want to take.
"I just like the way this Valvoline Chevy Cobalt has been running lately - actually love it. We ran fast in Memphis with this new Cobalt, and I think with our race motor this is probably the best combination I've ever come with to Indy. I hope to be in the top four when we get there next week and I'm pretty excited about our chances."
As a Pro Stock competitor, 22-year-old Dave Connolly will be racing in his third U.S. Nationals. Currently fifth in the points standings and already a winner this year at Pomona and Las Vegas, the Ohio native is looking to snare his first Indy win.
"We worked during testing trying to get this car figured out," said Connolly. "Grump's (Bill Jenkins) been working hard and has found us some extra horsepower. We're also trying to work on our program at the starting line and that seems to be helping. Hopefully we can qualify strong and run well on raceday. The test at Indy definitely helped us. We got to run late so that will help us for our Friday night qualifying session, and we also got to test during the times we'll actually be racing.
"Friday night will be one of our most important runs, and now we'll have a little bit more information going into that session. This is definitely the race to win. The points are the same, and we prepare the same but the prestige of the U.S. Nationals is on another level. We want to win this race and show everybody what we can do. Our goal now is to try and win as many national events as we can through the end of the season and set up strong for 2006."
Also looking to make a strong showing at this year's U.S. Nationals is Pro Stock veteran Mark Pawuk who will be racing a Pontiac GTO in competition for the first time this season. Pawuk recently took delivery of his new GTO from Jerry Bickel's chassis shop in St. Louis, and after testing it at Gateway International Raceway, the Cowboy likes his new ride.
"This car is beautiful," said Pawuk. "I think we're going to be competitive for the first time this year. There is no doubt about the fact that the Pro Stock field at the U.S. Nationals is going to be the toughest of the year, and we're determined to be a part of the show on Labor Day Monday. This GTO has the potential to run very good numbers. We can already see that with just some initial test runs. Two full days of running in conditions somewhat similar to Indy should give us enough information so we can hit the track next Friday evening at Indianapolis Raceway Park with a good elapsed time."
Although Pawuk has never won the Pro Stock crown at Indianapolis, he was runner-up to Warren Johnson in 1994. After taking a brief summer sabbatical from the circuit to better organize his racing resources, the well-liked veteran is itching to get back into competition.
"I honestly enjoyed my time away from racing, but after taking one look at this new GTO my enthusiasm is right back up there," said Pawuk. "Testing is one thing, but I can't wait to get back on the track when it really counts.
"We're certainly not 'involved' in this year's POWERade championship chase, but I think we're going to be in a position to have a direct impact on who ultimately does win it. A round win here or there by our Pontiac GTO could really shake up the points race. Wouldn't that be something!"
Skoal Racing Chevrolet Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. may be hitting his stride at just about the right time. In three of the last four events, Johnson's nitro-powered Monte Carlo has qualified fourth or better including a No. 4 starting spot at Seattle, a No. 2 qualifying position at Brainerd (Minn.) and a No. 3 starting position at Memphis. In six of his last nine races, the Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car has advanced to no less than the semifinal round and that includes a runner-up performance at Topeka (Kan.) on May 29. The Snake Racing team participated in the pre-U.S. Nationals test session at IRP on Aug. 23 -24.
"We tested a few little things, nothing major, just some different timing variables with the engine," said Johnson. "More than anything though, we wanted to see what the track would hold, where it would hold it and what we could get away with. It will be a different track prep next week, but overall it will be the same racetrack. More than anything we wanted to see where could push the issue and what we learned was real encouraging."
A resident of Avon, Ind. (just 15 minutes from IRP), Johnson is hoping to score his first victory at his hometown racetrack. The native Iowan captured the pole for the "Big Go" in 1999 and was runner-up to John Force in 2002. The Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car driver is currently in sixth place in the POWERade points standings, just 144 points behind first-place Robert Hight and confident that the race team is peaking at the right time.
"Entering the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, this is absolutely the best racecar I've had in years," said Johnson. "There are certain times you want to peak and this is definitely one of the better times to do it. We've had some ups and downs during the past eight months, but overall it's been a good year and right now this is probably the best the car has run all season long. I'd say our chances are as good as they're going to be for the Skoal Showdown and next weekend's race."
Indianapolis Raceway Park has been like a second home to Top Fuel driver Cory McClenathan. The California native, who also took part in the IRP test session last week, has a comfort level at the storied dragstrip that has helped him to claim two U.S. Nationals victories (1996, '99), a runner-up (1997) and two pole awards (1993, 2002) during his 15-year career in the professional category.
"We made two runs on Wednesday, one in the late afternoon at about 4 o'clock and one at about dusk," explained McClenathan. "Our primary goal is to be ready for that Friday night session because that may be your pole position night. We think we have a good racecar right now. It's been very consistent, but it's Indy and we want to run good for a lot of reasons. We haven't won a race this year for one and it would be nice to come out and make a statement. That would help us points-wise also. At the same time, we used the Indy test to get an idea of what the conditions will be like next week. It was cool when we tested, and I'm afraid that heat's going to come back just in time for race weekend.
"We have a lot going on with GMC at the U.S. Nationals including the Riley Hospital visit on Sept. 1. To me, Indy feels like home. We were based here for a couple of years and I lived here for a couple of years. I love Indy, not just the racetrack but I like being here for a lot of reasons. There are a lot of race teams located here, there's a lot to see and a lot to do, and it's one of those places, that for some reason, I feel at home. We're actually thinking about relocating our shop here from Tennessee and hopefully next year we'll be based out of Indianapolis."
Qualifying coverage of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals can be seen on ESPN2 on Saturday, Sept. 3, beginning at 1:30 a.m. Another qualifying show will be telecast on ESPN2 on Sunday, Sept. 4, starting at 12:00 p.m., with additional coverage (including the Skoal Funny Car Shootout) beginning at 10:30 p.m. Final eliminations will be broadcast on ESPN2 on Monday, Sept. 5, beginning at 12:00 p.m. with a three-hour program starting at 8 p.m. All times Eastern.