Las Vegas: Chevy winners strike gold

LAS VEGAS, April 8, 2001 - Count 'em: one, two, three winners. That's what Chevrolet pulled off today at the 2nd annual Summit Nationals when the "Red Bowtie Brigade" scored impressive victories in three professional categories. In...

LAS VEGAS, April 8, 2001 - Count 'em: one, two, three winners. That's what Chevrolet pulled off today at the 2nd annual Summit Nationals when the "Red Bowtie Brigade" scored impressive victories in three professional categories.

In Funny Car, Tommy Johnson Jr. drove a new 2001 Chevy Camaro to victory in its debut voyage on the NHRA Winston championship circuit. Johnson came into eliminations qualified in the No. 3 position driving the older, blue Skoal Racing Camaro.

When teammate Ron Capps was defeated in round one by Whit Bazemore, the decision was made to switch Capps' new Camaro body onto Johnson's Funny Car frame. After defeating Jim Epler in round one and Gary Densham in round two, Johnson benefited from the superior aerodynamics of the new Chevy by taking out Dean Skuza in round three and Whit Bazemore in the finals. In the championship heat, Johnson posted a lap of 4.856 seconds at 310.77 mph with Bazemore's Firebird crossing the finish stripe with a 4.965 elapsed time at 291.07 mph.

"This was an outstanding weekend," Johnson said. "Snake (Don Prudhomme) and I celebrated birthdays on Friday and we've been kidding about this for a long time, about how nice it would be to win the race here.

"We only had one of the new Camaro bodies, and when Ron (Capps) went out early we decided to make the switch. The new Camaro has a little better downforce down the center of the racetrack, so we took the green body, put it on the blue-team chassis, and now we got the blue driver in the winner's circle with the green body. I get my new Camaro next week and I couldn't be happier."

Johnson picked up his first victory of the season and his third career win behind the wheel of a Funny Car. He also has two career victories as a Top Fuel driver. The 33-year-old Iowa native now moves into third place in the Funny Car standings just 41 points behind Bruce Sarver who sits in first place, and 24 points behind John Force who is in second place.

"Both teams pitched in today to get the job done," said Johnson. "I know the team is really proud of their accomplishment. It's amazing what 16 guys working together can get done. We got our first win this early in the season, jumped up there in the points and this won't be the last one I can tell you that."

Defending Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. registered his first win of the season, and the second victory of the year for the new Chevy Cavalier. Coughlin defeated points leader Warren Johnson in round one, Darrell Alderman in round two and Bruce Allen in round three.

In the final round against Jim Yates, Coughlin won the race on the starting line with a .436 reaction-time holeshot. The Jeg's Cavalier driver posted a winning time of 6.959 seconds at 197.62 mph to Yates' 6.940 elapsed time at 197.71 mph. The margin of victory was 15-thousandth's of a second.

"Everything just seemed to come together today," said Coughlin. "After the first round at Gainesville, Jerry Bickel came over, helped us out a little bit and steered us in the right direction. That gave Gary Pearman and Dick Maskin the confidence to get after it.

"We struggled a little bit here early on, and qualified 10th but it worked out pretty well. We certainly appreciate Team Chevrolet's support and winning here in Las Vegas is certainly a major accomplishment for us."

Coughlin, who was the 1998 NHRA Winston Rookie of the Year, and defending champion at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, celebrated his 21st career victory and 30th appearance in a Pro Stock final round. The 30-year-old Columbus, Ohio native is now third in the Pro Stock points standings behind Warren Johnson who is in first place, and Kurt Johnson who is in second place.

"We got the Cavalier sorted out in qualifying and kind of clawed our way through the field," explained Coughlin. "We made all four of our runs down the right lane, which wasn't the preferred lane, but we made do with what we had, kept making the right calls and put the yellow and black Cavalier in the winner's circle.

"We really haven't been in the running so to speak, but I think we're headed in the right direction and this is a good indication of things to come. This is our first official win with the new Chevy Cavalier and that's real exciting for us."

The Pro Stock Truck category was one of the tightest contests of the weekend with Chevy S-10 drivers Greg Stanfield, Randy Daniels and Bob Panella Jr. battling for a trip to the winner's circle. All three made it to the semifinal round, but it was defending Nationals champion Panella who came out on top.

Panella entered eliminations qualified in the No. 3 position and defeated Larry Kopp in round one, Don Smith in round two and Pro Stock Truck points leader Randy Daniels in round three. In the title match with top qualifier Greg Stanfield, Panella's S-10 led the entire quarter mile beating Stanfield's Chevy to the finish line with a 7.554 second run at 178.19 mph. Stanfield followed with a 7.579 elapsed time at 178.83 mph.

"Greg (Stanfield) and I usually put on some of the best races out here and today was no exception," said Panella. "Fortunately I've been able to come out on top a few more times, but what a day. We were able to capitalize on beating Randy (Daniels) in the semifinals, and then we were able to get lane choice for the finals, which probably made all the difference in the world."

It was Panella's 10th career Pro Stock Truck win and his first victory of 2001. He was runner up to Daniels two weeks ago at the O'Reilly Nationals in Houston, Tex. The two-time Winston champion (1999-2000) is now third in the points standings with Daniels leading the way in first place and Stanfield in second.

"I wasn't first off the line against Greg," explained Panella, "but it wasn't enough that it mattered. I don't want to think about points because right now winning another championship is just a dream. But if nothing else, we were able to get a little closer to Randy and keep our title hopes alive. If we can continue to race like we did today, our Chevy S-10 will be right there at the end."

In the Sportsman categories Bucky Austin of Fife, Wash., won in Federal Mogul Funny Car in a Chevy Camaro, and Byron Setter of Red Deer, Alberta won in Super Stock in a '96 Chevy Camaro.

The next stop on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing tour is the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway in Gainesville, Fla., on April 20 - 21. This race was postponed on March 18 due to rain. <pre> Pro Stock Race Winner: Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Cavalier) 6.959ET/197.62MPH Pro Stock Runner-Up: Jim Yates (Grand Am) 6.940ET/197.71MPH Chevrolet Pro Stock semifinalists: Jeg Coughlin Jr. Pro Stock Top Qualifier: Jim Yates (Grand Am) 6.933ET(track record)/197.33MPH Pro Stock Top 10: 1. Warren Johnson (Grand Am) 2. Kurt Johnson (Cavalier) 3. Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Cavalier) 4. Jim Yates (Grand Am) 5. Bruce Allen (Grand Am) 6. Mark Pawuk (Grand Am) 7. Darrell Alderman (Dodge) 8. Mike Edwards (Cavalier) 9. Ron Krisher (Cavalier) 10. Richie Stevens (Grand Am)

Pro Stock Truck Winner: Bob Panella Jr. (S-10) 7.554ET/178.19MPH Pro Stock Truck Runner Up: Greg Stanfield (S-10) 7.579ET/178.83MPH Chevrolet Pro Stock Truck semifinalists: Greg Stanfield, Bob Panella Jr., Randy Daniels Pro Stock Truck Top Qualifier: Greg Stanfield (S-10) 7.595ET(track record)/178.47MPH (track record) Pro Stock Truck Top 10: 1. Randy Daniels (Chevy S-10) 2. Greg Stanfield (Chevy S-10) 3. Bob Panella Jr. (Chevy S-10) 4. Jeff Gracia (GMC Sonoma) 5. Scott Perin (Chevy S-10) 6. Brian Self (Chevy S-10) 7. Mike Corvo (GMC Sonoma) 8. Don Smith (Chevy S-10) 9. John Lingenfelter (GMC Sonoma) 10. Mike Coughlin (Chevy S-10)

Funny Car Winner: Tommy Johnson Jr. (Camaro) 4.856ET/310.77MPH Funny Car Runner-Up: Whit Bazemore (Firebird) 4.965ET/291.07MPH Funny Car Top Qualifier: Bruce Sarver (Firebird) 4.822ET(track record)/318.02MPH Chevrolet Funny Car semifinalists: Tommy Johnson Jr. Funny Car Top 10: 1.John Force (Mustang) 2. Bruce Sarver (Pontiac Firebird) 3. Tommy Johnson Jr. (Chevy Camaro) 4. Whit Bazemore (Pontiac Firebird) 5. Del Worsham (Pontiac Firebird) 6. Gary Densham (Mustang) 7. Ron Capps (Chevy Camaro) 8. Frank Pedregon (Pontiac Firebird) 9. Tony Pedregon (Mustang) 10. Dean Skuza (Dodge)

Top Fuel Winner: Kenny Bernstein 4.533ET/325.53MPH Top Fuel Runner-Up: Andrew Cowin 4.615ET/322.73MPH Top Fuel Top Qualifier: Kenny Bernstein 4.524ET(track record)/325.37MPH(track record) Top Fuel Top 10: 1. Mike Dunn 2. Darrell Russell 3. Larry Dixon 4. Doug Kalitta 5. Kenny Bernstein 6. Gary Scelzi 7. Doug Herbert 8. Andrew Cowin 9. Tony Schumacher 10. David Grubnic

-GM Racing-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Bruce Sarver , Frank Pedregon , Jeg Coughlin , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Darrell Alderman , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Jim Epler , Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Andrew Cowin , Ron Krisher , Larry Kopp , Jeff Gracia , Randy Daniels , John Lingenfelter , David Grubnic , Gary Densham , Don Prudhomme , Greg Stanfield , Bruce Allen , Bucky Austin , Brian Self , Mike Edwards , Tommy Johnson Jr.