Las Vegas: Panella ready to push Chevy S-10 to victory

LAS VEGAS, April 3, 2001 - At present time the Pro Stock Truck rivalry between Chevy S-10 drivers Bob Panella Jr. and Randy Daniels may not seem as noble as some of the epic struggles between Ali and Frazier, Duke and North Carolina, or even the...

LAS VEGAS, April 3, 2001 - At present time the Pro Stock Truck rivalry between Chevy S-10 drivers Bob Panella Jr. and Randy Daniels may not seem as noble as some of the epic struggles between Ali and Frazier, Duke and North Carolina, or even the Yankees and Dodgers. But their quarter-mile battles over the last two years have given drag racing fans something to smile about.

Since the beginning of the 2000 season, Panella and Daniels have faced each other in seven Pro Stock Truck final rounds with Daniels winning four and Panella three. When Panella battled his way to a second consecutive Pro Stock Truck title last season, it was Daniels who attempted to serve as spoiler. Daniels has responded this year with consecutive victories at the season's first two events at Pomona and Houston leaving Panella in the role of pursuer. Throw Chevy S-10 driver Greg Stanfield into the mix after his national-record run of 7.395 seconds at Houston, add GMC Sonoma drivers Jeff Gracia and Mike Corvo Jr., and 2001 is shaping up to be a Pro Stock Truck campaign to remember.

Currently third in the points standings, Bob Panella Jr. took time out to talk about what may be in store for 2001, racing against Randy Daniels and what it will take to capture his third Pro Stock Truck title for Chevy S-10. How would you evaluate the season so far?
"Judging from our previous seasons it's not all that bad. I would've liked to have done better at Pomona. I did fairly well at Houston but messed up at the light in the finals. From a points standpoint, I'm not too far behind Randy (Daniels). I'm happy with how we're doing. Both trucks are running really fast and that was my goal all winter long. Now I just need to get lucky, hopefully capitalize on a mistake that Randy might make before the year is out and see what happens."

At the beginning of the season you introduced a two-truck team with Jeff Gracia driving a Pro Stock Sonoma. How is it working out?
"Last year there were times when we were spinning our wheels. We had two different chassis; one was a Rick Jones chassis and one was a Jerry Haas chassis. There's nothing good or bad about either one of them. They're both equally the same respectively. It was just almost impossible to share knowledge in the pits having the different chassis. Now both trucks are made by Jerry Haas within a few months of one another - that helps a lot. They're really a lot alike so we can run them alike. We're starting to be able to test more things now, and hopefully after we get a few more races under our belt we can try more things that can help both of us as we go on throughout the year."

Do you think the two-truck team gives you an advantage?
"I'd like to say that at some time it's going to be an advantage. If nothing else there are going to be times when we can help each other as far as the points standings go. Whether it be me helping him by beating a certain person or him helping me. That's one thing that can definitely come into play at certain times. The biggest thing is that when you go to the starting line you're basically making two runs with the same stuff. At Houston during the first run, my S-10 and Jeff's Sonoma were set up differently, and Jeff made a better run than I did. So we put the stuff in my truck that was in his and I ran well. Stuff like that definitely gives us an advantage. But there are a few other two-truck teams out there that can do the same."

Where do you need to improve?
"It's real important to start off qualifying on the right foot. We did that in Gainesville. We fought to the end of qualifying to where we thought we were good and then the rain came. I want to be right there at the top after the first truck qualifying session. It's a lot easier to start squared away than when you're coming from behind."

How important is it having someone like Mike Stryker as your crew chief?
"I don't believe there's a harder working person in the pits than Mike. We have so very little time in between rounds and have two trucks to get ready. I don't know if we could do it without him. As far as his knowledge his history speaks for itself. He's been with me for a championship and he was with Warren (Johnson) for one or two championships. He didn't know a whole lot about trucks when he first came over here, but he's learned more than anyone that the truck and car are very different from another. My dad put the whole deal together with Mike. They've been friends forever. I guess they talked a couple of years ago and he told my dad he was tired of being away from home so much. He has a seven-year-old at home now and I know what that's like. He wanted to spend more time with his family and it worked out perfect that he came to our camp. He came here the winter of 1999 and liked our schedule. So far it's worked out real well. There are times when it's tough. I mean we were going to have a month off between Vegas and Atlanta but know we have to go back to Gainesville. It's hard to have any semblance of a normal life out here unless you're willing and able to take your whole family with you. I'd have a hard time being gone for 24 races. Leaving them for three or four months at a time just isn't going to cut it for family life. But I think it's working out okay in our camp."

What are some of the challenges you feel you will face this season?
"Probably just trying to keep from making mistakes. I can't give the race away by red-lighting or doing anything stupid. I have to have the best light of the day during that final round. In Houston I don't know what happened, but I had the worst light of the day and that should never happen. This happened to me last year. I got in a rut where Randy (Daniels) was beating me up on hole shots. It bugs me when I'm the fastest truck out of the two, and then I lose it because I was late at the light. That is a challenge I want to overcome. Every time I lost in the finals last year it was to Randy. So it looks like Randy is the guy that is doing it to me, but in reality it could be anybody. I think somewhere in my mind I say I don't want to make a mistake and then I do it anyway. When I get in the money round I just need to stay focused and hopefully things will get better?

What are your thoughts on returning to Las Vegas?  

"No. 1, it's eight hours from home, I love it. No. 2, I pretty much dominated there last year. I ran really well there. Hopefully I have enough knowledge that I can go back there this year and dominate again. Both of the trucks ran good there. It's the smoothest racetrack I've ever been on. I'm looking forward to it - it's an awesome facility."

Do you think the competition level in Pro Stock Truck is greater this year compared to last year?
"Without a doubt. There are probably fewer trucks but there are still a lot of good trucks left. There are new guys racing and spending money to make things a little better. There are a lot of guys out there that have some pretty good stuff, and unfortunately the stuff that was good last year is no longer good this year. It's an expensive sport. It's amazing how it changed in one year. Every class usually steps up a little bit each year, but in Pro Stock Truck it picked up more than the average. That's pretty amazing. The competition level has gone up tremendously since last year."

Where do you see yourself on down the road?
"It's hard to say. I would like to still be racing but I don't know if I'd want to increase the schedule. Especially with the amount of money it takes to race and the return you get. But right now I'm happy with where I am. I don't want to do anything different. I enjoy doing the motor program part and that may get bigger as time goes on. But there again that all depends on how the class goes. If there's not enough money out there for people to get to race then they're not going to spend money buying motors from me. It's hard racing for $4000 checks when it costs you $8000 - it's difficult to justify that. There's nothing less expensive about running Pro Stock Truck than say a Pro Stock Car. Yet, at Bristol last year I won $15,000 while Troy (Coughlin) left with $50,000. I know we only race at 14 events, but we get about a tenth of the prize money that the other classes get."

How much do you enjoy the sport?
"I love it. I enjoy being at the shop, trying to make myself faster and then going to the racetrack and flexing my muscles. The only part that is hard is traveling, but once I get to the track I realize there is nothing else I'd rather be doing. It's become more than just a hobby for me, it's become more of an obsession to try and see how fast I can make that Chevy S-10 go. It's fun and challenging."

- Jeff Romack

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Panella , Jeff Gracia , Randy Daniels , Greg Stanfield , Mike Corvo Jr. , Jerry Haas