Memphis Mopar Top Fuel Preview

MIKE DUNN NO LONGER SINGING THE BLUES MOPAR TOP FUEL REPORT 1999 AutoZone Nationals Memphis, Tenn. Oct., 7-10 1999 It seemed pretty innocent at the time. Lose a race and chalk it up to, "That's racing." Lose another, and it's, "We're...


MOPAR TOP FUEL REPORT 1999 AutoZone Nationals Memphis, Tenn. Oct., 7-10 1999

It seemed pretty innocent at the time. Lose a race and chalk it up to, "That's racing." Lose another, and it's, "We're having a run of bad luck." But nearly three seasons without a win qualifies as a bona fide drought. Just ask Team Mopar Top Fuel driver Mike Dunn, who started a nearly three-year-long winless streak in 1996. "Until our win Pomona earlier this year, it had been a long time since we'd put our race car in the winner's circle," Dunn, 43, said. "We came pretty close during the 1997 and '98 seasons, but every time we made it to the finals, Gary Scelzi was in the next lane in that big red machine of his. It was like he had our number we were in the final round so many times without winning that I started to feel like a bridesmaid.

We'd been struggling for what seemed like forever, but we kept chipping away at our problems, and toward the end of 1998 we saw some real improvement." Dunn ended the drought at the '99 season-opening Winternationals in Pomona and has picked up two additional national-event wins; he and the Darrell Gwynn-owned team led the point standings through the first 16 events of the 22-event season. With the 1999 Top Fuel Championship still undecided, returning to Memphis, where Dunn qualified #1 last year, may be a good omen for the team.

"Realistically, we're just a handful of rounds away from getting back into first place. The way it looks right now, the championship could be decided in Pomona at the final race of the year," Dunn continued. "With championships already decided in Funny Car and Pro Stock, the fans are being treated some great wheel-to-wheel racing from the Top Fuel guys. And that's what it's all about, although it can be nerve-wracking at times. If I had my way, the Top Fuel championship would be decided on the final run of the final race of the season. It would make for a great ending." Dunn is fourth in NHRA Top Fuel points, 77 points out of first .


The Team Mopar Dodge Avenger of Darrell Alderman has been getting more respect lately. After a semi-finals finish in Reading, Pa., last month, many competitors are starting to take the black-and-white Avenger a little more seriously. What's the key to the team's recent success? Owner and engine builder David Nickens says: "We basically went back to our baseline set-up and redirected our focus on what the car wanted. "Then we added Mark Ingersoll to our crew - he has been a tremendous asset. For my money, Mark's knowledge of chassis fundamentals is second to none. He has been able to get the car's suspension dialed in to just about any track condition. It's critical to have a good 60-foot time on every run because tire shake and wheel spin will just kill the car's overall elapsed time along with the top-end speed."

Like Alderman and Nickens, Larry Morgan is gearing up for Memphis. "We had blizzard-like conditions in Kansas last week," said Morgan, who did not qualify for eliminations. "I've never seen anything like it. The air temperature was down to 38 degrees and track temperatures plummeted to 55 degrees - practically unheard of in late September and early October - and it threw off our set-up. It was a nightmare for everybody."


The NHRA Pro Stock Truck class has just three more events to go this season and there's still room for improvement. Craig Eaton knows he'll have to pick up on his most recent outing (at Heartland Park Topeka) if he wants to move up in the points standings. "It was a tough weekend for our Team Mopar Dodge Dakota in Topeka," Eaton said. "We should have qualified better, but tune-up gremlins hurt our elapsed-time. We've been qualifying in the top-half of the field, and our new truck has much better 60-foot times than our old one." "During the first round in Topeka," Eaton continued, "I ran Scott Perin. He changed lanes at the last minute, thinking the right lane was better. We went ahead and put our Dodge in the left lane. Sometimes changing lanes will rattle a driver but we felt that both lanes were equal. Unfortunately, Scott hit a home run with his reaction time while I hit a single. At about the 800-foot mark our Dakota started to get loose, but I got back into the groove. It was a battle all the way down track, with neither one of us giving an inch. Scott nosed us out just before the stripe and got the win. We'll test before Memphis and get our combination back."

MOPAR REWIND From the 12th Annual AutoZone Nationals, Memphis, Tenn., Oct 7-10, 1998


Mike Dunn qualified the Team Mopar Top Fuel Dragster in the #1 position. Dean Skuza's Matco Tools/Team Mopar Dodge Avenger was the #6 qualifier. Larry Morgan was the lone current Team Mopar Pro Stock qualifier, in the #15 position. Darrell Alderman and Scott Geoffrion did not compete. In Pro Stock Truck, Craig Eaton qualified ninth, David Nickens 10th and Dale Eaton 13th. Todd Patterson and Bo Nickens did not qualify.


Mike Dunn lost in the first round of eliminations. Dean Skuza won the first two rounds of competition before losing in the semi-finals. Larry Morgan lost in the first round. In the Pro Stock Truck finals, Craig and Dale Eaton both beat their first-round opponents before losing in the second round. David Nickens lost in the opening round.


TOP FUEL (after 18 national events)     
    Driver                      Points
1.  Tony Schumacher             1,164
2.  Joe Amato                   1,150
3.  Gary Scelzi                 1,121
4.  Mike Dunn                   1,087

PRO STOCK (after 18 national events) Driver Points 1. Warren Johnson 1,474 2. Kurt Johnson 1,259 3. Jeg Coughlin 1,165

PRO STOCK TRUCK  (after 11 national events)
     Driver                       Points
1.   Bob Panella                  894
2.   Mark Osborne                 848
3.   Brad Jeter                   759
8.   Todd Patterson               494
FUNNY CAR (after 18 national events)    
    Driver                        Points
1.  John Force                    1,665
2.  Tony Pedregon                 1,346
3.  Whit Bazemore                 1,234 
5.  Dean Skuza                      823

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Bob Panella , Mike Dunn , Darrell Alderman , Brad Jeter , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Larry Morgan , Todd Patterson , Scott Geoffrion , Darrell Gwynn