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MOPAR MINUTE 1999 Southern Nationals Commerce, Ga., May 13-16, 1999 Highlights * Team Mopar Top Fuel team extends points lead * Ken Veney "unplugged" * Allen Johnson takes Pro Stock Dodge Avenger over 200-mph mark * Rewind to 1998...

MOPAR MINUTE 1999 Southern Nationals Commerce, Ga., May 13-16, 1999

Highlights * Team Mopar Top Fuel team extends points lead * Ken Veney "unplugged" * Allen Johnson takes Pro Stock Dodge Avenger over 200-mph mark * Rewind to 1998 Southern Nationals * NHRA Point Standings

TOP FUEL TEAM EXTENDS POINTS LEAD ALLEN JOHNSON TAKES DODGE AVENGER OVER 200 MPH

MOPAR TOP FUEL REPORT Team Mopar's Top Fuel performance in Richmond, Va., last weekend was a classic case of "good news, bad news," with some "better news" thrown in.

The good news: the Mike Dunn-driven machine retained its position atop the Top Fuel points standings, where it has been since the season started.

Better news: Dunn, winner of two of six national events this year, extended the points lead on his nearest competitor. Dunn leads the Top Fuel division by 57 points.

The bad news: Dunn's over-cautious driving - the direct effect of a red-light start two weeks earlier - led to a semi-finals loss in Richmond, even though his elapsed-time was quicker than his competitor's.

"I'd been conservative (in Richmond) on my reaction times," Dunn said. "I made sure to stage shallow and get back into my routine for consistency. The car ran great all weekend long, and Ken Veney put his magic touch on the tune-up.

"With a good points lead going into Atlanta, we'll keep fighting round-by-round to stay ahead of the pack. There are a lot of good cars in Top Fuel - we'll just have to be better," Dunn said. Dunn was the #1 qualifier at last year's event, running a 4.586-second pass at 317.12 mph.

MOPAR PRO STOCK REPORT The Team Mopar Pro Stock team is expected to sit idle during this weekend's Southern Nationals.

For the second event in a row, the Dodge Avengers of Darrell Alderman, Scott Geoffrion, Larry Morgan and Larry Nance will not compete with their current after-market blocks as a result of an NHRA rules reversal pertaining to a racer's "rights of usage" of a generic after-market block.

Team Mopar's factory-backed teams have been allowed by the NHRA to use the approved block since February 1998 and, based on the approval, Mopar planned and implemented its 1999 Pro Stock program. The NHRA rescinded approval of Mopar's use of the block last month, forcing Team Mopar to park the Pro Stock cars indefinitely.

"The true losers are the race fans," said Lou Patane, Vice President of Motorsports Operations and Mopar Performance Parts. "They will miss the variety that the Dodge Avengers bring to Pro Stock competition.

AVENGER REVENGE Allen Johnson, a 39-year-old Tennesseean, drove his Team Amoco Dodge Avenger to the winner's circle in Richmond, the first time since 1997 that a Dodge won an NHRA Pro Stock event. Johnson was driving the same Avenger that Team Mopar's Scott Geoffrion drove to victory in Topeka in '97.

Johnson posted four 200 mph passes over the weekend to claim his first career NHRA Pro Stock national event win.

MOPAR PRO STOCK TRUCK REPORT Decisions, decisions, decisions.

After a .033-second win last Saturday in the first round of Richmond's Pro Stock Truck eliminations, Dale Eaton, owner and driver of one of four Team Mopar factory Dodge Dakotas, had an important decision to make - whether to wait out the Sunday rains and race Brad Jeter in the second round, or return to Arizona for an important business meeting. Eaton is president and CEO of Atsco Remanufacturing.

While Eaton said it was a tough decision, business comes before pleasure, and he returned home, forfeiting the round to eventual PST winner Brad Jeter. "My business comes first," Eaton said, "but at least we learned how to set the trucks up for the conditions we had at this race."

Todd Patterson, who qualified outside the 16-truck field in Richmond, is the only Team Mopar PST member to return to Atlanta Dragway this year.

"We stumbled a bit at Richmond because of a broken rear axle," Patterson said. "Our truck never made a good run that weekend. For the Atlanta race, we already have a baseline on how to set up the clutch and chassis combinations. I know we can do much better in Atlanta and run some good numbers."

UP CLOSE WITH: KEN VENEY We recently sat down with Ken Veney, crew chief for the Team Mopar Top Fuel Dragster, and asked him five questions.

How long have you been involved in tuning Top Fuel Dragsters? For around 10 years. Before that I drove a Fuel Funny Car. When Darrell Gwynn was putting his Top Fuel team together, he asked if I would join them, and knowing the Gwynn family for many years, I knew it would be a good relationship.

What type of new technology is being used in the Top Fuel class? The biggest advancements have come in clutch management systems. They're more advanced than the systems we were using two years ago.

In what way is the new clutch system more advanced? The biggest change is the advent of the five-disc clutch set-up. By going from the four- to five-disc system, we can control the heat much better. Also, it allows us to put horsepower down on the track. Now we can run the car harder, adding more clutch as the dragster goes down the track. The transition period is much better, and the likelihood of smoking the tires is greatly reduced.

Are other Top Fuel teams using the five-disc clutch? Yes, most of the teams have switched over. Now some of the funny car teams are going with a five-disc set-up.

Being a crew chief and having been in a decision-making role has to be very difficult. What does it take to get good at it? It takes years of experience of knowing the car from front to back. Being a former driver also helps because I can communicate with our driver, Mike Dunn, much better in trying to interpret what the car is doing. Also, you need to weed through the information that is produced on each run and figure out what's valid versus what's false.

Any thoughts going into the Southern Nationals ? We've come up short at a few races. So with any luck, we're going to put the Team Mopar Top Fuel Dragster back in the winner's circle.

MOPAR ASSOCIATE NOTES Dean Skuza is still searching for his first win of the 1999 season. Between chasing elusive fuel system gremlins and pesky computer glitches, the Matco Tools Dodge Avenger Funny Car has seen its share of ups and downs.

Despite these hiccups, the team has posted some impressive numbers this year. "The parameters are starting to widen because we've acquired good data since the start of season," Skuza said. "We're busy getting the blowers tested and doing some much-needed maintenance on our equipment. Now we're getting ready to go on the road for four weeks of back-to-back racing, with a match race against John Force thrown in for good measure."

MOPAR SPORTSMAN NOTES Dodge Avengers dominated in Richmond last week in the Federal-Mogul Funny Car class. Frank Manzo and Bob Newberry qualified on opposite sides of the ladder, and after three rounds of competition, faced each other in an all-Avenger final. Manzo prevailed in Richmond with a 5.674 run to Newberry's 5.961.

The duo are expected to face off in Atlanta.

LATE-BREAKING NEWS Team Mopar announced this week that it will not renew its sponsorship of the Darrell Gwynn-owned NHRA Top Fuel team at the end of the 1999 drag racing season.

"These types of decisions are always difficult, and this was one of the hardest decisions we've ever made," said Lou Patane.

"The Gwynn family and team have represented Mopar with professionalism in every respect," Patane said. "We commend Darrell and his team for their hard work, dedication and support of our strategic marketing program and for the results they have achieved. We look forward to working with them for the balance of the 1999 season in their quest for the championship."

MOPAR REWIND From the 18th Annual Southern Nationals, Commerce, Ga., April 23-26, 1998 QUALIFYING * Mike Dunn powered his Team Mopar Top Fuel Dragster to the #1 qualifying position with a 4.586-second run at 317.12 mph. * Dean Skuza's Dodge Avenger was Funny Car's #5 qualifier (5.052/312.17). * In Pro Stock, Scott Geoffrion qualified his Dodge Avenger in the #12 position (6.998/197.93). Darrell Alderman, Larry Morgan and Larry Nance did not qualify. * Team Mopar Dodge Dakotas qualified #4 (David Nickens) and #6 (Todd Patterson). * Federal-Mogul Funny Car drivers Bob Newberry and Frank Manzo qualified their Dodge Avengers #1 and #2 respectively.

ELIMINATIONS * Dunn advanced to the semis, beating Paul Romine and Dave Grubnic, before losing to Cory McClenathan * Skuza lost in the first round to Chuck Etchells. * Geoffrion's quicker first-round reaction time wasn't enough to overtake Rickie Smith at the finish line. * Patterson advanced to the second round by beating Bob Panella Jr. in the opening stanza, then lost to Jerry Haas in round two. Nickens lost to Dave McConnell in the first round.

NHRA POINT STANDINGS

TOP FUEL (after 6 national events) Driver, Wins, Points 1. Mike Dunn, 2, 475 2. Larry Dixon, 0, 418 3. Tony Schumacher, 0, 404

PRO STOCK (after 6 national events) Driver, Wins, Points 1. Kurt Johnson, 2, 582 2. Warren Johnson, 2, 487 3. Troy Coughlin, 0, 330

PRO STOCK TRUCK (after 4 national events) Driver, Wins, Points 1. Mark Osborne, 2, 382 2. Brad Jeter, 1, 344 3. Bob Panella, Jr., 0, 313 6. Todd Patterson, 0, 212

FUNNY CAR (after 6 national events) Driver, Wins, Points 1. John Force, 4, 644 2. Tony Pedregon, 2, 548 3. Cruz Pedregon, 0, 391 5. Dean Skuza, 0, 324

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Series NHRA
Drivers Paul Romine , Bob Newberry , Troy Coughlin , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Darrell Alderman , Brad Jeter , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Larry Morgan , Todd Patterson , Chuck Etchells , Cruz Pedregon , Cory McClenathan , Frank Manzo , Scott Geoffrion , Darrell Gwynn , Allen Johnson , Rickie Smith , Jerry Haas , Larry Nance