Mopar Minute for the Sears Craftsman Nationals

MOPAR MINUTE Sears Craftsman Nationals Madison, Ill., June 24-27, 1999 INAUGURAL FATHER'S DAY ISSUE: MOPAR'S SALUTE TO FATHERS AND SONS WHO RACE Highlights * Mike Dunn talks about life in the '60s and '70s with his dad * David and Bo ...

MOPAR MINUTE Sears Craftsman Nationals Madison, Ill., June 24-27, 1999

INAUGURAL FATHER'S DAY ISSUE: MOPAR'S SALUTE TO FATHERS AND SONS WHO RACE

Highlights * Mike Dunn talks about life in the '60s and '70s with his dad * David and Bo Nickens on their unique relationship * Tom Hoover, the "father" of the Hemi * The Eatons: friendly competitors * NHRA Points Standings

TEAM MOPAR TOP FUEL REPORT

In the late 1960's and early 70's, a young Mike Dunn was living a lifestyle that was the envy of his classmates. His father, Jim Dunn, was a full-time fireman, and on weekends Jim drove a Hemi- powered Plymouth Barracuda Funny Car at drag strips all over southern California.

"The tracks are all gone now - Lions, Irwindale, Orange County - plowed under to make room for shopping malls and condos, but they were a big part of my life," Mike said. "We would run match races at those tracks and have a great time. Sometimes we'd run two or three events in one weekend. Racing was much simpler and cheaper back then. If we damaged a motor, it was no problem - we'd go to local wrecking yards and look for early- and late-model Hemi engines. After rebuilding them and adding a supercharger and some other performance parts, we'd be back racing in a few days."

Mike learned the basics of mechanics from helping his father work on the race cars. "I was torquing cylinder heads when I was nine, taking motors apart when I was 12, and doing the clutch system on a race car at 14," he said. "My dad thought it would be important as a future driver to have some basic knowledge of the car's internals. He really felt it would make me a better driver, and it has."

Between school work and wrenching on his father's race car, Mike started racing go-karts. "I asked my dad why he thought I should do this ... I mean, in drag racing you go straight, there are no curves or corners to negotiate when driving a dragster or funny car, and all you need to do is hold the pedal down and hang on. Boy was I wrong. Dad wanted me to race go-karts to get experience in controlling a vehicle when it spins. That way, when a car gets out of control, I'd know how to correct for it and handle the situation. Not a race goes by that I don't use some knowledge or experience that I learned from racing with my father. You can't put a price on that, and no college or engineering school can teach you those things."

Mike, father of 15-year-old Samantha and three-year-old Michael, has learned a lot from his father and is looking forward to passing the knowledge to his children. "I have a great deal of respect for my dad ... he's a hero to me. I hold him up there with Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen as one of the best Funny Car drivers ever. My dad was always an independent racer and never had any big sponsors, but he ran with the best and knew how to squeeze the last ounce of horsepower from what he had to work with."

MOPAR PRO STOCK REPORT

Team Mopar Pro Stock team owner David Nickens, 49, and his son Bo, 25, have a unique relationship. "We're more like good buddies than anything else," says the senior Nickens. "When Bo was growing up, I really didn't push the whole racing thing on him, and for many years he was content to hang out with me at the race track.

"Then one year we were racing in Denver, and I lost early in competition," David continued. "Bo was around 12 at the time and was sitting on the back of the truck and ready to cry. He told me that we could have beaten that guy and he felt badly for me. At that moment, I knew he was interested in racing."

"I realized that racing was something Bo really wanted to do," David recalls, "and I got him a V6-powered dragster when he turned 18. And I can't tell you how proud I was when Bo won the '96 Competition Eliminator Championship. With the Team Mopar Pro Stock Truck program, Bo is even more committed to winning races and working toward a Pro Stock Truck championship."

Bo says he always knew he'd race, and tells this story on himself: "When I was 16, I sneaked out of the house, borrowed my dad's sport-utility truck and entered it in a bracket race. I didn't know you had to be 18 to enter. But I must have looked old enough, because they never asked for identification.

"Well, as luck would have it, I made it all the way to the finals before somebody questioned me about my age. Less than five minutes later the track manager was on the phone asking my dad if I was really 18. He made the mistake of telling dad that I was in the finals, and if I was younger than 18 I'd have to withdraw from competition. My dad just said, 'Sure, he's 18,' and I won the race and collected the prize money. I started my racing career that day."

MOPAR PRO STOCK TRUCK REPORT

The father and son team of Allan and Todd Patterson from Augusta, Kan., have carved out a reputation as being intense competitors at drag strips, and they've established themselves as premier racing engine builders. In fact, the engine business has grown so much over the last 10 years that the two have become business partners in Patterson Racing, forging a deep bond.

It was Allan's modest beginnings that gave the father and son their strong work ethic. "I grew up on a farm and it was very tough going," Allan said. "My father was a boxer and a no-nonsense kind of guy, and he basically told you like it was. I decided to get into drag racing - just as a hobby at first - in the early 60's, and after Todd was born, I concentrated on making a living but never stopped racing.

"As Todd got older," Allan continued, "he would come with me to the track. At age 41 I decided to step out of the driver's seat and let Todd drive. At first I was reluctant and even considered a two-car team, but the costs of maintaining two race cars would have broken our backs at the time."

Todd, now 36, married, and the father of two sons, quickly learned the business of racing. "My dad told me that to be successful, you need drive and determination, and he was right. He would say: 'This is serious stuff and it's not cheap. We come to win.' Whenever I'm racing, I stay focused on the track and the lights ... I don't worry about who's in the next lane. My dad also taught me to be a good sportsman and treat others the same as I would like to be treated."

Todd and his father may work and race together, but, says Todd, "There are days in the shop that we're so busy doing our own thing that we don't see each other. Dad will be in the back of the shop with an engine on the dyno, and I'll be up front doing the invoicing or ordering parts. Between racing and the business, we always make time for each other at the end of the day. That's the best part of being close with my dad." Todd was a long-time Competition Eliminator competitor before moving to the NHRA Pro Stock Truck division.

Most fathers are happy to watch their children compete. But what's it like when father and son race against each other? Phoenix residents Dale and Craig Eaton run Dodge Dakota Pro Stock Trucks and, like most racers, are very competitive and hate to lose no matter who's in the next lane.

"I've told my dad that I cut him no slack when I have to race him during eliminations," says Craig Eaton. "As far as I'm concerned, he's a guy who's out to beat me, and my goal is to beat whoever I race. And you know what? My dad feels the same way. We're teammates and, of course, would never jeopardize a situation if one of us were in the hunt for world championship points, but it can be fun beating up on the old man on the track."

MOPAR ASSOCIATE NOTES

Talking about getting a jump-start in life!

Matco Tools/Team Mopar Dodge Avenger Funny Car pilot Dean Skuza, 32, has vivid memories growing up around cars and racing. "When I was three, I remember watching my dad re-wire his street rod," Dean said. "He left me alone for a second, and when he returned, I had the car's ignition system hot-wired and was trying to start it." Don Skuza quickly grabbed the wires from the prying hands of his young son.

Recognizing Dean's interest in automotive mechanics, Don, for 34 years the owner of Quality Synthetic Rubber, Inc., an OEM supplier in Twinsburg, Ohio, began to nurture the youngster. By the time Dean was 16, he and his father had built a Super Comp Dragster and were racing it in the Cleveland area.

"What I learned from my dad was to give 110-percent in everything I do," Dean said. "This has always been my dad's philosophy, and drag racing provides a perfect backdrop for us to share these goals." Don, the team owner and manager, is responsible at the track for mixing the fuel, packing the parachute and overseeing between-round activities. Dean and his father have such a strong bond that Don has missed only one race with his son. "A few years back - I think it was '94 - we were racing in Topeka and my dad was so sick with the flu that he couldn't make the race," Dean said. "The crew and I really missed him, and I was constantly on the phone with him asking for his advice and support."

The relationship between the pair is much like a partnership. Says Dean: "When it comes to racing, we're business partners first, father and son second. This is the reality of things when you operate a professional racing team. We can't afford to let things get between us that would jeopardize the team's goal of being successful and winning races.

"My dad and I have only disagreed once, and it came when we had to make a decision regarding our racing program and what type of equipment we should purchase. You know what? He was right. He had the foresight to look into the future and realize that our racing operation would expand as we got further in to the Funny Car class." Like racing endeavors, families also grow. Dean, an only child, is married and the proud father of 19-month-old Donnie, the apple of his grandfather's eye. Will Donnie race in the future? "He will if he wants to," Dean says, "and if my dad has anything to say about it, he'll have the best of everything."

A SPECIAL SALUTE TO TOM HOOVER

Mopar's salute to fathers wouldn't be complete without recognizing a special person, and although he doesn't like to acknowledge it, former Chrysler engineer Tom Hoover is acknowledged as the "The Father of the Hemi."

When the Hemi engine debuted in 1951, it was designed for automotive and industrial use (generators and compressors). In 1955, the Hemi set many land speed records on Daytona Beach's "Flying Mile" when it was installed in a Chrysler 300. And as drag racing began to grow in the late 1950s, many racers discovered the durability and the power that was obtainable from the Hemi. Eventually the displacement grew to 392 cubic inches and ingenious Top Fuel racers were able to extract nearly 700 horsepower.

In 1963, Tom began revising the Hemi engine. The "old style" had been discontinued after 1958 and replaced with the new generation 413 Wedge engine. Tom incorporated many new features into the "new style" Hemi such cross-bolted main caps which added greater strength to the bottom end of the engine. Also, redesigned cylinder heads and intake manifolds enabled the new Hemi to breathe above 7,000 revolutions per minute.

The result was the revolutionary built-for-racing-only 426 Hemi, a totally new engine with virtually nothing in common with the old style Hemi engines. The 426 Hemi has dominated everything from NASCAR to NHRA Drag Racing, and today, that same basic engine is producing an estimated 6,000 horsepower and propelling Top Fuel Dragsters to speeds of more than 330 mph. Because of the rules governing both racing sanctioning bodies, Chrysler was required to make the 426 Hemi available in street cars, such as the Dodge Challenger, Dodge Charger and Plymouth Road Runner. From 1966-71, approximately 6,000 street Hemi cars were produced and are highly sought after by today's collectors, commanding prices as high as $150,000.

Tom Hoover, quoted in the Mopar Performance Hemi manual, said: "The fact that it's dominant in drag racing is a real compliment to the engine, but also to the whole program."

MOPAR REWIND

From the Second Annual Sears Craftsman Nationals, Madison, Ill., June 25-28, 1998

QUALIFYING

* Mike Dunn qualified the Team Mopar Top Fuel Dragster sixth with an elapsed time of 4.746 seconds at 303.23 mph. * Dean Skuza's Dodge Avenger Funny Car was the seventh best qualifier (5.186/283.73). * Scott Geoffrion qualified his Pro Stock Dodge Avenger 12th and Larry Morgan was fifth. Darrell Alderman and Larry Nance did not qualify. * In Pro Stock Truck, David Nickens qualified third, Craig Eaton 11th and Todd Patterson 14th.

ELIMINATIONS

* Mike Dunn beat Bruce Sarver in the first round and Larry Dixon in the second round before losing to Gary Scelzi in the semis. * Dean Skuza lost in the first round. * Scott Geoffrion lost in the first round to Larry Morgan. Morgan defeated Tom Martino in round two before losing to Jeg Coughlin. * Todd Patterson defeated David Nickens and Grant Lewis before losing to Jerry Haas in the semis. Craig Eaton was defeated in the first round.

NHRA POINTS STANDINGS

TOP FUEL (after 10 national events) Driver, Wins, Points 1. Mike Dunn, 3, 751 2. Doug Herbert, 2, 690 3. Kenny Bernstein, 0, 643

PRO STOCK (after 10 national events) Driver, Wins, Points 1. Warren Johnson, 5, 878 2. Kurt Johnson, 2, 693 3. Richie Stevens, 1, 569 8. Allen Johnson, 1, 467

PRO STOCK TRUCK (after 8 national events) Driver, Wins, Points 1. Mark Osborne, 2, 644 2. Brad Jeter, 0, 631 3. Bob Panella, 1, 601 7. Todd Patterson, 0, 400

FUNNY CAR (after 10 national events) Driver, Wins, Points 1. John Force, 6, 1052 2. Tony Pedregon, 2, 789 3. Whit Bazemore, 0, 611 6. Dean Skuza, 0, 495

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Bruce Sarver , Jeg Coughlin , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Darrell Alderman , Kenny Bernstein , Brad Jeter , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Larry Morgan , Todd Patterson , Don Prudhomme , Tom Martino , Scott Geoffrion , Allen Johnson , Jerry Haas , Larry Nance