NHRA Nitro News 2000-03-23

NHRA Nitro News TOLIVER CONTINUES TO WRESTLE TO THE TOP "It wasn't a fluke that we won Pomona, it wasn't a fluke that we were running hot in Phoenix, and it's not a fluke that we have the points lead," proclaimed World Wrestling Federation ...

NHRA Nitro News


"It wasn't a fluke that we won Pomona, it wasn't a fluke that we were running hot in Phoenix, and it's not a fluke that we have the points lead," proclaimed World Wrestling Federation Funny Car pilot Jerry Toliver after scoring his second win of the season and his third in the last four races. Despite his early-season success, Toliver knows that taking John Force's title won't be easy. "The other day, John was signing autographs, and I went over to talk to him about something," said Toliver. "He introduced me as 'the current points leader but not for long.' We're going to have to fight for this thing. It's not going to be easy, but John doesn't have the advantage that I think he's had in past years. There are a lot of cars out here that can be where we're at, and that's good for racing and good for the fans. They love to see the competition, not one guy winning all the time. John's a great champion, but he's not the only guy out here."


The Gatornationals Funny Car field was the first in which all 16 drivers qualified at faster than 300 mph, and with 15 of the 16 Top Fuelers also over the triple-century mark, 31 of the 32 fuel qualifiers went past the mark first crashed by Kenny Bernstein at this event eight years previous. The lone exception was Mike Smith, who ran just 292.58 mph.


Force's announcement at the Mac Tools Gatornationals that he will not field a third Funny Car in 2000 caught many by surprise, considering the money that the nine- time champ had already spent on the endeavor and the other pieces that already were in place. In interviews from Gainesville Raceway, Force cited a pair of letters to the editor that ran recently in National DRAGSTER as helping him with his final decision, but he wants everyone to know that the letters were not the only influence and that, contrary to some bulletin-board postings, he knows the letters were not "planted" as part of a "diabolical" scheme by NHRA to force him to change his mind. "The letters were instrumental, and I believe what the fans write in is their true feelings, but I also caught some major [flak] from some of the other teams who thought I would be taking away some of their potential sponsors. "I sat with [NHRA President] Tom Compton on Saturday and he told me that whatever I decided to do was okay with NHRA. There's no conspiracy here. "Bottom line, it's about what I feel in my heart is right. We're trying really hard to grow this sport, and I don't want to be one of the guys who muddies the water." Force also has gone on record saying that he would focus on trying to get corporate sponsors to take a look at some of the other people in drag racing currently without sponsors.

HANGING TOUGH One of those currently unsponsored racers, Bob Vandergriff

Jr., got a big helping hand at the Gatornationals from the event sponsor. "Mac Tools really helped me get through this one," said Vandergriff, who added that one of his "golfing buddies" will sponsorhim for the races in Las Vegas and Houston while he waits to announce what he hopes will be a blockbuster sponsorship.


Cory Lee will be behind the wheel of the Pro Motorsports/Team Nasty Racing/Rat Fink Funny Car at the inaugural SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas. After sitting out the first three events of the 2000 season, Lee has teamed with the Pro Motorsports camp, which debuted in Brainerd last year with Tim Wilkerson driving. Pro Motorsports has brought along Team Nasty Racing, a newly formed clothing line created by Steve Harwell, lead singer of the band Smash Mouth, for the cutting-edge motorsports fan. The new team will sport wild graphics and logos. In partnership with Racing Champions and Ed Roth, creator of the legendary Rat Fink characters, the car will feature four different Rat Fink-inspired paint schemes throughout the season.


Former Federal-Mogul Funny Car racer Todd Paton turned more than a few heads in his Funny Car debut in Gainesville. Paton, who has replaced Phil Burkart Jr. behind the wheel of the Wayne Dupuy-tuned Nitro Fish entry, scored a surprising semifinal finish. Paton, who won the U.S. Nationals in 1996, said he's been told the ride is his to lose. "It was a family decision," he said. "Our ultimate goal is to be in the nitro Funny Car category, and this is a golden opportunity for us. I'll get some really good experience, and my brother will hang out and learn the ropes. Who knows, maybe five or 10 years down the road, we'll have our own deal."


The man that Warren Johnson beat in the Gatornationals Pro Stock final, Troy Coughlin was first out of the gate, but slowed to an 8.86 against Johnson's 6.90 for his eighth career runner-up without a win. "It took off and just came out of 1st gear," said Coughlin. "[The engine] went up to about 9,000 rpm, and [the shifter was] banging back and forth. I pulled it back to go into 2nd and it went into 4th. It's just another learning experience for the driver I guess, but it kind of makes me sick to my stomach."


Six-time NHRA Pro Stock Bike champ Dave Schultz won his 44th national event title in Gainesville, not because his Sunoco Suzuki was the quickest bike in the field, but because he made the right calls in the pits, and because he was able to carve a clean path through the wind on each run down the track. "I know for a fact that I'm the only person ever to have a Pro Stock Bike in the wind tunnel, and I believe that my bike and Antron Brown's bike are the two most aerodynamic bikes out here," said Schultz. "I have also studied riding techniques quite a bit, and I've learned that you don't have to be a small rider like Angelle [Seeling] or Craig Treble to made good runs. I definitely think that worked in my favor this weekend. "I'm not saying that you shouldn't think about aerodynamics every time you reach for that extra potato chip, but there are ways around it."


NHRA Online will have coverage of the Division 4 Federal-Mogul Drag Racing Series event from Memphis Motorsports Park, the third of six events in the Division this year. Can red-hot Jay Meyer continue his torrid pace in Federal-Mogul Dragster, extending his win streak to four? Tune in for nightly updates from the land of Elvis.


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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Troy Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , Todd Paton , Craig Treble , Tim Wilkerson , Cory Lee , Jerry Toliver , Bob Vandergriff , Mike Smit