PHOENIX (Feb. 22) -- An eerie start to this weekend's 18th annual Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals quickly turned into a day to remember for Top Fuel driver Don Lampus. By the time the dust clouds settled in the Arizona desert, the Mothers...
PHOENIX (Feb. 22) -- An eerie start to this weekend's 18th annual Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals quickly turned into a day to remember for Top Fuel driver Don Lampus. By the time the dust clouds settled in the Arizona desert, the Mothers Against Drunk Driving dragster pilot was safely in the elimination field in the No. 5 position after a solid run of 4.617 seconds at 315.64 mph.
Lampus, a 37-year-old former Rookie of the Year from Dallas, was set to run in the race's opening qualifying session early Friday afternoon when crew chief Wayne Dupuy noticed a slight bend in the support strut of the rear wing assembly. Erring on the side of caution, Dupuy ordered the car back to the pits for repair, forgoing Round 1 in the process.
"We lost a round but that's Don's life right there," Dupuy said as he pointed out the weakened strut support. "As soon as I saw that I pulled the car. It was an easy decision."
Without a back-up piece, Team Lampus quickly scoured pit row for a replacement strut, eventually finding one in the trailer of fellow Top Fuel racer Dave Grubnic of the Montana Express team. Grubnic had experienced the same problem on two occasions in 2001 and had three reinforced strut assemblies in stock. He graciously gave one to Lampus.
The crew then scrambled to reassemble the car in time for the day's second session. Opening the action, Lampus rode Dupuy's tune-up to a stellar 4.617 at 315.64 mph, which placed him on top of the class for most of the round. In the end, four cars managed to pass Lampus on the ladder but his heroic and quick recovery was still the talk of the town.
"It was a nerve-wracking day, especially watching everyone struggling out there on the race track," Lampus said. "And then after missing a round it felt like we were behind. But, once again, Wayne's tune-up came through. I never doubted it for a second. He even called his shot. He told me we'd run a 4.61 or a 4.62 and he was right. Unreal.
"It was exciting to be No. 1, even if it only lasted for half a round. Obviously, the track got a lot better as the day went along and we were able to capitalize. That was actually a pretty soft, safe tune-up because we wanted to make sure we got down through there. I think there's more left in there if we need it, we'll see what happens."
Television coverage of the Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals will be presented on ESPN2. Saturday's two-hour qualifying show will air beginning at 9 p.m. followed by Sunday's final-round coverage, a three-hour primetime show that starts at 7 p.m. The entire program will be repeated at 3 a.m. Tuesday. All times are Eastern.