Phoenix MOPAR Drivers' Preview

MOPAR TOP FUEL REPORT Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals Phoenix, Arizona - Feb. 25-28, 1999 The wait is finally over for Mike Dunn and the Team Mopar Fuel Dragster team. During the season-opening NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., Dunn...

MOPAR TOP FUEL REPORT Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals Phoenix, Arizona - Feb. 25-28, 1999

The wait is finally over for Mike Dunn and the Team Mopar Fuel Dragster team. During the season-opening NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., Dunn claimed drag racing's prestigious Triple Crown when he: * Qualified #1 (4.503 elapsed-time at 312.35 mph) * Lowered the NHRA Top Fuel national elapsed-time record to 4.503 seconds. Dunn now owns the three quickest Top Fuel runs in history (4.503, 4.513 and 4.522) * Won his first NHRA national event title in nearly three years

The father of two ended a drought of nearly three years by winning the event. "It felt good to finally win one," Dunn said. "Last year, our Mopar dragster was a great car, but it just didn't come together. We were making plenty of horsepower, but a few times we beat ourselves.

"After last year we changed a lot of things on the car, and by going to the five-disc clutch we now harness a lot of horsepower efficiently and effectively, and get it to the track. We would've used a five-disc clutch last year, but we wanted to be consistent with our tune-up and at least finish 1998 in the top five."

Now Dunn and the Darrell Gwynn-owned team are looking toward the next national event in Phoenix.

"If weather conditions permit, we should see some great numbers at (Phoenix) Firebird Raceway," Dunn said. "The thing we have to look out for is this track tends to shake the tires more than Pomona Raceway. This is very critical from about 1 to 1-1/2 seconds into the run. Luckily, Ken Veney is a good common-sense guy when he sets up the car. With the addition of Larry Meyer to oversee the whole crew and the day-to-day operations, Ken can concentrate on the two basic components which make any top fuel car run - the fuel system and clutch management. "

Dunn continued: "Even though we hurt a lot of motors in Pomona, we've seen in the past that if you back down your performance level, you stand a greater risk of either shaking or smoking the tires.

"We could see the first run in the 4.40s in Phoenix if track and weather conditions are good," Dunn predicted. "The fact that we tested there in January will be a bonus to our team, because we know how to set the car up for Firebird Raceway."

MOPAR PRO STOCK REPORT

Is the David Nickens-owned and -tuned Mopar Pro Stock team about to turn the corner on performance? Could be. Three-time Pro Stock world champion Darrell Alderman qualified for the season-opening Winternationals eliminations field and, based on the nearly .03 of a second hole-shot he had on Warren Johnson, could have realistically driven his 1999 Dodge Avenger to the next round. However, mechanical trouble ended Alderman's day early. Alderman's teammate, Scott Geoffrion, and Team Mopar drivers Larry Nance and Larry Morgan did not qualify.

"Overall, the Winternationals weekend went pretty well," Alderman said. "Scott's and my car kept getting better and better during qualifying. We were encouraged because there were a bunch of cars that ran better than ours during the Houston test session a couple of weeks earlier that didn't make the Pomona field. It's just too bad we lost two qualifying sessions in Pomona to rain, because I'm sure Scott would've qualified." Post-Pomona testing on new engine and clutch combinations showed considerable promise.

And what is Geoffrion's objective in Phoenix? "We had realistic goals when the season started," says Geoffrion, "in that we want to be competitive. We want to get both cars qualified deeper into the field and then win rounds. We'll be on target when we can do that."

MOPAR ASSOCIATE NOTES

* Dean Skuza and his Dodge Avenger Funny Car laid down some stout numbers during 39th Annual Winternationals. A string of consistent 4.80s had the Funny Car pits at Pomona Raceway buzzing with rumors on the source of Skuza's new-found power. After qualifying #2, Skuza systematically eliminated Mitch McDowell and Dale Pulde. A fuel delivery problem during the semi-finals resulted in a dropped cylinder and a loss in power, handing the win to Tony Pedregon.

Skuza is eager to return to Phoenix, where pre-season testing in January yielded some impressive elapsed times and speeds. Says Skuza, "Our Team Mopar Dodge Avenger will be ready to battle (John) Force and everybody else. We have the power to be a serious threat in 1999!"

* Heads up. Literally. Saturday, February 27, is an off-day for the NBA's Phoenix Suns, and don't be surprised if you see former teammates of retired Phoenix Suns player Larry Nance in his Team Mopar pit. Nance played for the Suns in the mid '80s, and for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 1987 until his retirement from professional basketball in 1994.

* Pro Stock Avenger driver Larry Morgan is getting ready for Phoenix. Morgan put his engine back on the dynamometer and is delighted with the results. "The Avenger was brand new at Pomona and we had just three runs on it," Morgan reported. "We're still fine-tuning the chassis and experimenting with suspension components such as springs and the bars. We hope to get some testing in before Phoenix." MOPAR SPORTSMAN NOTES

* Life-long Mopar racer Sheldon Gecker will never be accused of standing around with his hands in his pockets, as this busy guy drove two cars to the finals in Pomona. Gecker's Super Comp Hemi(r)-powered dragster and wedge-powered Super Gas Dodge Daytona competed in 14 rounds of intense competition in the NHRA season-opener to claim a win in Super Gas and a runner-up finish in Super Comp. Gecker, who calls the Phoenix area home, is now in the NHRA record books as one of a handful of competitors to advance to the finals in two classes at a national event. Going into Phoenix, Gecker will make only minor suspension changes to both vehicles.

"The track at Firebird Raceway is a lot smoother than Pomona, so we'll change the springs and soften the shocks just a bit," Gecker said. "Our Hemi is running extremely well, and the only adjustment we may make is to lean the carburetor down a bit because the elevation in Phoenix is 1,300 feet compared to 960 in Pomona."

* Two-time Federal-Mogul Funny Car World Champion Frank Manzo is looking to keep his Phoenix streak alive. Manzo won this event in 1998 and 1997 with his Hemi-powered Dodge Avenger Funny Car. After a disappointing Winternationals performance, Manzo's goal is to regain his dominance in the Federal-Mogul Funny Car class and 'three-peat' in Phoenix. "In Pomona, we couldn't quite get a handle on the weather and the track," Manzo said "During eliminations, the lane we were in wasn't very good, and the car got out of the groove, made a severe left turn and almost crossed the centerline, keeping us from advancing to the next round. We know Phoenix is a tricky track because conditions can change so quickly. We'll make the necessary clutch adjustments before every round."

* Super Stock racer Don Studley from Orange California made history at the Winternationals. His 1999 Dodge Dakota Super Stock GT Truck won the Best Engineered award from the NHRA Tech Department. It took Don six months to construct the new Super Stock Dakota from the frame up. The 360 small-block power plant uses the new Mopar Performance "R" block along with the "308" casting heads, all direct from the Mopar Performance Parts catalog. Studley's Dakota marks a new era in NHRA Sportsman racing as the Super Stock GT Truck class debuts this year.

* The Phoenix event is also the first of ten races in which competitors in Stock Eliminator can run "heads-up" with no dial-in handicap starts and "breakout" in effect. Mopar heavy hitters such as 1997 World Champion Al Corda (winner of this race in '95 and '86), and last year's event Stock Champion, Don Little, will have their Hemi-powered Challengers and Cudas ready for the competition in the A/Stock automatic class. Chuck Rayburn will also be on hand with his record-holding 440 Six Pack Dodge Challenger. Rayburn is looking to clean house in the B/Stock automatic category.

MOPAR FAST FACTS

* Chrysler was instrumental in creating the Funny Car class. During the early '60s, Chrysler engineers developed ultra-lightweight Super Stock Plymouth Belverderes and Dodge Coronets. These cars had numerous weight saving reductions by using fiberglass and aluminum components, and deleted many production pieces. Because of their radical changes and limited numbers, NHRA classified these cars as A/Factory Experimental (A/FX). By moving the front and rear wheels forward for better weight distribution (and therefore better traction), these cars took on a new look and appearance which made them look rather unusual compared to production-based Super Stockers. Hence they were affectionately called "Funny Cars," and the name caught on. As the class evolved from its A/FX roots, NHRA saw the popularity of these cars among its fans. By the 1969 Winternationals, NHRA had a dedicated class aptly named "Funny Car."

* Like its Hemi head cousin, Chrysler big- and small-block wedge engines continue to dominate in the NHRA Sportsman classes. The venerable 426 Max Wedge, 440 Six Packs, 340s and 360s are still setting national records for elapsed time and mph.

MOPAR REWIND

>From the 1998 Atsco Nationals, Phoenix, Ariz., Feb. 19-22, 1998 QUALIFYING (only two qualifying sessions run)

* Team Mopar Top Fuel driver Mike Dunn qualified with a middle-of-the-pack 4.719-second run at 270.18 mph and ended up in the #8 position.

* Dean Skuza's 5.089-second run at 307.27 mph earned him and his Matco Tools Dodge Avenger Funny Car the #4 qualifying position. Skuza's 307.27 mph pass was the fastest qualifying pass in Firebird International Raceway history.

* Scott Geoffrion qualified his Team Mopar Pro Stock Dodge Avenger in the #13 position with a run of 7.030 seconds at 195.65 mph. His teammate, Darrell Alderman did not qualify.

* Federal-Mogul Funny Car driver Frank Manzo qualified his Dodge Avenger in the #10 position.

* With nearly 60 Stock Eliminator entries, Don Little qualified his Plymouth Hemi Cuda #16.

ELIMINATIONS

* Dunn beat Larry Dixon in the Top Fuel first round with a 4.665-second run at 307.48mph. Dunn fell in the second round to Joe Amato.

* Skuza bested Frank Pedregon in the first round of Funny Car and Tim Wilkerson in the second round before falling to Ron Capps in the semi-finals.

* Pro Stocker Geoffrion was defeated by Kurt Johnson in the first round of eliminations. * F-M Funny Car driver Manzo won the Phoenix event for the second year in a row, this time beating Cy Chesterman with a 5.744-second pass at 250.97mph.

* Little defeated Cal Method in the final to win in Stock Eliminator.

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Darrell Alderman , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , Ron Capps , Joe Amato , Larry Morgan , Frank Manzo , Scott Geoffrion , Darrell Gwynn , Dale Pulde , Larry Nance