Phoenix: Mopar Motorsports preview

Mopar hopes history reveals future success. Alderman & Johnson look for break out NHRA seasons. CHANDLER, Ariz. (Feb. 14, 2003) -- The year was 1994. Pomona Raceway was the location. Two Pro Stock combatants lined up in the final round of that...

Mopar hopes history reveals future success.
Alderman & Johnson look for break out NHRA seasons.

CHANDLER, Ariz. (Feb. 14, 2003) -- The year was 1994. Pomona Raceway was the location. Two Pro Stock combatants lined up in the final round of that season's NHRA Automobile Club of Southern California Finals -- each having a shot at winning a championship. It was storybook ending to an exciting Pro Stock season. And it was all Mopar.

Mopar factory driver Darrell Alderman flashed down the quarter mile and edged out then teammate Scott Geoffrion to win his third POWERade Pro Stock World Championship, an event still considered one of the most dramatic in NHRA history.

Alderman, 53, has now reached the twilight of his illustrious career. His past few seasons have seen success, but not the consistency that has buoyed the 28-time NHRA national event winner to fourth-place on the all-time category win list. For the 2003 season however, change is in order as Alderman joins Johnson & Johnson Racing and Pro Stock veteran Allen Johnson, widely considered as one of the most consistent and best drivers in the category. The elder half of the Johnson pair -- engine builder and father Roy Johnson -- is known around the NHRA Pro Stock pits for his horsepower wizardry. Added together -- you have the same recipe that led Mopar lovers to rejoice nine years prior.

"I've got the best shot to win a championship this year that I've had since my first one," said Alderman, who won his first NHRA Pro Stock title in 1990. "Roy and Allen Johnson are great people and will give the team the resources it needs to win. You can see that from (Pomona) qualifying and with all the testing we've done. We have three major test sessions under our belts already and that makes you feel good about fighting for a Pro Stock championship. To win a championship you have to be consistent all year long and it seems this team has all the ingredients for that."

If Pomona's results are an indicator, Mopar's chances to challenge for a title have been bolstered. Johnson drove to the finals, while qualifying fifth and racking up a career-best elapsed time of 6.780 seconds and a career-best top speed of 204.76 mph, the second fastest in NHRA Pro Stock history. Alderman's Hemi-powered machine also ran well, trekking to the semifinals and capturing the third-qualifying position with a career-best elapsed time of 6.779 seconds at 203.52 mph -- also a career mark.

"Building momentum out of Pomona was very important to us for several reasons," said A. Johnson, who won the event at the Atlanta Dragway last season. "Morale, for one, makes everyone want to go back and work even harder. Number two is points. If you miss just one race, that could hurt your chances for the championship."

The team has some changes on the horizon however, as the new Dodge Stratus R/T is slated to come on line by Gainesville (Fla.). But, the team has a strategy in place for the switchover.

"We won't switch cars until the Stratus is performing better than the Neon," Johnson noted. "To prepare for it, though, we're building the Stratus identical to what we are running now from a chassis standpoint. The cars should act the same; it's just a matter of aero -- and if it cuts through the air better -- that's a plus. We'll have time to test it and fine tune it so we can continue to be competitive on the track."

Alderman knows from experience the importance of a smooth transition.

"I'll use last year as an example for changing cars," said the 2002 Gatornationals Pro Stock winner. "I went half way through the season and was fourth in points. But we changed cars a couple of times and didn't even qualify the last half of the season. I don't know if it was the cars. The cars are one thing we changed and I definitely was not comfortable with it.

"Larry (Morgan) and Gene (Wilson) are over there working on the Stratus," Alderman continued. "And if that information is applied to ours over here, they may be better off the last half of the year. It will benefit them because they will have gone through the learning curve and will know what the car needs. We're still working with the Neon -- which we know and understand. We'll have to go through a little learning curve once we switch to the Stratus because racers are racers -- they don't give each other everything. It's a learning curve they are going to have to go through right now and that we'll go through soon ourselves. We will have the opportunity to test back to back and we hope that by the time we bring them out we'll still be competitive."

Both Alderman and Johnson will be attempting to qualify for the Feb. 20-23, Checker Schuck's & Kragen NHRA Nationals at Firebird International Raceway. ESPN2 will have qualifying coverage from 11:30 p.m., to 1:30 a.m., on Feb. 22; while ESPN2 will present elimination coverage from 9-11 p.m., on Feb. 23. All times Eastern.

The Stratus Challenge

When Mopar's Larry Morgan and teammate Gene Wilson strapped into their shiny new Dodge Stratus R/T Pro Stock cars to qualify of the most recent K&N Filters NHRA Winternationals at Pomona Raceway -- it was a time of firsts.

It was the first NHRA national event of 2003; the first race for the Stratus and the first-ever passes in the new car for both Morgan and Wilson.

"We were pretty happy just to be in competition in Pomona," Morgan said. "The guys worked an awful lot of long hours to get us here. Everyone involved, from our shop to the guys at Jerry Haas. They did a tremendous job getting us ready."

Morgan will run the 2003 season with a two-car, Mopar factory operation. The Newark, Ohio, resident is joined by 30-year-old category sophomore driver Wilson, who evaluated his maiden voyage with the new Stratus.

"The car was constructed at Jerry Haas's shop and I've run various versions of his cars for many years and just feel comfortable in it," Wilson said. "The Mopar engineering team has done a great job with the car's aero, too. The Stratus is going to be awesome. It's the best looking car on the track and I'm pretty excited because the more track time we get with it, the better it's going to get. It's going to take time to understand what the car likes and wants. Each track has its own characteristics and we're starting at ground zero to baseline what the car is looking for it to be fast and quick."

Last season, this formidable duo had some measures of on-track success. The 48-year-old Morgan grabbed his first NHRA Pro Stock national event victory since 1994, after beating 2002 champion Jeg Coughlin, Jr., and category standout Greg Anderson on consecutive holeshots at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. Wilson, the 2002 NHRA Rookie of the Year, closed out the season on a hot streak, logging three final-round appearances in the last half of the season and grabbing his first-career No. 1 qualifier at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill.

"Our goal is to win races this season," Wilson said. "I'm real confident that will happen - and sooner than later."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Darrell Alderman , Greg Anderson , Larry Morgan , Gene Wilson , Scott Geoffrion , Allen Johnson , Jerry Haas , Roy Johnson