GM Race Teams Head West For Season Opener Final Preparations Wind Down For 23-Race Campaign POMONA, Calif., Feb. 7, 2006 - For followers of NHRA POWERade Drag Racing, the waiting is over, the time for preseason speculation by fans and observers...
GM Race Teams Head West For Season Opener
Final Preparations Wind Down For 23-Race Campaign
POMONA, Calif., Feb. 7, 2006 - For followers of NHRA POWERade Drag Racing, the waiting is over, the time for preseason speculation by fans and observers has come to an end, and the drivers and their crews are busy making final preparations for a long 23-race campaign that begins with this weekend's 46th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway. When the year concludes nine months from now at this same venue, champions will be crowned and records may tumble to new performance marks, but for now, let the games begin.
In 2005, Greg Anderson became the first NHRA Pro Stock driver since Bob Glidden's run in 1985-89 to win three consecutive drivers championships, and all three of Anderson's championships have been in a Pontiac. En route to his third title, the North Carolina resident captured eight national events, advanced to 11 final rounds, earned seven raceday poles and scored 53 round wins. At the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., Anderson reset both ends of the national record in the Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac with a lap of 6.633 seconds at 208.23 mph.
"I'm very proud of the effort this team made over the winter," said Anderson. "We've tested a couple of new cars that ran real well, we've been working hard in the engine department and everyone has been with their nose to the grindstone seven days a week. Even if we go to Pomona and we don't run as well as we'd like, it won't be because of lack of effort. We feel we've put all we can forward to prepare ourselves and I'm hoping for good things. We're cautiously optimistic and we're pleased with the way things went over the winter.
"We had two new Pontiac GTOs that we had to sort through and we're very pleased with them. We've also been focusing on the DRCE3 and we're close to getting one in the car. We looked at a lot of little things that we feel will make us better in the long run - you can't just focus on one thing on these cars because there are so many variables that need to be rubbed on. The gains are going to be small in every area but they all add up."
During his current three-year run as NHRA Pro Stock champion Anderson has been about as hot as a competitor can be accumulating 35 national-event victories, advancing to 45 final rounds, earning 37 raceday poles and tallying 196 round wins (.852).
"The more wins and the more success we can have, the more enthused we become and the harder we work," said Anderson. "We rally off of good performance. It keeps up the morale, it keeps everyone wanting to work hard and that's what we're looking forward to do. Three championships are great, but that's all behind us now and if we don't do as well as in years past, it won't be for lack of effort. It's now time for us to start over.
"Every year more and more people figure out what it takes to be successful and to be competitive," said Anderson. "You know that coming in - it's not something that takes you by surprise. We fully expect a lot of cars to run really, really great. It's our job to be better."
For the second time in the last three years, and the fourth time since he began his career as a Pro Stock competitor in 1993, ACDelco Chevrolet driver Kurt Johnson finished second in the NHRA points standings following a season in which the Georgia resident won four national events and advanced to seven final rounds. Johnson has historically performed well during the second half of the season and 2005 was no exception. Each of the Chevy Cobalt driver's four wins last year came in the second half of the season (St. Louis, Seattle, Brainerd, Las Vegas) and following his victory at St. Louis, KJ went 31-9 in competition (.775), tying Anderson for most round wins during that time frame. Entering 2006, Johnson has a career total of 418 round wins (.643), second only to Warren Johnson among active Pro Stock drivers.
"We still have a little way to go on our 60-foot and our 330-foot performance," said Johnson. "We know we're making good power with the DRCE3 underneath the hood of our ACDelco Cobalt. We're running a big speed but we have to get the first part of the racetrack negotiated just a little bit better. During the offseason we worked exclusively on the motor and now we have to apply that to the racetrack. It's a matter of getting track time to figure out how to get the car to go quick - that will be our biggest issue. You can't run 60 foot in the shop, so we'll need to get to the racetrack. With the winter weather the way it was we didn't get enough runs under our belt.
"Everybody is out here looking at the information, making their best calculated guess, working with the same parts and pieces we are, and we're just trying to get our ACDelco Chevrolet to go quicker than everybody else. The power is real close right now, and everybody has the same tools, same parts, same tires, same transmission, you're looking for that little edge and everybody puts their stuff together just a little bit differently. That's what makes the difference on the racetrack."
Jason Line quieted any talk of a sophomore jinx in 2005 by recording his second straight top-five finish after notching four victories in seven final rounds. The Summit Racing Pontiac GTO driver climbed as high as second in the points standings after his second win of the year at Englishtown (N.J.) before ending the year in third place. His top speed of 208.17 mph recorded last September at Chicago is the fastest so far by a driver in a Pontiac GTO.
Much to the delight of drag racing fans everywhere, six-time NHRA champion Warren Johnson (1992-93, 1995, 1998-99, 2001) will come back in 2006 to take another shot at a POWERade Pro Stock driver's title. The Professor of Pro Stock and driver of the GM Performance Parts Pontiac GTO returned to the winner's circle and a top-five finish in points last year posting three wins, two runners-up and six No. 1 qualifying awards. Johnson's 95 career wins place him second on the NHRA all-time list and on the eve of this year's Winternationals, the GM Performance Pontiac driver is just five victories shy of the magic century mark. Johnson is a six-time winner of the Winternationals at Pomona Raceway (1987, 1993-94, 1997, 2001, 2003).
"It's been a productive off-season," said Johnson. "I took some well spent time away from the shop in November to visit the troops in Germany, and after that, hardly anyone from the crew or in the shop missed a day. It was a non-stop effort and it shows by the way we've picked up the pace."
During last Saturday's Pontiac Pro Stock Showdown at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Johnson posted a runner-up finish and ran the four fastest speeds of the eliminator.
"If we get the 60-foot situation fixed, the GM Performance Parts Pontiac will really be fast," said Johnson. "It outruns everybody on the back-half by two-hundredths, but it's about a hundredth slow at 60, and that hurts the 330. By the time you get to 330 it's already starting to make it up."
Dave Connolly will be back behind the wheel of a Chevy Cobalt in 2006. Connolly blasted out of the blocks strong at last season's Winternationals by scoring a final-round victory over Warren Johnson. Connolly won two races in 2005, advanced to three final rounds and ended the year fifth in the POWERade standings for his second straight top-five finish.
"There have been a lot of people who helped us get ready for the beginning of the season, like Jerry Bickel and all the guys at Victor Cagnazzi's shop," said Connolly. "As far as the engine program goes, Victor has a lot of guys over there working their tails off, and I feel real confident about our chances this year. In the short amount of time they've had and the power we have at this point, I think in a couple of months we'll stand out. This Chevy Cobalt is a real good racecar, we have another new car that we need to get sorted out, and going into the season things look promising. We made some runs at Las Vegas that showed that we're running with the best teams, so that's a confidence boost right there.
"This will be my first third full season in Pro Stock and I expect it to be the toughest ever. With us, and Greg's (Anderson) team, and Warren and Kurt (Johnson), the Schumacher camp and Erica's team, there are so many good programs out there that are stepping up. You'll need to have a good consistent racecar week to week and drive good all year. It's not going to be an easy task, but we're up for it."
Greg Stanfield had his best finish as a Pro Stock driver in 2005 when he ended the year in seventh place. Stanfield was the runner-up at Brainerd (Minn.) to Kurt Johnson and this season the former Pro Stock Truck stalwart will be changing over to a Pontiac GTO.
"Our biggest change was with the car," explained Stanfield. "We updated from a Cavalier to a GTO, and our motor program is still the same, but the new car has helped us a lot. It's fast and it's helped us catch up to the rest of these guys. I'm excited about the new season. We're not the fastest, but hopefully we can get better.
"Last year's top-10 finish was one of the goals of this team. We also wanted to win a race and qualify for every race. We were runner-up and only missed qualifying one time, so we were very close to reaching our goals. Every race you have to put your car in the show and we almost did that last season. This year, we're trying to be consistent. That's where we struggled last season as far as run after run. We're still new at this and we're still learning, but we're excited."
Ron Krisher drove the Valvoline Chevy Cobalt to a runner-up performance at Seattle and then parlayed a strong season-long performance to a ninth-place finish in the POWERade standings. It was Krisher's fifth career top-10 finish and his first since 2003.
"We feel just fine about our chances in 2006," said Krisher. "In the off-season we focused on motors - horsepower, period! We found quite a bit and our motors now are probably better than they've ever been. The competition is always tough - it never changes, it just keeps on going."
Looking to improve on a 10th-place finish in 2005, two-time NHRA champion (1996-97) Jim Yates will install Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins horsepower under the hood of his Pontiac GTO this year. Yates was the No. 1 qualifier at last year's Winternationals, and at Reading (Pa.) advanced to his first final round since 2002.
"We're getting good data, making changes and the car is responding," said Yates. "We have a pretty good indication how our GTO is going to react at a national-event racetrack. We still have a lot to learn about what to do as far as gear ratio and clutch combinations to get the most out of the engine. Right now we're just inching up on it. It feels good to have horsepower. Now Jamie (Yates) and I can focus on getting the car down the track. If we can harness that power and get the clutch hooked up and the gear ratios right, then we think we can put up a good number. It's encouraging. When you make changes in the pits and run with the top four or five cars, then you know you have some potential.
"We struggled in the off-season because we made a lot of changes. These engines have a lot of power, a lot of torque and we're still having trouble applying it all down low. It's a different driving style but it's a matter making laps, and the more laps you make the better you become. I think we're running close to our potential - maybe leaving a little bit on the table. We have to work on everything, getting the motor, the driver and the chassis matched up. As we do that there's going to be a happier combination that will give us better numbers."
The CARQUEST Winternationals is the first race on the 23-event NHRA POWERade schedule. Qualifying can be seen on ESPN2 on Saturday, Feb. 11, beginning at 10 p.m. Eastern. A three-hour telecast of final eliminations can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, Feb. 12, starting at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.