POMONA, Calif., February 10, 2002 - George Marnell drove a Pontiac Grand Am to an emotional second career victory today at the season-opening 42nd annual NHRA Winternationals at Pomona Raceway. In doing so, the 51-year-old Las Vegas native...
POMONA, Calif., February 10, 2002 - George Marnell drove a Pontiac Grand Am to an emotional second career victory today at the season-opening 42nd annual NHRA Winternationals at Pomona Raceway. In doing so, the 51-year-old Las Vegas native defeated a collection of formidable opponents along the way.
"My buddy Bill Smith, who worked for me for five years and took good care of me, passed away on Thursday," said Marnell during the post-race press conference. "I wanted to dedicate this race to him. He was right there with me the entire race and we got the job done."
In a qualifying field separated by 44-hundredths of a second, Marnell started the race from the 16th and final spot, and battled his way to the Winternationals championship by winning four rounds on four holeshots in the less preferred right lane.
"It's so close in Pro Stock that we were just happy to be in the show," said Marnell. "We knew it was going to be a battle beginning with the moment we let the clutch out in the first round and I was lucky enough to get off the clutch pedal first."
Marnell knocked off No. 1 qualifier Ron Krisher in round one, Mike Edwards in round two and Tom Hammonds in round three. In the finals against Jim Yates, Marnell's Pontiac launched first with a .417 light and crossed the finish line in 6.880 seconds at 200.89 mph. Yates' Grand Am eclipsed the stripe in 6.812 seconds at a speed of 202.61 mph. The margin of victory for Marnell was .0009 seconds or approximately three inches.
"There are 30 good cars that can win a race on any given weekend," said Marnell. "It's going to be a fight all season, all the way up to when we come back here in November. There are a lot of good cars that once they get into the show, they have the ability to win.
"Getting our Pontiac Grand Am in the finals was an accomplishment but I felt confident from the beginning of the day that we could get it done. I knew that the field was so tight that if I did my job we could make up any difference at the starting line. Actually pulling it off is pretty exciting stuff."
It was the second career victory for Marnell who picked up his first win last October in Memphis. Today's victory moves Marnell into first place in the Pro Stock standings heading into the next event in Phoenix, Ariz.
"My car came very close to getting away from me," said Marnell. "Down around fourth gear it started to get loose. I put it in high gear and it made a big move to the centerline. I gathered it back up, looked over at the finish line and Jim's (Yates) Pontiac was right there. He was charging hard. The only way I knew I'd won was when I saw the win light come on in my lane."
Yates was looking for his third Winternationals victory. He qualified his Pontiac Grand Am in the No. 2 spot and knocked off Mark Pawuk in round one, Warren Johnson in round two and Kurt Johnson in round three. In his round one win over Pawuk, Yates' Grand Am ran low e.t. of the meet with a track-record elapsed time of 6.803 seconds.
"The most exciting part of this weekend was how fast our Grand Am ran," said Yates. "Plus the crew did a great job. Rich Purdy's back on our board our program this year, Jamie's (Yates) taken over as crew chief, we still have Al (Lindsey), and together they made a lot of correct decisions today.
"A lot of times you let the clutch out and you run fast and you don't know why. Today we ran pretty good on the first run, we tuned it up, and ran pretty good in the second round. Every round we were running really fast. We made a lot of changes in the car and it responded. I think that's a good sign of things to come. When the track changes I think we'll be able to respond."
Yates' performance this weekend has the 48-year-old Virginian in second place in the points standings, just 14 points behind Marnell.
"We tested all winter and now coming to a national event and racing shows us what we have to do," Yates said. "I'm looking forward to Phoenix. I think the racetrack there will be similar to what we saw here and we had a pretty dominant car out there today. The more rounds you run in eliminations and the more runs you make in qualifying gives you the ability to make better calls on the racecar. We picked up the engine all day long and Bob Ingles did a great job helping us to run better in every session. I'm very excited about the potential we have this year. Bottom line is, when you go to 23 races and you have a fast racecar like our Pontiac Grand Am, you're going to win more rounds than you lose."
The next race on the NHRA championship drag racing schedule is the 18th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals on Feb. 21 -24 at Firebird Raceway in Phoenix, Ariz.
Bruce Allen (Reher-Morrison Pontiac Grand Am) - "The bottom line is that you need to go rounds all year for 23 races. Whether it's one round, two round or the finals, we looked at the statistics from the previous three years and that showed us that the champion averaged about 2.5 rounds a race. You don't have to win every race, therefore if we can go to the semifinals at the next race then we'll be right back in that window. That's what you have to do. Our long term approach is to keep that in perspective, and along the way, if we're running good, then this Reher-Morrison Pontiac will win some races - all those things will take care of themselves. Our biggest concern is that when we start out the season, you're never quite sure where you're going to stack up compared to the rest of the field. When you come to Pomona,, you get that out of your system. We realized this weekend that we're not much different than we were last season. We need to improve some things, but I'm confident that the fundamentals are in place for a good year - I don't feel like losing second round is the end of the world. We didn't want to, we'd like to have won the race, but you have to keep the whole picture in mind and that's my new approach for the new year."