POMONA, Calif. - A pair of perennial NHRA Winston champions - Joe Amato and John Force -- paced qualifying Thursday at the 40th annual AutoZone Winternationals at Pomona Raceway, NHRA's 2000 season-opener. Troy Coughlin and Bob Panella...
POMONA, Calif. - A pair of perennial NHRA Winston champions - Joe Amato and John Force -- paced qualifying Thursday at the 40th annual AutoZone Winternationals at Pomona Raceway, NHRA's 2000 season-opener. Troy Coughlin and Bob Panella also were qualifying leaders in their pro categories at the $1.7 million race, the first of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. Amato, who failed to qualify for this event one year ago, turned in a solid run of 4.666 seconds at 320.05 mph in his Tenneco Automotive dragster to lead the 16-car field. "I'm tickled pink," said Amato, from Exeter, Pa. "That effort certainly beats last year. We're happy with the car's performance. It ran quick and fast and the motor looked good after the run. It just goes to show you that the NHRA did the right thing by making the rule changes. The car has more usable horsepower throughout the run."
Top Fuel's Rhonda Hartman became the first driver subject to a $500 fine for oiling down the racing surface. Doug Kalitta, driver of the MGM Grand dragster, and independent Funny Car campaigner Wyatt Radke also were fined. New NHRA rules mandate fines and point penalties for Top Fuel and Funny Car entries that oil the track during competition.
In addition, rules also require teams in those categories to run a standard 90-percent nitromethane fuel mixture. Force, from Yorba Linda, Calif., powered his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to the top of the order in Funny Car, running 4.958 at 311.20. "It's good to start the season this way," said Force, who is seeking his 82nd career victory this weekend. "(Austin, crew chief) Coil earned his money today. He's been working with the rules changes, trying some different things. We softened the setup a little today and it ran pretty good. I'm surprised that some of the other guys didn't run as good. I'm sure they'll be right there tomorrow." Coughlin, from Columbus, Ohio, covered the distance in 6.910 at 198.96 in his Jeg's Mail Order Oldsmobile Cutlass to lead Pro Stock qualifying. Stockton, Calif.'s Panella, drove his Panella Trucking Chevy S-10 to a 7.611 at 177.32 to pace the Pro Stock Truck order. Pro qualifying continues Friday at 2 p.m.