Pro Stock competitors ready for western swing

DENVER (July 5, 2000) - The 2000 NHRA Winston championship season has reached its halfway point with the drivers and race transporters ready to embark on the three-race Western swing of the schedule. Over the next four weeks, teams and ...

DENVER (July 5, 2000) - The 2000 NHRA Winston championship season has reached its halfway point with the drivers and race transporters ready to embark on the three-race Western swing of the schedule. Over the next four weeks, teams and equipment will be put to the test. First at the Mile-High Nationals in Denver, Colorado, on July 13 -16, followed by the Prolong Northwest Nationals in Seattle, Wash., on July 28 - 30 and concluding with the Autolite Nationals in Sonoma, Calif., on August 4 - 6. Drivers and crew members are well aware that these next three events will go a long way in deciding the final outcome of many of the points races. With the second half of the season ready to get under way, many of Team Pontiac's racing contingency took time to reflect on their accomplishments since the beginning of the year and where they hope to be when the NHRA Finals roll around in November. In Pro Stock, five-time Winston champion Warren Johnson continues his pursuit of points leader Jeg Coughlin Jr. The GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird driver has been to four final rounds and won the Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., to pick up his 80th career victory. He is currently third in the points standings. "The first half of the season wasn't what we wanted," explained Johnson. "But overall, when we compare where everyone else is we aren't in that bad of shape. We've just had one of those unusual years where anything that can go wrong did go wrong. Murphy's Law has definitely come in to play this year. We're going to keep working, see what we can do in the season's second half and hopefully we will be able to make some increases in power. It's a case that we're going to finish this year as best as we can and at the same time start preparing for next year." Eagle One Pontiac Firebird driver Ron Krisher has made a run at the front of the pack. The Warren, Ohio, business owner purchased his own engine shop last December to supply his race team and hired Mike Edwards as crew chief. In April Krisher qualified No. 1 at Las Vegas, scored his first win at Chicago, was runner-up at Columbus and closed out the month of June with his second win of the year at St. Louis. He is currently second in the Pro Stock points standings. "I have the best team out there in my opinion," said Krisher. "Some people may have a different opinion, but my opinion is that I have all the best guys. They get me down the race track and have made me a better driver. When we go back to the pits my team doesn't beat me up on what I did wrong, I go look at what I've done and figure it out. There is no pressure to do better and that helps my driving a lot. They are a terrific group of people and obviously on race day they're awesome. We hope to be able to close the gap in the points standings with Jeg (Coughlin) but I have to tell you, he is an awesome driver and that team does a terrific job too so it won't be easy." Summit Racing Pontiac Firebird driver Mark Pawuk is living up to his own preseason expectations. Pawuk has qualified in the top half of the field at every event this year except one; the Pontiac Excitement Nationals in Columbus, Ohio, where he started the race ninth and picked up his first victory of the season and his first win since 1995. Consistency has been the key to Pawuk's success in 2000 demonstrated by his final-round appearance at Phoenix and his No. 2 qualifying effort at Las Vegas. He is fourth in the Pro Stock points standings. "I consider the first half of this season awesome," said Pawuk. "It's the best season I've had since I've been a professional up to this point. The highlight of the first half was obviously winning the Pontiac Excitement Nationals presented by Summit Racing -- also going to the semifinals at the Nationals in Las Vegas, going to a new market and being in Las Vegas for the first time. Those were a couple of highlights, but by far winning the Pontiac Excitement Nationals and ending a five-year drought was tops. "We would like to keep the momentum going through the remainder of the year. We would like to finish as the top three or four car of the year and win a couple of more races -- get into more finals and keep our consistency. There are a lot of good cars out there and it's going to be tough to do. But we feel we have one of the best Pro Stock drag racing teams out there, and we're all focused to work even harder to make that happen during the second half of the year." Jim Yates started out the season strong taking the No. 1 qualifying position at Pomona and Houston and then registering back-to-back final-round appearances at Houston and Richmond. Yates enters the Western swing eighth in the points standings after a DNQ at St. Louis. "We've been up and down and inconsistent this first half of the season," Yates said. "We started out qualifying the Splitfire Pontiac Firebird No. 1 at Pomona and Houston and then didn't qualify at St. Louis. We've had some good races and we've had some bad ones. We've had a fast car, up in the front of the pack at some races, and then we would end up in the back of the pack at the next race. We're chasing it and hopefully we will catch it. "What we need to do is to return to some level of consistency. I think we have the capability to run in the top half of the field and compete with the top four cars. The problem is we basically haven't had the consistency to do that, and we've been chasing it for the entire first half of the season. What we are trying to do for the second half is to identify where we aren't consistent and come back and make the program better. We know we have the potential we just have to make it happen." Richie Stevens is one of Pontiac's young guns looking to make a little more noise in the second half of the 2000 campaign. Before it's all said and done, Stevens would like another top-five finish and a few stops in the winner's circle. The New Orleans driver of the Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird is currently seventh in the points standings. "We were doing a lot better this time last year, although we've been able to qualify at every race, a streak we've been able to keep going since Phoenix last year," Stevens said. "We've got our own engine program finally going and it's looking a lot closer than it was before. We've been holding steady so we just hope we can continue to improve the rest of the year. Hopefully we can win a race. We came close this year. We made it to a couple of semifinal rounds, and every race we've lost in the second round has been by inches, so we're right there. We just need a little luck on our side. Hopefully we can win a couple of races and get the Valspar Refinish Firebird into the top five in points." Hanging on to the No. 10 spot in the standings is Reher-Morrison Pontiac Firebird driver Bruce Allen. Allen advanced to the final round at Atlanta for the second time in the last three years and is hoping to move up in the points race during the last half of the year. "The first half of the season has been acceptable but not satisfactory," said Allen. "We've run alright and have been in a position to do better, but just haven't quite got it done yet. We're not disappointed, we've qualified for all the races, so that's good. We just need to improve our performance on race day. "Our midseason goals are to move into the top half of the points standings. I would also like to win at least two races in the second half of the season. I think we are capable of doing that, we just need to get our performance on race day better and make better runs. There are some really fast cars out there, and we need to make the Reher-Morrison Pontiac Firebird one of them." A newcomer to the Pro Stock class this year is first-year competitor Jamie Yates, driver of the second Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird out of the Jim Yates Racing stable. Yates advanced to the semifinal round at Phoenix after qualifying 16th and then had strong showings at Las Vegas and Richmond. "The first half has been a real learning experience. We've had ups and downs as most team do, but it's been pretty good. I've learned a lot and I think we have come a long way from where we started, even though it doesn't show on the race track right now. Hopefully during the second half of the season we will take what we have learned so far and improve even more. "We want to be able to be competitive during the remainder of the season. We are inconsistent right now, and I think that if we can get to the point where we can get my Splitfire Firebird to be a consistent qualifier then you will see us improving. So we're going to focus on being competitive, running fast and qualifying." The 22nd annual Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals is the 13th race on the 23-event NHRA championship schedule. Qualifying highlights can be seen on ESPN2 on Saturday, July 15, beginning at 10 p.m. Eastern. One hour of early-round coverage of final eliminations can be seen on Sunday, July 16, beginning at 4:30 p.m. with two hours of final-round coverage beginning at 11:30 p.m.

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Mark Pawuk , Jamie Yates , Warren Johnson , Ron Krisher , Bruce Allen , Mike Edwards
Teams Yates Racing