Reading Pennzoil Preview

READING, Pa. -- Each of the professional drag racing pilots of Team Pennzoil has an agenda to meet starting Sept. 18 when the 14th annual Pioneer Keystone Nationals roar into Maple Grove Raceway. National Hot Rod Association legend Eddie Hill...

READING, Pa. -- Each of the professional drag racing pilots of Team Pennzoil has an agenda to meet starting Sept. 18 when the 14th annual Pioneer Keystone Nationals roar into Maple Grove Raceway. National Hot Rod Association legend Eddie Hill wants to rekindle the luck of an old Amish companion, former Keystone Pro Stock winner Bruce Allen is eager to put the dog days of summer behind him and fellow Pro Stock opportunist Mike Thomas is hungry for another win in 1998.

Here's the latest news from each of the drivers in the Pennzoil paddock.

Eddie Hill, the Top Fuel pilot of the Pennzoil Dragster, reached the final round of the Pioneer Keystone Nationals in 1992 only to settle for second place. This year, he plans on winning one more round and he's hoping that the secret friendship of an Amish fan will be the impetus to put him in Maple Grove's Victory Circle.

"I love the fans in Reading," Hill said. "They have always made (my wife) Ercie and I feel so comfortable and at home. There is one fan, though, that really sticks out. I don't want to reveal his name because he's Amish and he might get in trouble if his identity is revealed. Suffice it say that he really took a shine to us and us to him and he's become quite a friend over the years. He can't always make it out to the races, but we keep in contact with him from time to time and he sends us a lot of old bibles and antique religious books. He's quite a fellow, top hat, beard and all.

"The interesting part of our friendship happened in 1992 after we set the track record, the event record, were the No. 1 qualifier and had reached the finals with only a little resistance. Well, we ended up losing and we were in our pit feeling low when our Amish friend showed up. He is such a jolly guy that before long, we were all laughing and carrying on and had pretty much forgotten about our bad luck on the track. Then he presented us with this Amish charm and told us that if we hung it in our trailer, we'd win the championship next year. Well, that's exactly what happened and we still credit him for our world championship in 1993. I still have that charm at the house and it sure has brought Ercie and I a lot of good fortune over the years."

A little good fortune is seemingly all Hill needs to record a victory. Hill has qualified for every race since March of 1997. He's been in the top half of the qualifying field 11 times this season, with seven top four appearances. He also was the No. 6 qualifier in the quickest field of all time, which was assembled at the last NHRA race in Indianapolis. "Maybe we can get a little luck from our friend and win this race in Reading," Hill said.

Bruce Allen, the Pro Stock driver of the Outlaw Fuel Additives Pontiac Firebird, is a former champion (1985) and two-time runner-up ('89 and '86) in Reading. His past successes at Maple Grove Raceway have him anxious to return to the track.

"To me, this is the coolest race of the season," Allen said. "It's a time of the year when I think to myself that summer is finally over and we can all get back to some real fast racing. The track at Maple Grove is always extremely quick and the weather is cool enough that we don't have to contend with greasy conditions. We can just put a bunch of clutch in the car and go fast.

"This summer has had several races where the Friday night session is the only one where you can qualify. In all the other rounds, the conditions have been too hot to go fast. At Reading, I guarantee you there will be two or three rounds of great racing. That's fantastic for us. The tension of summer is over. It's time to get back to having fun."

"I'm optimistic about our performance. We missed the cut in Indy because we didn't hit it just right on Friday night. But after that, we ran pretty good on Saturday and real good on Sunday. The Outlaw Fuel Additives car is really running well. We're ready to go."

Mike Thomas, the Pro Stock driver of the Pennzoil Pontiac Firebird, is hoping to return to his winning ways in Reading after dropping two places in the Winston points standings over the last two races. Thomas, who currently occupies seventh place in the rankings, believes that resetting his personal best mph mark of 199.11 mph in Pennsylvania will help him escape from his mini-slump.

"We've resolved the engine problems that caused us to stumble in the last few races and we will be in top shape in Reading," Thomas said. "I think we'll have the Pennzoil Pontiac going over 200 mph. To be honest with you, I wouldn't be surprised if there are a few cars going that fast. I'm also expecting an all 6-second field.

"Reading is always fast. The crew does an outstanding job of keeping that track in top shape. The starting line is the best one we race on which translates to cars getting off quick and posting some real quick times down the track. It'll be fun.

"We are really excited about getting back in this points race. Our clutch set-up has been perfect but we had an engine problem that wasn't revealed until we stripped both our No. 1 and No. 2 engines all the way down to the oil pan. Now they're both strong and ready to go. We're in the best shape we've been all year."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Thomas , Bruce Allen