DEFENDING CHAMPION PANELLA MARKED MAN IN PRO STOCK TRUCK BATTLES DINWIDDIE, Va. - The large No. 1 painted on the side of Bob Panella's bright yellow Chevy S-10 is there because of the hard work and great determination that his team displayed...
DEFENDING CHAMPION PANELLA MARKED MAN IN PRO STOCK TRUCK BATTLES
DINWIDDIE, Va. - The large No. 1 painted on the side of Bob Panella's bright yellow Chevy S-10 is there because of the hard work and great determination that his team displayed in 1999 to win their first NHRA Winston championship.
These days, however, the Stockton, Calif. racer admits that he feels like it's becoming less of a signature of success and more of a target for his competition.
Whenever the defending champion rolls to the starting line for competition in any category, his opponent is licking his chops and pulling out all stops to earn a victory. This season Panella has seen that too many times. Fortunately he's been able to thwart away those attempted holeshots with a horsepower advantage. However, he's pretty certain that the competition isn't going to let up.
"Everybody gets me at the light," said Panella, who leads the point standings following victories at Pomona, Calif. and Las Vegas. "I can't seem to get out first, no matter what I do. That's all part of having that bulls-eye on my back. It kind of looks bad when I'm looking at statistics and see the percentage of times I left the starting line first - it's like zero."
Panella hopes to change those statistics at the Moto1.net NHRA Nationals presented by Chevrolet, April 27-30, at Virginia Motorsports Park. He also wants to amend a few other stats at the $1.7 million race, the fifth of 14 events for Pro Stock Trucks in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. Like adding a number to his career victory total.
Last season Panella finished runner-up at the Virginia track, located just south of the capital city of Richmond. It's a track that he says resembles other tracks where he's had success in the past - Chicago, St. Louis, Topeka, Kan. and most recently Las Vegas.
"I wish we could figure out why that yellow S-10 likes these hot racetracks," he said. "We go to Gainesville and struggle and then go to a high elevation track like Las Vegas or a summertime track like Chicago and do well. Fortunately for us that's what's coming up in the next few races and hopefully we can get on a roll."
He'll need to win a few races if he's to contend with several top championship challengers in his category. Former teammate Greg Stanfield has posted two runner-up finishes, while category newcomer Steve Johns has been among the quickest and fastest trucks. Another top challenger, Randy Daniels, is the season's only other winner.
"Randy was hot and cold last year," Panella said. "When he was fast, he was real fast and when he struggled, he was nowhere to be found. This year he's definitely got his act together and he'll be tough to beat all year long. Just like a handful of other guys that are going to be there all year long too."
Panella may be tough to beat if his Chevy S-10 continues to perform like it did during the sport's first visit to Las Vegas. He qualified No. 1 and won the race against some of the category's toughest competitors.
"My truck really responded well in Las Vegas," Panella said. "I don't know why, but it has never felt like it did at that race. If I can find out why it worked so well, we may really be onto something. The truck was flawless. Everybody on the team did such a great job that all I had to do was get in there and not make any mistakes."