MOPAR MINUTE 1999 Pennzoil Nationals Virginia Motorsports Park Richmond, Va., April 29-May 2, 1999 SKUZA FUNNY CAR RUNNER-UP IN DALLAS; DUNN CONTINUES TO LEAD IN TOP FUEL MOPAR TOP FUEL REPORT "What in the heck was...
MOPAR MINUTE 1999 Pennzoil Nationals Virginia Motorsports Park Richmond, Va., April 29-May 2, 1999
SKUZA FUNNY CAR RUNNER-UP IN DALLAS; DUNN CONTINUES TO LEAD IN TOP FUEL
MOPAR TOP FUEL REPORT "What in the heck was I doing? I staged way too deep and then to make matters worse, I two-stepped the clutch which not only caused me to red light, but the car pulled the front wheels up and began to go into a severe wheelstand." Mike Dunn, driver of the Team Mopar Top Fuel dragster after a second-round red-light start in Dallas last Sunday.
Mike Dunn's version of the Texas Two-Step aside, the Team Mopar Top Fuel team takes a 50-point lead into this weekend's Pennzoil Nationals in Richmond, Va., the first time the Ken Veney-tuned team has been atop the standings this deep into the season.
Dunn, 42, has led the NHRA Top Fuel standings from the first event of the 1999 season by virtue of winning two of five national events (Pomona, Calif., and Gainesville, Fla.), lowering the Top Fuel elapsed-time record, and stringing together consistent 4.50- and 4.60-second runs in qualifying and eliminations.
Dunn doesn't feel the pressure from leading the points. "I don't think they're gunning for us yet - it's way too early in the season for that," he said. "But if they are gunning for us, I don't feel it. We'll just continue to take it one race at a time."
After four years of racing at Virginia Motorsports Park, the Darrell Gwynn team believes they have a good baseline for this weekend's event. "The Richmond track allows you to be more aggressive down low," Dunn said, "and in the past we've been getting really good bite early on the run. If we don't get stupid, we'll be just fine."
That said, let's just hope Dunn doesn't find out about the Virginia Reel.
MOPAR PRO STOCK TRUCK REPORT The l-o-n-g haul begins in Virginia
This weekend's Pennzoil Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park is the first of six straight NHRA national events in which the Pro Stock Truck teams compete; trucks run at 14 of 22 events this season. In anticipation of the arduous two-month stretch that visits Virginia, Georgia, New Jersey, Illinois, Ohio and Illinois again, the factory-backed Mopar teams used the welcome three-week break before Virginia to test new engine packages.
Todd Patterson, currently fourth in Pro Stock Truck points, has been working on already-stout engine combinations for their Dodge Dakota. "We're always trying to improve our Dodge Magnum small-block engine," Patterson said. "The power we're making is evident by our performance - we had the second fastest truck in Houston.
"We have a grueling stretch in front of us now - including back-to-back races in Atlanta and Englishtown (N.J.), and we've done everything humanly possible to prepare ourselves," Patterson continued.
"Our third engine is finished, so we'll be ready for whatever the other teams throw at us. We're so close to winning our first national event, and with the power we're making, I have a feeling it'll come soon."
Back in their Houston race shop, Bo Nickens is busy sorting out his new Jerry Haas-built Dakota after it made its maiden voyage in Houston earlier this month.
"We know we had the horsepower to qualify in Houston, but we weren't quite there," Nickens said. "The truck wasn't launching correctly and it was spinning the tires. Our 60-foot times were off and, consequently, our elapsed-times in qualifying weren't quick enough to make the show.
"Since then," Nickens said, "we've been back to Houston Raceway Park testing. After completely changing the rear suspension, we're pretty sure we found what the truck needs to get down the Virginia track. The good thing about racing in Richmond is that none of the trucks have raced there before, and we'll all be on a level playing field, so to speak. We feel confident going into Richmond that we'll have another Dodge in the field."
The father-and-son driving team of Craig and Dale Eaton have also been hard at work preparing for the Richmond race. "We had the power to run with Todd in Houston - he built us a great engine - but the truck wouldn't go the down the track," Craig Eaton said. "After we lost in round one, our crew chief, Gary Pearman, found something wrong in our rear suspension. We made some changes, and the Dakota should respond the way we think it will. Now it's on to Richmond to see if we can go some rounds and win some races."
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH ... Todd Patterson, driver of the Team Mopar Pro Stock Dodge Dakota 1. Why did you make the switch from the Chevy Camaro in Competition Eliminator to the Dodge Dakota in Pro Stock Truck?
When NHRA announced formation of the Pro Stock Truck division two years ago, we felt it would be a great way to make the transition from the sportsman class to the professional class. After my initial meeting with Lou Patane (Vice President-Motorsports Operations and Mopar Performance Parts), I was really impressed with where the drag racing program was headed. The commitment and the platform approach that DaimlerChrysler was applying it to its Pro Stock Truck research and development made me excited to be a part of this team. The switch from Comp to Pro Stock Truck was a good move for our team.
2. What's the factory support been like this season?
We couldn't be happier with the technology support from DaimlerChrysler engineers. They've taken a proactive approach in working with us on everything from clutch systems to cylinder head development. They've delivered everything that was promised.
3. How has the support from the fans been so far this season?
It's been overwhelming. Everyone, including diehard Mopar fans, has been supportive. It's like having a family I never knew I had - they've welcomed me and my team with open arms. We're even receiving fan mail from Mopar enthusiasts from around the world.
4. What steps have you taken to keep on top of your engine development program since you're away from the shop so much?
I have a great staff back at my shop in Augusta, Kan. Even when I'm on the road, my guys are running new engines on the dynamometer. I give them feedback from the runs we make every day, and they put it into our database so we have immediate access to all the engine, chassis, and clutch information from the event.
5. With the Pro Stock Truck class competing for the first time at Richmond, how will your team set up the clutch and the chassis with no existing data from this track?
We'll use the data from Gainesville because the weather conditions will be just about the same as Virginia. The altitude of both tracks is just around sea level. Virginia Motorsports Park held the first 200 mph run in Pro Stock Car two years ago, so both ends of the Pro Stock Truck record could be in jeopardy. If we can make the same types of runs in Virginia that we made in Gainesville and Houston, we could see our Dodge Dakota in the records books.
MOPAR ASSOCIATE NOTES "This was almost a great day of racing," groaned Dean Skuza, driver of the Matco Tools/Team Mopar Avenger Funny Car after smoking the tires in the final-round of eliminations and losing to Tony Pedregon at last weekend's Castrol Nationals in Dallas. Skuza's final-round appearance moved him to fifth in Funny Car points.
The Skuza team - fighting a fuel delivery problem for almost a month - went back to a tried-and-true combination. The move showed immediate results, with the team qualifying fourth in Dallas with a 4.916-second run at 315.56 mph.
"The new trick fuel system parts we've tried haven't been developed to the point where they can repeat run after run," Skuza said. "We plan to continue to test the system, and we'll put it back in competition after we get it working to our specifications."
After the fuel-delivery system is refined, the next phase in Skuza's research and development program is one that Mopar has been working on for several years - the new Mopar Hemi(r) heads.
According to flow tests the team conducted at its Ohio shop, the heads will give the team a tremendous horsepower gain. "Obviously we always want more power," said crew chief Lance Larsen. "But until we can apply the power with our clutch, the extra power would be a nuisance rather than an advantage. Let's put it this way, if we put the new heads on now, we would probably just smoke the tires a bit sooner."
Meanwhile, count Virginia Motorsports Park among Funny Car driver Skuza's favorite tracks. "We really like coming to Richmond because the facility was designed by former Pro Stock driver and team owner Don Beverly," Skuza said. "As a result, Don knows what's important to racers, and he went out of his way to make Richmond racer-friendly.
"For example," Skuza continued, "Don designed pit areas and staging lanes that are easy to get in and out of. The track surface is ultra smooth, and when the NHRA comes in, they do a great job in preparing the track to handle our 6,000-horsepower Hemi(r) engine."
And, Skuza hears, the winner's circle is second-to-none.
MOPAR SPORTSMAN NOTES Once again, Mopar Stock Eliminator racers from the Southeast will descend on Virginia Motorsports Park for some good old-fashioned head-to-head racing. Leading the charge in the A/Stock Automatic class will be Al Corda driving his 1970 Hemi Challenger R/T. Corda was A/Stock Automatic class winner at Dallas, defeating big-block Chevies for the trophy.
MOPAR REWIND >From the Fourth Annual Pennzoil Nationals, April 23-26, 1998
QUALIFYING * Mike Dunn powered his Team Mopar Top Fuel Dragster to the fifth qualifying position with a 4.686-second run at 300.70 mph. * Dean Skuza's Dodge Avenger was Funny Car's 10th qualifier (5.089/299.70). * In Pro Stock, Larry Nance's Dodge Avenger qualified 14th with a 6.96-second run at 197.67mph; Larry Morgan qualified seventh (6.950/197.49). Darrell Alderman and Scott Geoffrion did not qualify. * Frank Manzo led all Federal-Mogul Funny Car competitors with a 5.612-second run at 254.02 mph in his Dodge Avenger.
ELIMINATIONS * For the first time in the 1998 season, Dunn lost in the first round of eliminations, losing a tire-smoking battle to Cory McClenathan 6.226 to 6.604. Dunn left Virginia fourth in points. * Dean Skuza was on the losing end of a first-round Funny Car eliminations run to Whit Bazemore, 5.159 to 5.358. Skuza was eighth in points after the event. * Larry Nance was forced to shut off his Dodge Avenger in the first round of Pro Stock eliminations, giving the win to Kurt Johnson (7.033 to 8.865). * Frank Manzo was the class of the F-MFC field, taking the Avenger vs. Avenger win over Bob Newberry, 5.693 vs. 5.741. Manzo was the #1 qualifier, set low elapsed-time of the event (5.612), and ran top speed (254.02).