Sonoma MOPAR Racing Preview

MOPAR NEWS 1999 AUTOLITE NATIONALS Sonoma, Calif. Aug. 6-8, 1999 Aug. 2, 1999 THE TEACHER AND THE STUDENT Examining the Mike Dunn / Ken Veney relationship A DRIVER'S RESPECT FOR HIS CREW CHIEF It's called respect. To some within the National...

MOPAR NEWS 1999 AUTOLITE NATIONALS Sonoma, Calif. Aug. 6-8, 1999

Aug. 2, 1999 THE TEACHER AND THE STUDENT Examining the Mike Dunn / Ken Veney relationship

A DRIVER'S RESPECT FOR HIS CREW CHIEF It's called respect. To some within the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) they are known as the teacher and the student. One is the crafty veteran with years of experience and racing championships. The other is a razor-sharp driver at the apex of his career. It's a relationship built on respect and trust.

"I wasn't sure I wanted to come back," Ken Veney, crew chief for the Team Mopar Top Fuel dragster. "I'd been away from racing for three years and a lot changed. I'd never raced with Mike (Dunn) but I knew he was one heck of a driver, and I wanted to be the tuner of his car. "

Veney, 59, from Wadsworth, Ohio, started racing professionally in 1970 and won the NHRA Alcohol Funny Car World Championship a decade later. After retiring from driving in 1983, Veney was in and out of racing for the next 13 years. The Veney/Dunn alliance was formed in 1996, during Veney's second stint as crew chief with Darrell Gwynn Racing.

"Ken is a guy with has a ton of experience, a common-sense type of guy who approaches his job with unbelievable intensity," Dunn said. "With all the technical aspects of Top Fuel racing, Ken can separate all the information and make an educated decision based on his experience as a driver and crew chief. It's that type of mutual respect that encompasses this crew chief-driver relationship."

"I've been a driver and know how tough it is to win," Veney said. "Mike and I take a lot of pride in our work - we both want to be the best. It's about attitude and communication. When I ask him a question, I may already know the answer, but it makes both of us think about how we can get better. Half of this deal is common sense. Whether right or wrong, I respect Mike's opinion. Nobody cares more about winning than Mike."

"I remember Ken driving a Funny Car back in the early 1970s," Dunn said. "Ken was going to run at Lions drag strip in Long Beach and stopped by my dad's shop to talk. I was in awe - here's one of the sport's great competitors still asking questions about how to get better. No ego, straight-forward, not afraid to ask questions. Nearly 30 years of racing gives Ken a bunch of knowledge, and you can't buy that experience."

Finishing seventh, eighth and fifth in the Winston Top Fuel points standings in 1996, '97 and '98, Veney and Dunn are reaping the rewards of years of hard work. The season-opener in Pomona saw Dunn set the national elapsed-time record, earn the #1 qualifying position and win the race. Victories in Gainesville (Fla.) and Chicago have helped provide Dunn and the Gwynn team the points lead all season long. Coincidence?

"No. It just comes from having a crew chief who can get you to this level," Dunn said. "I never doubt his ability to tune a car. 1998 was a great year, especially because we never panicked. We just kept trying to get the car better and this year has shown."

Dunn is experiencing the greatest season of his career. "1999 has been a pretty good ride," he said. "Maintaining the points lead for the first 14 races has been a great run. However, the time to reflect is when you're in a rocking chair with a grandkid n your lap ... that's when you realize what an accomplishment it was. We still have a lot of work to do, because nobody remembers who won second place."

Dunn knows the highs and lows of racing are cyclical. The difference is having Veney tuning his ride. "There is nobody else I'd want making decisions on the setup of the car," Dunn said. "The respect I have for Ken gets us to get through some tough times - it goes with the territory. And besides, all the great teams - (John) Force, (Don) Prudhomme and (Gary) Scelzi have struggled at one time or another. Winning the Winston championship isn't a sprint - it's a marathon."

MOPAR PRO STOCK REPORT The 1999 season is almost two-thirds complete, and it's going a little too quickly for Team Mopar Pro Stock driver Scott Geoffrion, still recovering from a tumble off the roof of his house in May. Geoffrion filled us in on his condition and when he expects to return to the driver's seat.

"The doctors and physical therapists have been helping me regain the strength in my lower back and in my leg," Geoffrion said. "As my condition improves, hopefully I can take part in more activities.

"I never thought I'd spend over two months flat on my back and undergoing tests and treatments for inflammation and stress fracture," Geoffrion continued. "I've been following the progress of the team's performance through the phone calls, faxes and the Internet. I'm anxious to get back in the driver's seat, and with some luck and the doctor's permission, it be as soon as the U.S. Nationals."

MOPAR REWIND >From the 12th Annual Autolite Nationals, Sears Point Raceway, Sonoma, Calif., Aug. 6-8, 1998

QUALIFYING * Mike Dunn qualified fifth in Top Fuel. * Dean Skuza's Funny Car Avenger was #7. * Scott Geoffrion qualified his Avenger ninth in Pro Stock; Darrell Alderman, Larry Nance and Larry Morgan did not qualify * In Pro Stock truck, Dodge Dakotas qualified third (David Nickens), sixth (Todd Patterson), seventh (Dale Eaton) and 10th (Craig Eaton)

ELIMINATIONS * Dunn lost in the first round. * Skuza lost in the second round. * Scott Geoffrion lost in the first round * Patterson was PST runner-up; Nickens and Dale Eaton lost in the second round; Craig Eaton lost in the first round.

NHRA POINTS STANDINGS TOP FUEL (after 13 national events) Driver Wins Points 1. Mike Dunn 3 866 2. Kenny Bernstein 0 844 3. Joe Amato 4 840

PRO STOCK (after 13 national events) Driver Wins Points 1. Warren Johnson 5 1,066 2. Kurt Johnson 3 924 3. Jim Yates 1 793

PRO STOCK TRUCK  (after 9 national events)
Driver                Wins              Points
1.   Mark Osborne       2               738
2.   Bob Panella        2               719
3.   Brad Jeter         0               687
7.   Todd Patterson     0               453
FUNNY CAR (after 13 national events)    
Driver                Wins              Points
1.  John Force          7               1,324
2.  Tony Pedregon       3               1,030
3.  Whit Bazemore       0               856
4.  Dean Skuza          i0              618

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Panella , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Brad Jeter , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Joe Amato , Larry Morgan , Todd Patterson , Scott Geoffrion , Darrell Gwynn , Larry Nance