Sonoma Pontiac Racing Friday Notes

12th ANNUAL AUTOLITE NATIONALS SEARS POINT RACEWAY SONOMA, CALIFORNIA SONOMA, Calif. (Friday, August 6, 1999) - Qualifying began today for the 12th annual Autolite Nationals at Sears Point Raceway. In Pro Stock, Richie Stevens is the highest...


SONOMA, Calif. (Friday, August 6, 1999) - Qualifying began today for the 12th annual Autolite Nationals at Sears Point Raceway. In Pro Stock, Richie Stevens is the highest qualified Firebird in the No. 5 position with an elapsed time of 6.963 seconds at 197.71 mph. Jim Yates' Splitfire/Peak Firebird is sixth, Mike Thomas is ninth, Tom Martino is 10th, George Marnell is 11th, Bruce Allen is 17th, Steve Schmidt is 22nd, Warren Johnson is 23rd and Mark Pawuk is 27th. The No. 1 qualifier is Jeg Coughlin Jr. in an Oldsmobile with a track record elapsed time of 6.946 seconds at 199.11 mph.

In Funny Car, Tommy Johnson Jr. is the highest qualified Pontiac in the No. 4 position. The Interstate Batteries Firebird eclipsed the quarter-mile in 5.027 seconds at 307.09 mph. Cruz Pedregon's Firebird is qualified ninth, Dale Creasy Jr. is 10th, Gary Densham is 11th, Al Hofmann is 13th and Del Worsham is 19th. The No. 1 qualifier is John Force in a Mustang with an elapsed time of 5.000 seconds at 299.00 mph, Whit Bazemore is second in a Camaro and Tony Pedregon is third in a Mustang.

In Top Fuel, MBNA/Pontiac driver Cory McClenathan is qualified 16th. The No. 1 qualifier is Bob Vandergriff with a track-record elapsed time of 4.552 seconds at 317.49 mph. Kenny Bernstein is second, Eddie Hill is third, Doug Herbert is fourth and Joe Amato is fifth.

Qualifying highlights of the Autolite Nationals can be seen on ESPN2 on Saturday, August 7, beginning at 10 p.m. EDT. First-round coverage of final eliminations can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, August 8, beginning at 1:30 p.m. EDT, with final eliminations starting at 7:30 p.m. EDT.


Jim Yates (Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird) There are a lot of cars real close together at the front, but with Warren (Johnson) and Kurt (Johnson) still out, that could change drastically at anytime. The problem is that the track is very, very tricky and that's obviously why they aren't in yet. The track is hard to get a hold of and hard to get a read on. They're going to jump up, there's no doubt about that, but our concern is how do we improve. There was a lot left in the Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird. That right lane was less than optimal; it has a lot of slipperiness in the middle in second and third gear. We spun and shook out there pretty hard. I think if we can get over in that left lane in the morning and get the clutch right, we should be able to run a 6.92 or 6.93. But at the same time, there are a lot of cars who also have that potential. We'll just have to wait and see where that puts us. I'm confident that the track will give us the opportunity to step up. A lot of good cars didn't get down the track today and a lot of good crew chiefs made the wrong calls, including us by quite a bit. But we were fortunate enough that we missed it on the soft side and got down the track. We could do the same thing tomorrow. A lot of guys today missed it on the heavy side, and shook and spun and couldn't get down the track. What we'll want to do tomorrow is try and get closer to the right combination, maybe set up a little bit soft, but get a little bit closer to where we need to be and put it right down the middle of that left lane. We don't want to get on the other side to where we're shaking the tires and have to shut off.

It looked like you were skating around there pretty good. Was it difficult bringing it under control? It shook a little bit, was light on clutch on the starting line, and when the clutch and counter weight hit, the car stood up, shook the tires and drove to the centerline really hard. Then when I was steering the car around out there it kind of got it upset a little bit. I think the left lane is faster, and if we can put it right down the middle we'll be all right. But it's going to be tricky. This track changes every round in each lane and I mean every round. You never know what it's going to give you next, so you just have to be open minded, watch a couple of cars go down the track, see what it feels like and take your best shot in the staging lanes.

George Marnell (Dynomax Pontiac Firebird) I feel especially good about our first run when you consider we did it in the right lane. As much trouble as we had last weekend in Seattle, I feel that Bob (Cave) and the rest of the guys did a great job in getting this Dynomax Firebird to go down the racetrack. The car actually shook in every gear, but just a little. It was controllable, the car stayed relatively straight and we made a pretty good pass for that lane. Last weekend, we never really made a good clutch run. We had our share of problems and it seemed to be one thing right after another. We got behind the eight ball after the first pass, ran a 6.97 right out of the box which we thought was pretty good considering the run itself wasn't very good. But then on the next pass, we shook and got out of the groove, went to the centerline and had to shut it off. The next pass we had more problems, then we made a last ditch effort during the Saturday night session and just didn't get down the track in very good fashion. We feel pretty good about how we started out today and we're confident that there's room for improvement. This is a sport where you had better learn something on every run. We were fortunate that on our first run today we were able to do well enough that we had something to tune from. We'll keep picking away at it and hopefully tonight we'll get some of the breaks that alluded us last weekend.

Mike Thomas (Pennzoil Pontiac Firebird) We're really lucky to have made that good of a run because we still went through the clutch much more than we should have. That was pure horsepower there. I was fighting the track all the way down. I jumped out of the groove in between first and second gear and had to pull the Pennzoil Pontiac Firebird back in fast to get any sort of time. I got a little lucky that run. We plan on shifting some weight around to see if that will level the car out.

Bruce Allen (Outlaw Fuel Additives Pontiac Firebird) we've encountered a rare problem. We had a new set of tires on in round one and they didn't touch the track all the way to the sidewall of thew tire like they should. That hardly ever happens. So we switched back to some old tires in round two but they didn't match the clutch set-up we had tuned into the car so we just spun like crazy all the way down. Hopefully, the weather will stay cool and we'll be able to make up for this tomorrow.

Mark Pawuk (Summit Racing Pontiac Firebird) Sometimes you never know why things happen, but at Woodburn I drove well, and the Summit Pontiac Firebird ran well, but the car's been running well. We finally got a victory, and if nothing else, it's going to give me some confidence because I'm cutting better lights than I ever have. We ran good at Seattle too, but it seems like a series of little things just take us down on race day. I think here, the right lane was more marginal than the left lane in the first session, and we're in the left lane tonight. We're going to tune from what we learned in the first session and hopefully make a good run and run fast. I've felt like we've had a good team all year, but we haven't had a lot of breaks go our way. We finally got one go our way the other night at Woodburn, but at the same time, we ran good and I drove good, so you just never know. This is a very humbling sport. You can go from hero to zero and you never want to get too confident because you never know what tomorrow will bring. We know that we have adequate power to run fast, we now just have to hope that we have the right tune up to go down the track.

Tom Martino (Century 21 Pontiac Firebird) It's been an eventful weekend so far. We dragged the RJ car out this race, made the first run and made an absolutely horrible run but still ran decent. An hour before we went to make our second run, we found that we had a blown head gasket in our best motor. So we had to swap motors, which isn't usually a big problem, except that the motor plates are all Bickel motor plates. So we had to swap motor plates to the RJ stuff. This motor we used tonight is far from being our best motor, but we made a pretty awesome run with the 6.99 especially when you look at everything we did to get there.

Tonight's run was excellent in the back half of the track, but we just didn't get off the starting line the way we wanted. It just spins the tires too much, which is typical of this particular racecar. Naturally, we're working to straighten it out. But we can't be disappointed, because that wasn't the only problem this CENTURY 21 team had to overcome today. We had to change motors after the first run when we discovered a problem with the head gasket on our primary motor. That meant we had to run our third or fourth best motor in this evening session. We'll fix our race motor tonight and put in back in. If we're able to make as good a run as we did tonight, I believe we'll move up in the field a little bit, because we believe our primary engine is one or two hundredths quicker than the one we used tonight. Tomorrow should be interesting.

Richie Stevens (Valspar Pontiac Firebird) That was awesome baby, totally awesome. It feels great to put a lap like that up there. It's been awhile since we've had that strong of a pass in relation to what everyone else is doing. It's so cool to be up near the top of the field again. The last four or five races have really been a bummer for us. We've been struggling for sure. But it's easy to feel good after running a lap like that one we just had. The Valspar Pontiac Firebird is in the field solid now and we can really go after it tomorrow. There is so much more you can do when you're not fighting just to make the field. There are some great cars behind us in the ladder and I expect some of them to run quick tomorrow. But there's no reason to think we won't be right there with them. Everyone is pointing to that morning session. It's supposed to be nice and cool so we should all be quicker than we were tonight. I know that we have a little room to go faster so I'm excite about our chances.


Del Worsham (Checker/Schuck's/Kragen Pontiac Firebird) In the first session, we just missed on the conditions really. We took the tune up that was nice and safe in Seattle and actually backed it off a little. But the track was so good that we went out there and shook the car and never really set up on the tires right. Tonight, I'm so mad at myself that I can't see straight. It shook a bit but I really think it would have made it through the rough spot if I would have just let it go. But for some reason I pedaled it and when I did that it didn't hook back up completely. I didn't go another 50 feet before it smoked the hoops again. There are no do-overs out here, so I need to get some rest and come out here tomorrow determined to get the Checker/Schuck's/Kragen Firebird down the track. If I did have that run to do over though, I'd juts leave it alone and drive it through the rattle to a full pass. The driver got in the way of the car there.

Tim Wilkerson The game plan now is to go racing as soon as possible. I've had some good telephone calls during the last week from some people who were disappointed that things happened the way they did and would maybe like to field another car at the U.S. Nationals and the Big Bud Shootout. I'm here at Sears Point to explore all of those options, figure out the right thing to do, hit the nail on the head and make the right decisions.

Will you start your own team? I can't rule that out, but right now my focus is just to maintain what we achieved with the old team and that was qualifying for the Big Bud Shootout. We all worked so hard to get to the point where we were qualifying strong and winning races. My focus this weekend at Sears Point is to secure something for the Big Bud Shootout and hopefully we can get that done. We've got a lot to offer somebody and that should be worth something.

Tommy Johnson Jr. (Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird) We were just trying to get down the track in the first session and get a baseline we could build from. We were also trying to solve some of the tune up problems we had last weekend, and to be honest with you, I was pretty happy to see that 5.16.

It's never as good as you want, but it is something we can tune from and hopefully tonight the Interstate batteries Firebird can run better. It was soft, and I could tell because in the middle of the course it didn't pull the motor down like it does on a good run. The motor stayed revved up and we were sliding so bad that we actually broke an arm in the clutch. All things considered, a 5.16 probably wasn't too bad. It finally pulled the motor down right before the lights, but it was a ways before we finally locked her up. It wasn't great but it wasn't bad either. A couple of guys hit it a little closer and were probably on the verge of smoking the tires, but we played it safe and are confident that we can step up to at least that.

Cruz Pedregon ( Pontiac Firebird) We're coming in here with two races under our belts as a team so we feel pretty good about where we are right now. We had a good outing at Seattle, but we really didn't show everything we had because we had some bolts that failed on the supercharger. So we really didn't show our hand there. To that point, the Pontiac Firebird was running pretty good. This weekend, we're hoping that we can last a few rounds because if you can get past that first session, then anything becomes possible. We're certainly capable of winning races. We have the equipment and my goal for these six races is to do a good job, run up front and be competitive. That's why we brought in someone with Ron Swearingen's caliber and purchased the equipment that we did. We haven't shown how good we could be yet, but this weekend we're hoping that the third race will be our charm.

What would it mean for you guys to win this race? That's one of the reason's why I wanted to run these west coast races because we've done so well here in the past. The Big Bud Shootout is obviously a goal of ours as well. We qualified 10th last weekend in Seattle which was somewhat disappointing, but I think if we can put this Firebird into the top eight then that could lock us in for the Big Bud. After that then we'll set our sights on the big races, but it would mean a lot to me and to all of the guys to win this event, especially to a veteran like Ron who like me has been around for a long time. We feel that combining our experience may be just what it takes to put our racecar in the winner's circle.

How well are you and Swearingen working together? Swearingen and I have always raced against each other so I know how well he can make a racecar run.

We got along so well and communicated so good during the first race at Bristol, that I knew we were going to be competitive. We have enough experience between the two of us that I'm pretty confident that we can figure this thing out. The key ingredient to being successful is having the driver, the crew chief and the team working in sync, and I think we have that here.

Al Hofmann (Hofmann Racing Pontiac Firebird) We took her up there again and just couldn't get it down the racetrack. We're trying to run our retarder and it looks like when it comes on it's not getting through the clutch. We're going to come back tomorrow and go back to what we were doing in Seattle. We also had a pretty dramatic vibration in the car and we're not sure what it was but it felt like a broken camshaft or something. So we're pouring over it to see if there's anything wrong.

Dale Creasy Jr. (Mad Magazine Pontiac Firebird) We were pretty happy with our first run. We knew it was going to shake because that lane just wasn't holding anything. Dad (Dale Creasy Sr.) said to get ready for it, so I pedaled it and the Mad Magazine Pontiac Firebird went right down through there. The run felt pretty good but when they lifted the body I could see that we had oil everywhere. It just burned a piston. It's picking on that one cylinder and it's been doing that for thew last four or five races. No matter what heads we put on it and no matter what we do with it, it keeps working on that one piston. We'll sit tonight, see what happens and save our parts for tomorrow. The car ran good before I pedaled it and it ran good after I pedaled it, but I lost about a tenth of a second when that happened. We wanted to run a 5.25 and we would have, but we just have to figure the race track out.

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Mike Thomas , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Al Hofmann , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Joe Amato , Dale Creasy Jr. , Gary Densham , Cruz Pedregon , Cory McClenathan , Bruce Allen , Tom Martino , Tim Wilkerson , George Marnell , Steve Schmidt , Bob Vandergriff , Tommy Johnson Jr.