Team Mopar Pomona Preview

The last time Team Mopar Top Fuel driver Mike Dunn was in Pomona, he was standing in winner's circle at the season-opening Winternationals. Now some 22 races and 10 months later, he has had time to reflect back on the season. "We really ran well...

The last time Team Mopar Top Fuel driver Mike Dunn was in Pomona, he was standing in winner's circle at the season-opening Winternationals. Now some 22 races and 10 months later, he has had time to reflect back on the season. "We really ran well at the start of the season with our Team Mopar Top Fuel Dragster. We set a new national elapsed-time record, we were the number one qualifier, and won the event."

As the final NHRA race of the century begins in Pomona this week, the Top Fuel Championship is basically locked in with Tony Schumacher. Regardless, this won't deter Dunn from trying to close out the season the way it began. "With the Big Bud Shootout at Pomona, we are right in the hunt for the $100,000 cash prize. At last year's event, we lost in Round One to Eddie Hill so we are looking to do much better this year. That money can go a long way during the off-season. Of course we want to win the Finals as well. Especially now we are faced with looking for a new sponsor for 2000. It has been a great association with Team Mopar for the past few years and we would like to go out winners. This team is one of the best in the sport and there is a great deal of talent associated with this car. It's been one heck of a ride and I'll never forget the 1999 season."


With one race left, Team Mopar Pro Stock Avenger driver Darrell Alderman is looking forward to some time off. "It hasn't been one of our best years but we are still learning and growing as a team. David Nickens has made some great strides producing more power out of our Avengers and with the new engine program coming around, we can do some intensive testing," said Alderman. "With Scott Geoffrion sidelined for most of the year, we have only had to concentrate on a one car team but starting real soon, we'll be back with two cars and that will require more research and development and of course more time for Nickens"

"We really don't have an off-season," exclaimed team owner and engine builder David Nickens. "Once we leave Pomona, we head back to Houston and put the engine on the dyno to check the power levels of the engines. With having a great track near by (Houston Raceway Park) and good weather conditions all year long, we'll be doing some on-track testing with both Scott and Darrell's Avenger. Also, we are proceeding on the new 500 cubic inch Hemi engine and our goal is to have it running in one of the Avengers real soon. Also, our new 358 cubic inch small block motor for the Pro Stock Trucks will be keeping us busy during the winter months."

Constant work in developing new engine combinations and maintaining two Dodge Avengers and a Dodge Dakota will keep Nickens and his crew close to the race shop during the holiday season.


The 1999 NHRA Finals in Pomona will feature the Pro Stock Truck teams as there will probably be some major points reshuffling after this event. Team Mopar Pro Stock Truck driver Todd Patterson knows how important it is to go rounds at the last race of the season.

"When we left Dallas last month, we were in the dumps. The new truck hadn't been running like it should and we just didn't do well. Since the break between Dallas and Pomona we have been doing some dyno testing and ran the truck once. We found some areas that needed attention within the suspension and clutch."

"We made some progress during our test session at Gateway International Raceway. The runs we made there were competitive and showed us where we needed to focus our efforts. If things go according to plan, we should have our Dakota qualified in the top-half of the field in Pomona. Once that happens, we will try to finish as high in the final points standings as possible," commented Patterson. "With a completely new engine in the works, the question is knowing how long it will take until we find the right combination."

Father and son team, Craig and Dale Eaton have been busy back at their shop in Arizona getting ready for the last race of the year. "When you haven't done all that well, you look forward to the end season. Like most of the other teams, we have had our share of ups and downs and really want to regroup for 2000," said the youngest Eaton. "We are looking forward to some new Patterson Racing built Dodge Magnum engines for our Dakotas. They [Patterson] have really been working hard so we can go testing as soon as the season ends. We need to move to the next level so we can run with the pack next season. You can bet the other teams will be just as determined as us to find more power during the short time we have off."


Dean Skuza has a few good memories of the 1999 racing season. The Matco Tools/Team Mopar Dodge Avenger driver has had to struggle with an inconsistent clutch set-up for most of the season. "I'm looking forward to some time off so our team can regroup and do some testing. The team has been working hard and we really want to put this season behind us and look forward to next year. We will finish in the top ten and that helps to keep the moral high during the time we have off," said Skuza. With John Force capturing his ninth NHRA Winston Funny Car championship, he has raised the bar for all the other teams. "Many teams look at what Force has done and whine about the advantages he has such as a two car team and great factory support. But instead of worrying and complaining, we just work harder and feel that what Force has accomplished has not only benefited the Funny Car class, but NHRA Winston Championship Drag Racing as a whole. John has even come over to our pits a few times to give us advise on track and weather conditions."


The celebrating has already begun for Frank Manzo, driver of the Team Kendall/Mopar Performance Parts Dodge Avenger Funny Car. "I never thought that the championship would come down to Pat Austin defeating Tony Bartone in the final round at the Matco Tools Nationals in Houston to determine the 1999 Federal-Mogul Funny Champion," said Manzo.

"I can't even explain how exciting it is to win three years in row making this our fifth championship title. This just feels great. The whole crew has busted their butts all year in maintaining the level of performance needed to stay in front. Especially when you have the big guns of the class constantly shooting at you such as Tony Bartone, Bob Newberry and Jay Payne. We did have our ups and down also. I did a bad job of driving even though the car was running great. I really let the crew guys down. The months of August and September were terrible as some early round losses allowed guys like Bartone to catch us in points. Bartone had to win the Matco Tools Nationals to clinch the championship but lucky for me Austin prevented that from happening as both Bartone and myself could no longer claim anymore races under the NHRA/Federal-Mogul points guidelines."

With three back-to-back Funny Car championships to his credit, Manzo and his crew still work harder than ever putting his Dodge Avenger in the winner's circle. " This in quite an accomplishment and it feels great. It's been my goal to win the championship every year. I really tried to control my own destiny this year. I'm blessed with a good crew and great sponsors that believe in me."

From Funny Cars to Stockers, soft-spoken, mild-mannered Don Little may have the 1999 Federal-Mogul Stock Eliminator World Championship won. Little has already secured the 1999 NHRA Northwest Division Stock Championship. With some early season wins with his immaculate 1970 Plymouth HemiCuda, Little vaulted to the top of the points chase. "It kind of sneaks up on you and to be quite honest, I wasn't paying attention to the points until the phone rang and a fellow Mopar racer told me I was leading the points. Between my busy engine building business and traveling all over the country with my HemiCuda, it easy to lose track of time and space."

Even though Little has led in points for most of the season, he'll have to wait until the completion of the last Federal-Mogul Drag Racing Series event in Phoenix right before Pomona. "There are a couple of really good drivers that could pass me in points and take the championship. I'll just try to stay focused and run my own race. It's so easy to get sidetracked and worry about these things," said an overly cautious Little. "Mopars have always done well in Stock Eliminator. Former world champions such as Al Corda and Chuck Rayburn put their Dodge Challengers in the winners circle. Now it could be time for my Plymouth Hemicuda to reclaim this prestigious award for Mopar."


From the 35th Annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, Pomona Raceway, Pomona, Calif., Nov. 11-14, 1999 QUALIFYING * Mike Dunn's Top Fuel Dragster qualified # 5. * Dean Skuza's Funny Car qualified # 14. * Darrell Alderman and Scott Geoffrion did not compete. * In Pro Stock Truck, David Nickens qualified # 9 Todd Patterson qualified # 10, Dale Eaton qualified # 11, Craig Eaton qualified # 12.


* Mike Dunn lost in the quarterfinals. * Dean Skuza lost in the first round. * David Nickens lost in the Quarterfinals. Todd Patterson, Craig Eaton and Dale Eaton lost in the first round.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Newberry , Mike Dunn , Darrell Alderman , Tony Bartone , Dean Skuza , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Todd Patterson , Al Corda , Frank Manzo , Scott Geoffrion , Jay Payne