Madison, Ill. - - When the starting light turned green for the first qualifying session of the fifth annual NHRA Sears Craftsman Nationals at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill., just across the river from St. Louis, Bob Panella was ...
Madison, Ill. - - When the starting light turned green for the first qualifying session of the fifth annual NHRA Sears Craftsman Nationals at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill., just across the river from St. Louis, Bob Panella was ready. The Stockton, Calif., driver drove his Panella Trucking Chevy S-10 Pro Stock Truck to the head of the class with a pass of 7.491 seconds at 180.26 mph. The 7.491 was a track record at the time.
Panella's teammate Jeff Gracia, from Ontario, Calif., turned the Gateway quarter-mile in 7.524 seconds at 179.88 mph. This placed Gracia's GMC Sonoma in the seventh spot at the end of the opening qualifying session.
With the sun setting behind the Gateway Arch on the banks of the Mississippi, the second session began under cooler temperatures, both in the air and on the track. Panella ran a tad quicker, recording a 7.482 second pass at 180.43 mph. Gracia, was a tad slower, when he recorded a second pass on Friday of 7.549 seconds at 179.83 mph.
At the end of Friday's two qualifying sessions, Panella was fourth and Gracia was 13th.
During the first session on Saturday, Panella held his own, while, Gracia moved up the ladder. Panella remained in fourth with a pass of 7.493 seconds at 180.84 mph. Thus far, he has put together three consistent passes.
Gracia made a move into the top half of the field, finishing in the eighth spot by virtue of a pass of 7.504 seconds at 180.00 mph.
In the heat of Saturday afternoon there was no improvement for either driver as qualifying came to an end. Panella had the third quickest time of the final session. Gracia cracked a plug and coasted to an elapsed time of 8.293 seconds at only 130.54 mph.
With qualifying complete, Panella claimed the fourth position, while Gracia landed in eighth. In the opening round Panella will square off against Mike Coughlin, from Columbus, Ohio. Gracia takes on Scott Perin, from Pen Argyle, Penn. If both Panella and Gracia win their first two rounds of eliminations, they would meet each other in the semifinals.
"We missed the good session Friday evening. We were a little soft on clutch,^Ô said Panella. "As a result we missed out on a chance at number one. We have our race day set up in this Chevy S-10 now. So, we just need to do it now the way we know best and we should be all right tomorrow.^Ô
"We kind of struggled throughout qualifying. We made one good run yesterday and one today. That last run it was missing real bad. When we got back to the pit area and checked, we found that we lost the porcelain on the plug and had a dead hole (cylinder). We ended up in the middle of the field and have, what I think, is the hard side of the ladder. With a little bit of luck and good heads-up driving on my part, I can go a few rounds and save the weekend,^Ô said Gracia.