ST. LOUIS (June 21) -- The forecast for this weekend's Third Annual Sears Craftsman Nationals at Gateway International Raceway calls for cool, nighttime temperatures with no chance of sunburns. If this doesn't make sense to the 100,000-plus drag...
ST. LOUIS (June 21) -- The forecast for this weekend's Third Annual Sears Craftsman Nationals at Gateway International Raceway calls for cool, nighttime temperatures with no chance of sunburns. If this doesn't make sense to the 100,000-plus drag racing fans that are expected to descend on the track to watch the world's fastest drivers then they obviously haven't heard the news -- this race is for night creatures only.
Due to excessive summertime temperatures registered in the past, the National Hot Rod Association has rearranged this year's event schedule to give the drivers and the fans a break from the heat. All three days of professional competition will now be contested in the late afternoon and evening, which means the 10-foot header flames emitted from the 6,000-horsepower Top Fuel Dragsters on the track will be the only heat felt during the race.
"It will definitely be an awesome sight for the fans," said legendary Pennzoil standard-bearer Eddie Hill. "Not only will the header fires be burning bright, but for some reason drag racing just looks and feels faster at night. I don't know why that is, but I like it."
Qualifying for the event will take place at 3:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. on both Thursday and Friday. Final eliminations will start Saturday at 4 p.m.
Eddie Hill, the pilot of the Pennzoil Top Fuel Dragster, has added the title of co-crew chief to his job description this season and the 63-year-old Texan couldn't be happier with the results it has produced. Hill has already logged seven elimination round wins in nine races, which puts him well ahead of last year's pace. Additionally, he has posted career-best marks in both the top speed (322.19 mph) and elapsed time (4.535 seconds) categories in 1999. Hill is currently in 11th place in the points standings.
"We're ready to go," Hill said. "This Pennzoil car has been running so well this year and we couldn't be happier with its performance. I've been going over last year's data from St. Louis and I see that we were the quickest car in both of Saturday's sessions. That should really help us in preparing the car this time around.
"Another thing I noticed in the files is that we ran on Friday night at 8:55 p.m. and the track was still 108 degrees. That's great news for this year's nighttime sessions because traditionally Top Fuelers and Funny Cars have a tough time racing at night when the track cools down too much. I don't think that will happen at this race.
"Running at night is a good call by the NHRA. The fans will be cooler and I won't have to put this six-layer firesuit on in the middle of the day. That was cruel and unusual punishment."
Mike Thomas, the driver of the Pennzoil Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird, is poised to make a charge up the Winston championship points standings in St. Louis. The 46-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn. is currently in 14th place in the rankings, but is a mere 31 points out of the top 10 (one round win 20 points). Thomas has qualified for eight national events and has carded four elimination round wins in 1999.
"We're due to make some noise," Thomas said. "St. Louis should be the perfect place to move up. Our Finish Line Racing Engines have been running so strong that I feel it's only a matter of time before we find the Winner's Circle.
"I'm really excited about the format. I think it'll be fun for everyone. Running at night will produce a very level playing field. Every session will be competitive and I guarantee that ladder will be changing every round, which will really keep things interesting. I also think the track records for Pro Stock (6.975 seconds at 197.06 mph) will be shattered and I hope I'm the one setting the new ones. We've certainly got the car to do it."
Thomas' Finish Line motors, which are also used by five other drivers in the Pro Stock class, have already accounted for one national event win, four runner-up finishes and 38 elimination round victories this season.
Bruce Allen, the pilot of The Outlaw Fuel Additives Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird, enters the Sears Craftsman Nationals determined to add some consistency to his program. The 14-year pro, who was recently named one of the 10 best Pro Stockers of all time by a fan poll in Drag Racer magazine, has missed the last two elimination sessions.
"Our main concern right now is to get this car to the point where it can adapt to track conditions as they change," Allen said. "We will be testing today and tomorrow here in Texas to get used to running in the heat. Hopefully we'll find some answers. We have to get consistent. Once we get to the point where we can run down the track every lap then I believe the adjustments we need to make will become obvious. I'm optimistic that we're very close to that point.
"I'm thrilled with the nighttime format in St. Louis. Historically, us Pro Stock guys have struggled there because it's always so hot. Now we'll have plenty of chances to run quick and the fans will finally get what they paid for. I used to say that as much as I loved the motorsports fans at Gateway and the city of St. Louis itself, I was always glad to get this race behind us because we never ran well there. Now everything is different and I'm really excited about running there. This should be a real fun weekend."
Allen, who resides in Arlington, Texas, is currently 20th in the Winston championship points standings. He has qualified for three events and has one elimination round win.