Topeka Pontiac Racing Notes & Quotes

11th ANNUAL ADVANCE AUTO PARTS NATIONALS HEARTLAND PARK TOPEKA TOPEKA, KANSAS TOPEKA, Kan. (Saturday, October 2, 1999) - With the temperature dropping into the mid-40 degree range today, qualifying for the Advance Auto Parts Nationals was ...


TOPEKA, Kan. (Saturday, October 2, 1999) - With the temperature dropping into the mid-40 degree range today, qualifying for the Advance Auto Parts Nationals was completed in cold, windy weather conditions more reminiscent of Thanksgiving than the first weekend of October. In Pro Stock, the performance numbers reflected the outstanding track conditions. Richie Stevens picked up his first career No. 1 qualifying position when he drove his Valspar Pontiac Firebird to a track-record elapsed time of 6.888 seconds at 198.44 mph. Warren Johnson will start tomorrow's race qualified second after taking his GM Goodwrench Service Plus Firebird to an elapsed time of 6.891 seconds at 200.08 mph (track record). Mark Pawuk and the Summit Racing Firebird is qualified fourth, Bruce Allen is sixth, Jim Yates is seventh, Steve Schmidt is 11th, George Marnell is 12th, Tom Martino is 14th and Mike Thomas was 17th. In Funny Car, Tommy Johnson Jr., and the Interstate Batteries Firebird is qualified in the No. 5 position with an elapsed time of 4.999 seconds at 305.70 mph. Del Worsham and the Checker Schuck's Kragen Firebird is qualified sixth, Gary Densham is eighth, Frank Pedregon is ninth, Al Hofmann is 13th, Dale Creasy Jr., was 18th and Tim Wilkerson was 20th. Whit Bazemore was the No. 1 qualifier in a Camaro with a track-record elapsed time of 4.885 seconds at 298.40 mph. Tony Pedregon is qualified second, John Force is third and Cristen Powell is fourth.

In Top Fuel, MBNA/Pontiac driver Cory McClenathan catapulted to the No. 9 qualifying position with a last session run of 4.650 seconds at a career-best top speed of 323.27 mph. Eddie Hill is the No. 1 qualifier for tomorrow's race with an elapsed time of 4.520 seconds at 323.74 mph. Gary Scelzi is qualified second, Joe Amato is third, Doug Kalitta is fourth and Tony Schumacher is fifth.


Warren Johnson (GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird) "It didn't shake the tires on that run, and that's amazing. Maybe we're onto something here - but we still have a long way to go. If we can run one-second flat in 60-feet, that means we should run .97. The traction in the first 30-feet is exceptional, but then you have to tip-toe for the next 30 feet to keep from spinning the tires. Obviously it wasn't a perfect run, but we'll take it. Given the air we had today, we thought that 200 mph was a possibility. The car's not going over the bumps very well, and it's actually spinning the tires at 200 mph. The rear tires jumped off the ground at the finish line because the engine speed spiked up to 9,750 rpm. A series of bumps at the end of the track probably cost one full mile per hour, so we have room for improvement - but so does everyone else!"

Second Session: "I'm upset that Stevens broke our perfect record this season, but looking at the bright side, at least we qualified (laugh). That was totally self-inflicted. We decided to raise the starting line rpm at the last minute. That was a mistake - the clutch was locked up at 7000 rpm and the tires were shaking six tenths of a second into the run. We basically overestimated the track. We knew it was going to be relatively cool, but the track ran the jet dryer over the starting line just before the final session. Unfortunately, the jet dryer leaves a residue on the surface, so that threw us a curve. That was a real missed opportunity. We certainly should have been able to run 6.85 under those conditions, with a relative altitude of 1300 feet. Now we'll just have to do it tomorrow - it's going to be just as cold!" No. 2 qualifier - 6.891ET/200.08MPH (track record)

Jim Yates (Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird) "Bob's (Ingles) been tweaking the motor a little bit and has it where it likes this weather. He's changed the jets, messed with the carburetors, changed the timing and worked on the gear ratio. That last run was a pretty good run for the Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird. It slipped the clutch a lot going down the racetrack, and still ran a 6.91, so I think it has some left in it. We'll just have to see what happens with the track tomorrow. The problem we have is that we're coming at the clutch from both sides. We've tried every gear ratio we own going from one extreme to another, and when you do that it's just hard to get close. The first round tomorrow will be the third run we've made with this gear ratio, so I think we'll be closer and hopefully we can get the clutch to where it needs to be. If we hit the clutch right in the first round, we should be able to run a 6.88 or a 6.89. We were set up ready to go tonight when we got to the staging lanes, but after we watched two or three cars get crossed up and out of shape, we panicked and dropped the leave really low thinking that the track was bad. But the track wasn't bad at all. That's what happens when you try to tune your car from watching someone else. We didn't think the track was as good as it looked. It looked good, it felt good, and it checked out really well, but when we saw the other cars have their problems, we took starting-line leave out of the car and that takes a lot of clutch out of it. We just figured we would be lucky to get down the track and obviously we overreacted. We slipped the clutch really bad in first, that carried over into second, and by the time we got in third and fourth gear it was back to par. We lost a lot of e.t. in the first three gears. We have the tough side of the ladder tomorrow. We have Kurt Johnson in the first round and he's going to be a handful, but right now, this Firebird will run as fast as any car out there if we can just get our tune up right." No. 7 qualifier - 6.913ET/198.67MPH

Mark Pawuk (Summit Racing Pontiac Firebird) "We actually didn't make a good run today, but I'm not going to complain. We got down the track and after what happened last night, we didn't want to take a chance with a motor that may be hurt, so we put a different engine in for today. That's encouraging because you never know what's going to happen. This morning I thought it was going to rain all day, or that it would be too cold to even get down the track. When I saw the trucks running fast I knew we at least had a shot at it. Our goal is to stay focussed and step up this afternoon. We're pretty confident that the Summit Racing Firebird can run quicker but I'm sure that a lot of other guys can to. This racetrack is beginning to take on some of the characteristics of Reading because once the car gets upset in about third gear, it doesn't want to settle down. Even with that, a lot of cars are running fast. This air is just killer even though the barometer is not real high. This cool air is making these Pro Stock engines respond really well. During the morning session the car got out of the groove a little bit but it came back. I was just hoping that the run was as good as it felt. I was up most of the night worrying about it and then at about 4 a.m. it started raining on the window at the hotel. I was thinking, 'O boy, here we go again!" No. 4 qualifier - 6.894ET/199.14MPH Bruce Allen (Outlaw Fuel Additives Pontiac Firebird) "We're happy with the e.t. and the outcome, but like most people will tell you, we're surprised that the track was this good. Last year when we came back after the rainout, and the track was cold, there wasn't any traction. Today there was. We were light on the clutch. We had changed a few things on the Outlaw Pontiac Firebird, and the car went left a little leaving the starting line and got a little out of the groove, but it came back in the middle of the track. The 6.91 was good, but when you know it can run quicker, you're just a little bit disappointed. If the track stays good for the next session there will be some cars that pick up. Fortunately, we didn't make a good run so we can pick up. That's always a good side to be on. When you're running well and you're not making good runs, that's encouraging. This may be some of the best qualifying opportunities we've had all year. All of the sessions have been good, tonight it will be good and that makes it a lot more fun. You can look down at the list and figure out who's not in that can still get in. When the conditions aren't good no one can, but when they are good, everyone has a chance to get in. That means that you don't have the opportunity to test, and that you had better go back and get your tune up ready to run quicker. If you don't there are quite a few cars below you that can go right around. To me, that's what racing is all about, and I don't see any reason why we can't go out tonight and run a 6.88 or a 6.89." No. 6 qualifier - 6.912ET/199.02MPH Tom Martino (Century 21 Pontiac Firebird) The first run this weekend was a pretty good run and we thought we could fix it up. But we've made two horrible runs since then because we didn't catch up to the track. The track got much better than what we thought it would be. Last night we didn't have enough clutch in the Century 21 Firebird, we came back this morning and put enough clutch in to fix it, but the weather got better and we made more horsepower. We didn't think the track would handle that much power so unfortunately we made two identical runs. It's a good thing for us that we have another shot at it tonight. We're qualified right now, and I hope we don't do something wrong that would keep us from staying in, but I'd rather take four good shots at it knowing that if we didn't succeed we at least gave it our best." No. 14 qualifier - 6.935ET/199.46MPH

Mike Thomas (Pennzoil Pontiac Firebird) "Something's wrong with the car. The brakes are dragging or the front wheel wells are rubbing, I don't know which, but the Pennzoil Firebird is filled with smoke every time I get to the finish line. Whatever it is, it slowed us down enough that we didn't get in. The car was just slow at the other end and we're never slow out there. That's usually our strongest part. I'm very disappointed. This kills us in the points chase. Now we have no room for error from here on out. It's so frustrating to have a great car and then struggle to put it on the track like this." No. 17 qualifier - 6.946ET/196.24MPH

George Marnell (Dynomax Pontiac Firebird) "After our problems at Maple Grove, we're pretty excited about racing tomorrow. The Dynomax Firebird has made some pretty good passes this weekend. We still have a little fine tuning to do but I'm pretty confident that it will come around. We expect to win our share of rounds tomorrow, and with a little luck we might win a race. We didn't think the track was going to be as good as it was today, and we were pleasantly surprised, especially in the first session. We were one of the early pairs this afternoon and that may have hurt us a little bit. We shook the tires, got out of the groove and that's all it took. If we would have stayed right in the center we would have been even better. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. These Pro Stock motors really like this cool weather so we'll see what happens tomorrow. It might be pretty good." No. 12 qualifier - 6.930ET/198.09MPH Richie Stevens (Valspar Pontiac Firebird) "Awesome, totally awesome. That was pretty much a great, straight run. It did get a little crooked at the launch, and I was all wiggly there for a second, but once she straightened out and hooked up this Valspar Firebird was flying. It would be great to hold that top spot through tonight's session. I haven't earned a pole before in the NHRA so it would be something cool to accomplish. My crew chief Tommy Utt made the perfect call. We were pushing the car out of the pit to go up to the starting line and Tommy came racing back on the scooter and told us to push it back in. He had been up at the starting line and wanted to make a change in the transmission. Obviously, it worked. The Finish Line motor we lease from Mike Thomas did all the work. My hat's off to Mike, Rocky Roberts and Jim Oliver, who built the motor. They said it was fast and they weren't kidding. No. 1 is a great place to be."

Second Session: "Being No. 1 feels great. I had my fingers crossed the whole time waiting on Kurt (Johnson), Warren (Johnson), Jeg (Coughlin) and everyone else to run. We finally got it done and it feels good. We've had a couple of close calls, and Warren's taken it away from us at the last second, but we've had this Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird running good all weekend. Our crew chief, Tommy Utt has done a wonderful job setting this car up, we have some good power from Finish Line this weekend and we took this car to the No. 1 spot. I have to thank Valspar. We just signed a two-year deal at Indy, hopefully they'll be happy with this and we can carry it on for another two years after that. I didn't think that tonight's session was going to be as good as it was. I figured that today's afternoon round was going to be the key session, but after I saw Warren and Kurt run I just started hoping for the best. All the effort paid off. In the first run today we launched like a rocket out of first gear. It felt awesome. It was the best 60-foot time we've had in the car and it's the best run to the eighth mile that we've ever had. It was a good, smooth pass and believe it or not, it still had some left in it - maybe another hundredth or so. It was a good smooth pass, the best we've made all weekend and hopefully we can duplicate four more just like it tomorrow." No. 1 qualifier - 6.888ET(track record)/198.44MPH FUNNY CAR

Tommy Johnson Jr. (Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird) "I think we're doing pretty good right now even though you always want to run better. We would have liked to have been No. 1 but being qualified fifth isn't too bad either. I was amazed that the track took what it did today, and how everyone ran as fast as they did considering how cold the temperature was. Our 4.99 wasn't too bad. I shut the Interstate Batteries Firebird off early and still ran 305. For tomorrow, as far as our race day tune up, I think we're okay. I don't know what happened on that last run. The car was vibrating after the burnout, and we were planning to go just a thousand feet anyway, but it didn't go five feet, so that took care of that problem. We have a really good race day tune up and we'll be fast. As long as it doesn't rain we'll be okay. It would be great to win two in a row. The potential is definitely there. When we ran the 4.99 in the first session, we felt that would be quick enough to win on Sunday. I'd look for this Firebird to run 4.95 to 5.01 all day long and that'll be good enough to win the race. If we get to the final and need to step on it, then we can do that too. But we won't do that until it's time." No. 5 qualifier - 4.999ET/305.70MPH Del Worsham (Checker/Schuck's/Kragen Pontiac Firebird) "We made the 5.02 pass last night, and came out this morning absolutely convinced we'd have to back it off a little bit to get down the track. As a matter of fact, I was pretty convinced no one was going to get down the track today. It was in the mid to upper 40's when we got here, and to this California boy it felt like 20-below. We ran as the second to last pair in the first session today, and I knew when we pulled the Checker Schuck's Kragen Firebird up to run that the track was every bit as good as last night. We could have even gotten a little more aggressive than last night, I'm sure the track would have taken it. But we ran a 5.10 and came back itching to step on it hard for the final pass. It's nice to be in the top half of the field and have the luxury to play around with tune-ups a little bit on Saturday. We stepped all over it for the final run, trying to see if it would smoke the tires or not. It would. We got after it a lot more aggressively and we actually changed the way we had our Pontiac leave the line. It almost hooked, we can see on the video that it was close to going, but it busted them loose around 6-tenths of a second into the run. We feel very confident that we've found a tune-up here that will get us down the track and be pretty quick. We want to go rounds tomorrow, it's crunch time in points and we want to do two things: Solidify our hold on 6th and make a move on 5th. Winning a couple of rounds here would do that." No. 6 qualifier - 5.021ET/306.40MPH

Gary Densham (NEC/AAA Southern California Pontiac Firebird) "We got some new parts for the clutch on Friday and they threw us for a loop. We had something wrong that we didn't catch until late, late, late last night. Now I think everything is pretty good. I had to pedal the NEC Firebird that time, but it still ran good and put us qualified eighth. I think we can run a lot better tonight although it's really hard to say what sort of elapsed time will win this race tomorrow. We're still trying to decide whether or not we're going to run this session tonight given how cold and damp the track may become. There's still some left in this Pontiac. I had to pedal it out there at about 100 feet, that knocked off about a tenth of a second, and then we had a rocker arm adjuster back off that made us drop two cylinders at the top end. It wasn't a pretty run, but we'll take it for now and no matter what happens we'll have her ready to race." No. 8 qualifier - 5.127ET/285.29MPH

Tim Wilkerson (Sioux City Kenworth Pontiac Firebird) "Our first run was shaping up to be our premier run, but we broke an exhaust valve, put a hole out, the car went to the center and I shut it off. That kind of put us behind the eight ball but things actually looked pretty good. It looked like the Sioux City Kenworth Pontiac Firebird was headed in the right direction. During the night session, we thought the track was going to be better than it was, but we went .893 to the 60 foot in the first session, and we made some assumptions that weren't correct. We hopped it up a little bit, I hit the gas and I smoked the tires. Now it's 48 degrees for the next run, we back it way off, the motor responded well, but the clutch tube fell off and filled the whole inside of the car with clutch dust. I thought it was throwing the clutch out so I clicked it off. That's why we only ran 220 mph, and that was after shutting it off at four seconds. So I'm pretty aggravated with myself. I feel like I've been messing up all weekend. In the last run, the car just shook. It wasn't tuned right. My crew is getting better though. We lost most of our crew after Indy, so at Maple Grove we had to start over but here they did a great job. They didn't make any mistakes. The weather just caught us off guard." No. 20 qualifier - 5.568ET/224.58MPH

Dale Creasy Jr. (Mad Magazine Pontiac Firebird) "I think this Mad Magazine Firebird will make it down the track. We thought we were being too aggressive, we backed it off and we completely went the wrong way. We underestimated the racetrack with this cold weather. We thought it was going to be terrible and it was a lot better than what we gave it credit for. We stepped on it that time but we'll be all right. We already have a plan and it's going to work. The cold weather threw everyone for a loop, and when we got up there the track temperature was 80 degrees. We missed it and we missed it bad. Tonight we'll either smoke the tires or it will go down the racetrack. We're not going to mess around anymore with trying to baby it. We're going for it. If it makes it good, if it doesn't then we'll be in Memphis." No. 18 qualifier - 5.461ET/279.44MPH

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Mike Thomas , Mark Pawuk , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Dale Creasy Jr. , Gary Densham , Cory McClenathan , Bruce Allen , Tom Martino , Tim Wilkerson , George Marnell , Steve Schmidt , Tommy Johnson Jr. , Cristen Powell