JOHNSON & McCLENATHAN SURVIVE RAIN DELAY AT TOPEKA TOPEKA, Kan. (October 18, 1998) - After a seven hour rain delay and seven hours of NHRA championship drag racing, the 10th Annual Parts America Nationals was finally concluded in the wee small...
JOHNSON & McCLENATHAN SURVIVE RAIN DELAY AT TOPEKA
TOPEKA, Kan. (October 18, 1998) - After a seven hour rain delay and seven hours of NHRA championship drag racing, the 10th Annual Parts America Nationals was finally concluded in the wee small hours of the morning today at Heartland Park with Warren Johnson taking top honors in Pro Stock and Cory McClenathan in Top Fuel.
Johnson defeated Jeg Coughlin, Jr., in the final round of eliminations to win his eighth Pro Stock event of the year in 11 final rounds. With his closest competitor in the points standings, Kurt Johnson, losing in round one, Johnson clinched his fourth Winston Pro Stock Championship with his semi-final round win over Pontiac Firebird driver Tom Martino.
Starting from the No. 8 qualifying spot, Johnson won in the first round over Richie Stevens, defeated No. 1 qualifier Mark Osborne in round two and Martino in round three before facing Coughlin. His performance numbers were 6.991ET/ 196.37MPH, 6.965ET/196.42MPH, 6.951ET/197.23MPH and 6.943ET/ 197.67. Coughlin ran 6.951ET/197.71MPH in the final round.
Although the performance of his GM Goodwrench Firebird never faltered in any of his match-ups, the 55 year old Duluth, Ga., resident guaranteed the outcomes with outstanding reaction times that never exceeded .455. In his second round win over Osborne the "Professor" left the line with a stunning .408 light.
"That can be attributed to the hard work of the team and the job that everyone does to make sure this GM Goodwrench Firebird works," said Johnson. "You have the vehicle reaction time and the driver reaction time. If the vehicle reaction time is as good as it can be, then that gives the driver a little confidence as well.
"With the guys on my team, I know full well that this race car is a better car than any other out there. You still have to know when to mash the pedal, but if you can do it with an air of confidence, it makes it a lot easier. Everyone goes up wanting to hit a home run, but it doesn't happen very often."
The win was Johnson's 71st career victory in 113 final round appearances. He clinches his fourth Winston title with three races to go, a feat uncharacteristic for a division as competitive and with the parity of Pro Stock. Johnson's previous championships occurred in 1992-93 and 1995.
"We were kind of disappointed because with the cool weather we should have been running in the 6.80s," said Johnson. "It got to the point that the track was getting so cold in the middle that the car was shaking. We weren't as fast in the middle of the course as we should have been, but from my perspective though, the final race was perfect.
"We're just happy to be in this position. We didn't qualify as well here as we would have liked. This morning we got a new set of ratios for the transmission that we ran today and obviously it made us competitive. Now it's just a matter of finalizing the rest of the transmission and then we'll have a slight performance advantage."
Jim Yates and Tom Martino advanced to the third round before losing; Yates to Jeg Coughlin and Martino to Warren Johnson. Yates came into the race qualified No. 2 and had one of the fastest cars all day long but lost in a race where both cars had identical 6.952 elapsed times.
"All day long it looked like lane choice was worth a couple or three hundredths and we were taking advantage of that," explained Yates. "The Splitfire/Peak Firebird made a pretty good run but that right lane came around and Jegs was able to run right with us. We probably got a little too conservative with the setup going into the semi-finals."
George Marnell, Mark Pawuk and Bruce Allen advanced to round two before losing; Marnell to Tom Martino, Pawuk to Jeg Coughlin and Allen to Jim Yates. Mike Thomas lost in round one to Bruce Allen. Warren Johnson had top speed of the event at 197.93MPH.
After 19 races on the 22-event circuit, Warren Johnson wins the 1998 Pro Stock championship in a Firebird and has 1700 points. Jeg Coughlin is second with 1253 points, Kurt Johnson is third with 1248, Jim Yates is fourth in a Firebird with 1167, Mark Osborne is fifth in a Firebird with 962, Mike Edwards is sixth in a Firebird with 879, Mike Thomas is seventh in a Firebird with 857, Tom Martino is eighth in a Firebird with 766, Mark Pawuk is ninth in a Firebird with 695 and Richie Stevens is tenth in a Firebird with 693.
In Top Fuel, Cory McClenathan entered today's race 44 points behind defending Winston champion Gary Scelzi in the battle for the Top Fuel title. He defeated Scelzi in round two of eliminations, and then persevered to win his sixth race of the season by knocking off Kenny Bernstein in the final race. The win moves McClenathan back into first place in the Winston standings with just three races to go, 11 points, or less than one round ahead of Scelzi.
McClenathan beat Tony Schumacher in round one, Scelzi in round two and Jim Head in round three before beating Bernstein in the finals. His performance numbers, indicative of the cool air, and slick track conditions were 4.759ET/ 313.91MPH, 4.749ET/315.78MPH, 4.705ET/290.69 and 6.289ET/279.93MPH. Bernstein smoked the tires in the final round and ran 9.545ET/90.05MPH.
"We felt pretty good about our chances today but we were kind of hurting parts," said McClenathan. "We were so afraid of changing the tune up because that will kill you sometimes. I had to pedal it every single round today and that was tough.
"If Gary (Scelzi) had won today in the second round and then gone on to win the race today, chances would have been slim or none for us. Basically, all he would have to do is get to the second round the next three races and he would be champion again. We felt that we really needed to win this one, luck was on our side a few times today and the win happened. At least now it's going to be a fight. It's going to be a massacre, till the end of the year. But it's going to be a lot fun."
In the semi final race against Jim Head, McClenathan's McDonald's/Pontiac dragster lost a cylinder at 1000 feet which was immediately followed by a catastrophic engine explosion that sent the team scrambling to answer the bell for the race against Bernstein.
"It's been quite some time since we leveled a motor like that," said McClenathan. "We were out here running in temperatures that are 20 degrees cooler that what we're used to running in and we couldn't back it up enough. We finally got it figured out in the final and it blew the tires off right away. I saw Kenny (Bernstein) smoke the tires, kept pedaling and got lucky. I probably pedaled it four times, and after what happened in the semi-finals, that can be a little bit dangerous. It was quite an interesting ride down through there on three wheels at nighttime at 300 mph."
Parts America Pontiac driver Shelly Anderson lost in round one to Larry Dixon after qualifying in the No. 14 position. Gary Scelzi had low elapsed time of the meet at 4.561 seconds and top speed of the race at 322.69 mph.
McClenathan leads the Top Fuel standings with 1438 points, Scelzi is second with 1427, Joe Amato is third with 1353, Kenny Bernstein is fourth with 1183 and Mike Dunn is fifth with 1166.
Al Hofmann advanced to the final round of Funny Car eliminations for the second consecutive week but came up short in the championship round against Ron Capps. Hofmann defeated Tim Wilkerson in round one, Tony Pedregon in round two, and Cruz Pedregon in round three before losing to Capps. Hofmann's performance numbers in the final round were 8.160ET/104.28MPH to Capps' 5.111 ET/285.53MPH.
"We felt pretty confident coming in here today that the GM Performance Parts Firebird could get to the finals," said Hofmann. "When this car's right, then it's pretty tough to beat. It's so cold out there right now that it's difficult for anybody to get a good grip on the race track. We just wanted to go up there and get down through there. It was a good drag race, but you have to get to the finals before you can win the race."
Cruz Pedregon drove his Interstate Batteries Firebird to the semi-finals before losing to Hofmann in a rematch of their final round race a week ago at Memphis. Pedregon, who was the No. 1 qualifier for the event, defeated arch-rival John Force in round two after taking out brother Frank in round one.
"Every run we expected the Interstate Batteries Firebird to make a good pass," said Pedregon. "Overall, it's been a pretty good showing for us. We were happy to get to the semi-finals, but we would much rather have won the race. We're going to win quite a few before it's all said and done. This Pontiac Firebird is the best car out here and we have the best team. There are three races to go and we'll do everything we can to win all of them."
Del Worsham, Tim Wilkerson and Randy Anderson lost in round one; Worsham to Jim Elper, Wilkerson to Hofmann, and Anderson to Whit Bazemore.
Cruz Pedregon had low elapsed time of the meet at 4.929 seconds.
John Force is in first place in the Winston standings with 1395 points, Ron Capps is second with 1348, Chuck Etchells is third with 1227, Cruz Pedregon is fourth in a Firebird with 1212, and Tony Pedregon is fifth with 1113. Tim Wilkerson is seventh in a Firebird 1022 points, Al Hofmann is ninth in a Firebird with 925 and Del Worsham is tenth in a Firebird with 812.
In the Sportsman categories, Pat Austin of Tacoma, Wash., won the Federal Mogul Funny Car division in a Firebird defeating Todd Paton in the final round. Austin ran a 5.857 ET/248.41MPH to Paton's 5.901ET/246.84MPH. Paton was also driving a Pontiac Firebird.
Larry Pritchett of Clarkrange, Tenn., won the Competition Eliminator category in a 1997 Grand Am, and Jeff Hefler of Mansfield, Tex., won the Stock Eliminator category in a 1997 Trans Am.
The next stop on the 22-event NHRA Winston championship tour is the Revell Nationals on October 22-25 at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Tex. Same day television coverage of the Revell Nationals can be seen on TNN on Sunday, October 25 beginning at 5:30 p.m. Eastern.