Tucson and Other Winter
By Phil R. Elliott
The King nails puts his foot into 7,000 Clydesdales. Photo by Pete Gemar
In my eyes, the sponsorship
by Sears' Craftsman Tools of Creasy Family Racing for 2002
and beyond is the biggest news of the week. There were other things too,
but they'll have to wait!
Indeed, after a lackluster
2001 season that saw Dale Creasy Jr. in NHRA fields on race day far
fewer times than he would have liked, Craftsman has stepped up and given
the necessary resources for the last bastion of match-racing to compete on
an even keel with the fleet. Not since Elwood and Jake uttered the
immortal words, “We're putting the band back together,” has there
been a sweeter song sung.
If you already know me, you
won't need to read this next graph. If you don't, I must introduce
myself to you as one of the last of the true lovers of independent racers.
That is not to say I don't enjoy the deeply funded super teams and the
numbers they can ring up on the scoreboards. But, there is nothing like a
team that strolls through an NHRA gate with a dream, two spare pistons and
a goal of just qualifying. I love the underdog.
In fact, every time I read
the name Creasy, my imagination conjures a Mustang with the name Tyrant
on its somewhat beat up, slightly flambéed flanks, falling out of a high
mileage trailer, at Milan or Gary, to match-race the Chi-Town Hustler
or the Hawaiian.
But that was then, and now
is now, and I'm excited that the Creasys, after paying dues for two
generations and over three decades, will start Pomona with fresh
philosophy and parts. And besides new pieces, the team will head west with
Jimbo Ermalovich in a co-crewchief role with Dale Creasy
Sr. This could be like a sophomore NFL team that shows razzle-dazzle on
every down - very entertaining. These folk know what it takes and they‘ve
just been dealt into a high stakes game with a significant backer.
Craftsman could not have
made a wiser choice. They've been providing superb hand tools to
sportsman and professional racers for nearly as long as NHRA has been
sanctioning those races. But this marks the first time they've jumped on
board as a primary sponsor of a drag racing vehicle.
Next on my list of
importance (hey, it's my column, after all!), is the fact that during
the trailers of a movie I saw Sunday came a rather action-packed
commercial for POWERade, the new NHRA series sponsor. It wasn't
filled with tire smoke from fuel car burnouts (yet) but gave me the
perception that these folk mean business about taking over the sports
drink market in a big way. Welcome to the high-ups that made this perfect
match of power and POWERade possible.
Before I get to Tucson
action, there is still some clean up from Phoenix left. The Don
Schumacher-owned teams remained there the whole week and recorded some
consistent numbers, including a string of 4.50s for Tony Schumacher,
and solid 4.80s for Witt Bazemore and Scotty Cannon. I
talked about them all last week but look for way more out of these three
Dean Skuza's new Dodge proves that fuel coupes again
deserve to be called Funny Cars. Photo by Pete Gemar
I didn't know whom, but
it's Rick Cassel on tune-up duty for Yuichi Oyama's
Tokyo operation, which saw consistent 4.8s throughout his licensing
After some discussion among
racers and in the media that NHRA Pro Stock would get a 50-pound
weight reduction, the NHRA Competition Committee has announced that for at
least 2002, PS'ers will remain 2,350 pounds. The whole snafu
revolved around several teams proving their cars would go across the
scales a wee bit lighter than the rules allowed. The committee has
promised to evaluate the weight situation further. Meaning? I suggest that
all PS teams get ready to unload all your lead not if but when asked to do
so. They'll be checking I'm sure. If tech discovers an overabundance
across the board, there'll be a change. I'll talk to a few builders
about it to see what their thoughts are.
According to my spy (artist/photographer Tom
West), who went to both Phoenix (this past Friday) and Tucson, the John
Force team has been trying all kinds of new external pieces. On the
engine is an in vogue “reversion” intake manifold that sets the
supercharger far back on the engine in attempt to screw the fuel mix into
the forward cylinders. It was tried to good success on the Gary Densham-driven
AAA Mustang during 2001, and showed up on John's car at Tucson. Tom said
too that contrary to reports on another website, Jimmy
Prock is still tuning for Densham and John
Medlin for Tony Pedregon. The new manifold sports two big “pop-offs”
instead of one.
One thing that TWest
passed on was that unlike previous seasons, where many of the testers
dazzled everyone with their shiny new livery, most of this group sported
unkempt and unpainted bodywork. He was present working on future die cast
projects, including Dean Skuza's new Dodge Stratus, one of
the few that looked ready for shows.
Among the many problems not
predicted for week two of professional testing was a blowout at Southwestern
International Raceway in Tucson, Arizona. But wind it was and the PRO
National Warm-up at SIR was held up most of Friday by gusts of nearly
50mph that sent sand across the track and into every nook and cranny of
everyone's trailer. Darryl Jackman was on the keyboard in the
tower but there was nothing he could do but drink soda and wait.
One of the anxious wind
watchers was John Smith, awaiting his first rides since the
horrific August crash that put him on the sidelines. He and wife Rhonda
Hartman had both Fram-backed fuelers in the pits for their
This event was hosted by Professional
Racers Owners Organization and all worried that track prep
would be for naught - sand stuck to glue is for removing paint, not for
holding 6,000 horsepower.
First to try were John
Force and Tony Pedregon and neither reached 330 feet before
showing telltale “wags” - both were forced to shut-off. Force returned
later for a stout .872 60-footer but he got no farther.
The King's Farewell Tour -- Tucson Jan. 25 at the Cactus Moon.
Photo by Pete Gemar
with help and guidance from Chuck Worsham was about to give the
surface a shot but after the burnout, his Paralax Race Cars
Firebird was shut off with oil escaping from a number of orifices. A later
attempt netted instant tire smoke.
After twice pulling the
fuel shut-off, Dean Skuza got a scant 60 feet on his third fire-up,
the rumored wind-tunnel numbers not getting a chance to show themselves.
and Johnny Gray also made attempts, but neither the Force #3 nor
the CSK #2 received much for them.
Among the long cars that
tried on day one were Doug Herbert, Clay Millican, Kenny
Bernstein, and Rhonda Hartman-Smith, but like their bodied
siblings, there was nothing for them.
Saturday was warmer - 60s
and calm instead of the 50-degree blustery weather that moved through
Friday. The track had been re-groomed and all present picked themselves up
from their previous stumblings, dusted themselves off, and readied for a
more serious onslaught.
Densham, Force, and
Pedregon were first out. Gary shut off quickly, but John and Tony stayed
with their mounts and powered to fairly soft halftrack times. Though their
set-ups are quite different, they recorded similar 5.719/174 and 5.786/167
coasters. Skuza, Gray, and Del Worsham added their names to the
list of attempters, with the Checkers-Shucks-Kragen #1 booming a
burst panel just before the 330-foot timer.
Among the morning fueler
attempts came Herbert, Smith, Ken Zeal, Bernstein, and Wyatt
Radke, and none was too successful. Clay Millican rode to a .875,
2.250, 3.237/252, 4.834/285, decent taking into consideration what his
peers were doing. Radke, in the machine formerly owned by the late Bobby
Baldwin, lost a blower belt.
Things were only slightly
better in the afternoon.
After a couple displays of
cloud creation by Herbert and Hartman, Zeal earned his license with an
.899, 2.289, 3.260/257, 4.091 4.863/267. Or did he?
An immediate debate began
about the percentage-of-performance rule and whether Zeal needed to be
within 10% of the NHRA record or within 10% of the best run under current
conditions. After some discussion, it was ruled that the former IHBA
standout, before stepping into the alcohol dragster ranks that is, would
need to record at least 275mph.
Bernstein and Millican made
more smoke on their attempts, followed by Herbert spitting all the
blower-drive bolts off his machine. The Davis & Zook team gave
Tucson a try next, but Gene Davis clicked it after everything
proved to be unworkable.
Mr. Forever Red is almost lost against the similar color of his trailer.
Photo by Pete Gemar
Near 5pm, the Tim &
Kim Richards-maintained Budweiser King returned for another try
and Kenny Bernstein nailed down an outstanding .852, 2.176, 3.117/267,
3.91, 4.603/319 run that everyone agreed was as good as things would get.
spun all of the Snap-on Tools just right to send his new boss,
Herbert, on a 1000-footer that netted respectable split times of .852,
2.176, 3.146/263, 3.961 and 4.677/299.
After those two runs, Zeal,
Millican and Hartman all zinged their rear tires before the 330-cone.
For the FC teams, the
70-degree afternoon gave hope, but little else. Though many tried, there
were but two that dared stay in the most important pedal past mid course,
Force and Skuza, with the latter coaxing a 254mph number out of the new
Dodge at that point.
On Sunday morning, as they
had been the previous two days, Pedregon and Force were right up in the
front row of the classroom. And, after another tire blazer from Tony P,
John moved himself directly to the teacher's podium with a stout .876,
2.301, 3.312/253, 4.132, 4.824/321 single. The Castrol team seemed
elated to finally master the previously elusive combination. With his
example weighing heavily on the classroom, other crews, such as those of
Gray, Densham, Worsham, and Tony P, failed to figure out the proper
formula. They had to wait about two hours for the Force-driven Mustang
to show them up again. When called upon again, it nabbed a grouping of
.873, 2.310, 3.317/254.14, 4.138 to 1000 feet before gobbling itself in a
different type of smoke show. The final 4.873/283 numbers showed a lot of
In the afternoon, Skuza,
Worsham, and Densham tried in vain again, before Pedregon had a decent
ride before filling the far end with piston smoke. Tony coasted through at
5.021/278, following mediocre .892, 2.338, 3.379/241.71, and 4.255 splits.
Photographer Gemar won this invitation on a radio show on KIIM FM
to attend Kenny Bernstein's shindig. Scan by Pete Gemar
An hour or so later, the
rotation began again, with Densham, Gray, and Worsham billowing their
tires first before Dean Skuza literally willed his new Stratus to reach
the 660 cone. It wasn't what the Lance Larsen-led Mopar
team hopes eventually to accomplish, but it did reap a “four” - .886,
2.318, 3.338/247.66, 4.192, 4.994/256.21. Two hours later they returned
for a similar .887, 2.321, 3.325/253.14, 4.217, 5.178/214.66.
The fuelers seemed to get a
better handle than the funnies as the sun continued to shine on the track.
Herbert experienced a good Sunday drive of .849, 2.164, 3.123/260.97,
3.944, 4.657/311 to set the stage.
A few minutes later, Radke's
machine erupted just past halftrack on a run that might have produced
pretty fair numbers. He got everything stopped OK after incrementals of
.882, 2.254, 3.254/246, 4.136, and 4.917/281.
Another incident occurred
that slowed things Sunday morning. Mike Savage, a standout with CIFCA,
including the 2000 Championship and 2001 runner-up, had the misfortune of
turning John Stanton's 1982 Corvette, a car he's driven many
times, into so much scrap. He was cut of the remains and air-evac'd
which made things look worse than they were. Mike spent the night in the
hospital but was released Monday with only minor burns.
Ken Zeal tried hard but
felt his new Bill Miller Engineering ride nose over past halftrack.
He was gaining experience but would have to wait again.
Then Millican recorded good
numbers - .840, 2.188, 3.169/256.60, 3.994, 4.708/308.43.
At around noon, Bernstein
blasted to a strong .849 sixty, only to have the Goodyears bounce loose.
Doug Herbert followed with
a good .859, 2.192, 3.152/260.06, 3.980, 4.706/302 volley.
When Kenny Bernstein again
was strapped in Forever Red, its timers were set far different than
on the previous attempt, showing quickly with a much softer .862 sixty.
But, it fell silent before halftrack when the blower belt snapped.
Clay Millican next
performed an .851, 2.205, 3.169/265, 3.961, 4.645/318 tightrope walk, far
and away his best of the weekend. By the way, I'd like to offer his
right hand man, Mike Kloeber, congrats on being named IHRA Wrench
of the Year 2001.
The Bill Miller car hauling on a license pass with new
driver Ken Zeal. He made it. Photo by Pete Gemar
Just past 3pm, Ken Zeal
indeed finished his TF initiation with a .892, 2.300, 3.293/254, 4.129,
4.865/298 ride. He missed having a 300mph time slip by just a few ticks of
the timers but that will certainly come shortly. He was certainly the
happiest person on the property after that run.
The Budweiser group was
back for one last try and managed to send Mr. Bernstein on a good .859,
2.198, 3.162/259, 3.984, 4.693/312 clocking.
One Pro Stocker joined its
nitro-burning fuel-racing counterparts - George Marnell and his Pontiac
Grand Am. He made what seemed like a dozen runs over the three days,
carding bests of 7.054/194 and 7.066/194, all with approximate 1.03
It reminds me that during
Super Bowl XXXVI, you'll see some very high dollar Anheuser-Busch/Bud
ads. The 30-second spot features Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the
designated driver using his #8 NASCAR Chevy to get a friend home
after a party. As my good friend Buzz Baylis' Email asked, “Where's
I'll leave you with this
last thought. Until NHRA has a similar fan base to NASCAR's - more than
75,000,000 in 2001 according to press releases - it'll be Little E in
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