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Pomona Day 4: The Race…

By Phil R. Elliott

So, why would someone who had full media credentials to the first national event on the POWERade NHRA tour, after spending three days full of mind-numbing performances in some of the greatest weather conditions in Winternationals history, with the excitement and anticipation of even better performances and superb racing to boot, miss the actual race?

Hmmmm.

Maybe a little bit of over saturation. Maybe too much sun and too little sleep. Maybe the desire to spend some time with my sister, brother-in-law, and mom.

Right or wrong, that is the choice I made. I want to thank NHRA and the POWERade press crew, especially Anthony Vestal and Robert Viscara, for the great hospitality. I hope to do it again real soon, as early as the Phoenix event in two weeks.

It was also great to see so many old friends and make new ones in the pressroom, on the starting line, in the pits, and throughout the weekend.

Although I didn't attend, I'm gonna wrap up my coverage with a few observations of the weekend.

First, other than a couple of odd comments, I think Mike Dunn's television color work on the ESPN coverage was the best these shows have had for years. I saw him Wednesday night near credential check-in and wished him well on the new gig. Although I was sorry to see him out of a ride, I was sure he'd do a super job of commentating. I was right. He has the right mix of driver and internal engine knowledge to give me the perspective I want and the self-assuredness to give the whole picture believability.

After watching and feeling quite intimate with these cars all race long, I was shocked at the number of upsets in the round one of the Pros. Wow, Andrew Cowin and Ron Krisher, #1Qs in TF and PS, respectively, down. (Is this the time to give Tim Freeman another call, Ron?). And Tony Schumacher, Whit Bazemore, Tony Pedregon, Jerry Toliver, Dean Skuza, Darrell Alderman, and Mark Osborne, too? Amazing.

But, it's a long season, right? Right.

I'm pretty impressed with Clay Millican and the Werner Enterprises fueler. Usually an IHRA standout, the car appears to be on the verge of making the fulltime crossover. The semi-finals looked easy, the car barely puts a tire wrong, and giant trucking outfit from Omaha should be proud of the accomplishment. I mentioned before that Mike Kloeber calls the shots on this one.

I think that the return of Cory Mac should be considered a triumphant one. The Henkelman-Baca team looked pretty sharp every time I went by.

So too, the Scott Weis RaceGirl entry qualified and went a couple rounds. This bunch was super a few years ago in IHRA AFC competition and I'm glad to see them doing so well. I don't know how big the sponsorship is or if the "Weis Guys" will make the full tour.

And to have the beer war go down to the final round, the same two drivers/teams that finished 2001 in the top two spots doing the same at Race 1 of 2002, was pretty special. Dick LaHaie and the Don Prudhomme/Miller Lite team worked hard to help Larry Dixon Jr. win the final. So did Kenny Bernstein, Tim Richards, and the Budweiser folk. There were engine swaps, nearly missed time cut-offs, tire smoke, blown engines, and teamwork. Yes, the blue car beat the red one this time, but there'll be plenty more.

I feel bad for Jerry Toliver losing in round one. But he had more super runs in this one event than in all of 2002 and he should be back on the full trail with no more problems. And he lost the closest race of the entire eliminator to another car/team that had a similar off-pace season last year, Jim Dunn and Al Hoffman. How can you feel bad about a 4.892/305 to 4.896/313 loss? Both these teams will be a factor in 2002.

I'm not sure why, but Del Worsham snuck quietly into the FC final, as quietly that is as a funny car can be. After qualifying 6th (4.817/318) outside of the heavily headlined competition, the Checker-Shucks-Kragen Firebird hit 4.838/319, a shut-off 4.894/273, and 4.847/316 before blowing the tires off in the final. Dad Chuck Worsham and Rob Flynn deserve a great deal of respect for doing an end-around everyone to even get to the final. And, the team car, now with Johnny Gray at the controls, had similar numbers and reached the semis. Quite an accomplishment in my book.

Of course, John Force should have won. But like a dozen times during 2001, where he went all the way through races in spite of mechanical woes and mistakes, he was ripe for the plucking in all four rounds here. He admitted as much during every interview. TJ had him covered in round one before spinning tires stopped his progress. Scotty did the same exact thing in the second. Ron Capps ran away from him in the semis only to have the engine go boom. And Del looked like a sure thing for sixty feet, and even later when Force's Mustang went every which way including loose.

One thing is certain. John Force is going to keep at this funny car thing until he gets it right.

Here's another observation about nitro mania. After a scare of light fields over the past few seasons for both classes, it seems things are well once again. In years past, both classes at Pomona were heavy with SoCal entries. Not so this year. For the most part, the teams here are committed to the full POWERade tour.

So, with Krisher out in PS R1, he had to rely on Tom Hammonds who ran his power to good effect. After qualifying 4th, the ex-NBA star ran extremely well throughout the event to reach the semis.

I'm very impressed that Pro Stockers improved on a day that was much warmer than in qualifying. WJ's 6.817/202.82 was one, his son Kurt was another who picked up to a 6.827/202.94, and Jim Yates' 6.803/202.79 was another, all coming in R1. Yates' ET was not only a track record, but just .004 away from that "70" I hoped for. After the round, the Johnsons switched engines in Warren's Grand Am, a Herculean task they performed in 23 minutes. The engine showed good power but the team must have missed slightly on the clutch. WJ fell off slightly in ET but picked up to a whopping 203.12 for the mph track record.

In the final, Yates had another fine 6.812/202.61 and should have won the race he dominated. But that wouldn't be the sport we love, would it?

I for one am excited about George Marnell's win. He tested as much or more than anyone else all winter, but more than that, he outdrove everyone in the place. He came from #16Q, blasted Krisher in R1 (RTs .428 to .474), duplicated Mike Edwards in R2 (RTs .479 to .481), sawed off Hammonds in the semis (RTs .438 to .480) and literally drubbed Yates in the final (RTs .417 to .485). Marnell's 6.880 in that final looked ridiculous compared to his opponent's 6.812, until one does the math. The numbers must be taken out to the fourth digit – a .0009 true win. Imagine that, George was all smiles and without many words to say. The shock may wear off within a week or two.

Congrats to my old Division Six buds – Mark Hentges in TAD, Pat Austin and Bucky Austin in TAFC, Mike Ferderer in SC, and all the other Sportsman winners.

NOTES

I get the feeling that I've missed a lot that I wrote into my notebook while wandering around the Pomona FairPlex.
Tom Martino runs a sponsorless red and white Grand Am in PS, but, if you go by his pit, you'll be pretty sure he is a Jesel team car. The truck and awning carries huge logos for the valve train manufacturer.
Speaking of trucks, V. Gaines' must be one of the most popular big rigs on the road. The trailer is completely covered in an obscure mural of people and things, including a number of aliens, and mostly in hues of green and purple.
Good friend, superior artist, and photographer, Tom West, asked me what name I thought John Smith uses when he checks into a motel. I suspect his wife Rhonda Hartman does the talking.
Forever, the tried and true method for checking bite has been to kick the track with the bottom of your shoe – sorta scuff the surface. There are variations. One is to touch the surface and twist the sole of the shoe. The heat guns are nice for actual temperature, but even greasy tracks get hot. Now I'm seeing several crewmen on hands and knees, using their thumbs to push the layers of rubber to the side and peeling little pieces up. What these show is how well the layers of rubber adhere to each other.
I used to think the acronym for Walt Austin Racing was the coolest. I just noticed FIRE this weekend – Frank Iaconio Racing Engines.
I heard much ado about the new Goodyear D1430 tire. First, the tire was designed to hopefully counteract and eliminate chunking and blowouts, plus have less centrifugal weight. Both its sidewall and tread are of different compound and construction than the previous tire. And, Goodyear has rated the new carcass for 375mph. But, I saw a couple pairs of the new tires that chunked every bit as bad as the old ones. I did find out that another new and safer tire is available but there is a conflict over acceptance because it is also bigger. Time will tell. I sure hope we don't see another rash of accidents.
There was a great deal of trouble with the new Toyota FC body at final tech inspection. The front and rear wings were not to anyone's liking. Nor were the extra spill plates straight behind the body, the angled "running boards" on the quarter panels, or the little flares that streamline the headers. General consensus in the funny car pits is that they are all happy to have another manufacturer involved, and that by having Toyota, maybe others will come on board. Reportedly, development cost on the body was more than $250,000.

Phil Elliott

 

Thanks for checking out the PhilZone portion of Draglist.com. If you have accolades, complaints, comments, questions, or if you want to share a story, please feel free to post it on the PhilZone Message Board. Phil
 

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