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Pomona Day One: I'm Baaaaaack!

by Phil R. Elliott

The 2002 POWERade NHRA season is officially under way. Day one of the K&N Filter Winternationals, in its 42nd running BTW, is complete.

The last national event I visited was the 1999 Northwest Nationals. I've also been to several nostalgia events in that time, too. Each and every one has taken on a distinct feeling, but none so exciting to me as this one.

Why?

The build-up to the Winternats has been super for me. I've tried to dig up and share with you as much pre-season stuff of runs and rumors as I could. I once again feel intimate with the sport, the cars, and some of the people that I have loved for over four decades.

My plan was to come to Pomona Wednesday, get my credentials, nose around somewhat, then have a nice relaxing evening at my sister Shari's home in Diamond Bar, less than ten miles from the track. You know what happens to plans.

Every spare moment this week has been spent writing pre-season test results. Yesterday, I did indeed come to the track, but it was to deliver display items for the Craftsman booth the showcar version of Dale Creasy Jr.'s Firebird sits in that booth. Then, I headed back across the world of traffic jams in hopes of packing and getting my cameras in a new case I recently purchased.

Instead, I was called back to work to complete three displays for Crane Cams. I got back to the house at 4:30am.

OK, so I tried to grab a couple hour catnap that was difficult to accomplish. Then, I literally pitched everything I thought I'd need into the car, along with mom, and headed east. At my sister's, I unloaded, exchanged niceties, left my mother, and headed for the track. Fifteen minutes later, I was in press parking, next to the prettiest current Corvette I've seen bright yellow with nasty wheels and tires. I got my cameras together, in their old case, got my shiny new two-step ladder and headphone ear protectors (Lowe's, $19.95 and $18.95, respectively), and was just about ready to hoof it to the starting line when I discovered that the special PHOTO vest NHRA issues was not in the car. A quick call to Shari's house prompted a search of the pile I'd just unloaded and the missing and necessary item was discovered. Back in the car and to the house I sped.

I reparked in the very same spot next to the same 'Vette 35 minutes later and hustled toward the starting line where Stock Eliminator was finishing.

Comp came next and it wasn't long until I was heavily involved in just how tremendous the performances were that were playing out in front of me.

One car, Mike Nahan's front-engine six-cylinder E/D that I just saw naked and unfinished in Dave Tuttle's CCE ten days ago, ran .45 under for a mid-pack spot. This thing has an inline Ford, a clutchless 5-speed and if it doesn't win Best Engineered, I don't know why.

Other impressive cars/runs included Wayne Ramay's A/ND that ran 7.18 and 7.16, .704 under. That's second behind Mike De Palma's C/A Lumina. Back in 11th is Lee Smith's AA/PM 58 Corvette from Oregon it ran 6.386.

Then came the alcohol funny cars, of which 18 went down the track. I know that Bucky and Pat Austin ran side-by-side, and that Bucky hit 5.62/252 and his nephew Pat was right behind. On the sheets, both show as disqualified. I did not find a reason before leaving the track but will tomorrow. Dale Van Gundy's Camaro was on the DQ list as well.

Steve Gasparrelli is number one at 5.741/247 that shows he learned plenty in pre-season testing. Several other cars ran decent times, but more than half blew or leaked. The session took an inordinate amount of time.

During one clean up, I listened to a conversation between two NHRA officials regarding the imminent possibility of an alcohol oil down rule similar to their nitro elders. At each national event, the first oil down would be considered a non-foul. The second oil down, however, would be a lost run and a $250 fine. A third would send the entry to its trailer for the remainder of the event.

Since AFC took so much time, the schedule was switched over to allow the Pros to run close to their preset time.

Pro Stock came first.

I suggested to several photogs this morning that IF the weather came Friday that local meteorologists have prognosticated (high 60s and overcast), one of the Neons would run a high 6.70. They laughed.

In the third pairing, John Geyer rode the Mopar Missile to a 6.886/201, and by the time Allen Johnson ran a 6.879/201 with his independent Neon five pairs later, there were four cars in the 80s. After that, seemingly everyone recorded 80s with abandon.

To close the round, Jim Yates faced Warren Johnson and sang to the #1 spot with a 6.825/201.85. WJ, whose new Cavalier is really quite attractive in yellow and red, white and blue, broke a transmission. The bump is already a 6.893. Whew.

In case anybody has forgotten my prediction, Yates' .82 is but .03 away from a high .70

The Top Fuel drivers were next to try the surface conditions.

The return of Cory McClenathan came in the third pairing but the MBNA car failed to get too far. In the other lane, Wyatt Radke hit a 4.83/303 that ended in a major fire that burned off 1-1/2 parachutes. He still made the turn and a cleanup ensued.

As soon as the Safety Safari cleared, Don Lampus roared down the same lane only to perform an instant replay. His engine went sour at half-track and his blaze lasted longer than Radke's.

In the next pair but the other lane, Clay Millican rode to a Mike Kloeber-tuned 4.688/310 following a 0.831 sixty for temporary Low Q.

A few pairs later, Tony Schumacher and Doug Herbert both ran better, side-by-side. The Army car fought off a dropped cylinder for a 4.663/314, while the Snap-On man was better at 4.653/315. Both cars were somewhat softer on the bottom than Millican's had been.

Doug Kalitta experienced a couple of flashes near the finish line that looked to me like head gaskets, but whatever it might have been, the Matco Tools machine zipped to a powerful 4.593/319.90. The team's Florida testing obviously did them well. Doug's sixty was a 0.858.

The hoped for performance from Darrell Russell, Larry Dixon, and Kenny Bernstein did not materialize today but certainly will soon.

The first Funny Car down Parker Avenue was the first foreign-bodied machine in a couple of decades. Gary Scelzi launched well in the Toyota Celica, though there was an intermittent cylinder outage that steered the car all over the lane just like it had in testing. But, the car marched to a fine 4.934/301 to bring a smile and an "OK!" nod from Alan Johnson.

After several tire smoking pairs, Bob Bode recorded a similar 4.931/300 in his Avenger.

Next up, Al Hofmann sailed to a pictured-perfect run, until death smoke billowed at about 1100 feet. The veteran pulled his boot instantly but a certain 80 was recorded as "just" a 4.9097/291.

Several more tire smoke exhibitions came next, wrapped around Johnny Gray's 5.023/302 and Dean Skuza's 4.996/276.

An incredible run came just two pairs from the end, when Gary Densham blasted to what seemed like perfection until 1000 feet. He drove around a big holeshot by teammate Tony Pedregon on a run that had the Triple A Mustang silent for the last 300 feet of the course and still record a 4.891 at just 263mph!

Ron Capps faced Del Worsham in the next-to-the-last pairing, and the two placed nearly identical performances onto the sheets. A 4.937/304 for the C-S-K entry was just slightly better than the Skoal car's 4.939/295.

Of course, NHRA planning saved John Force vs. Whit Bazemore for last. And from my vantage point barely 30 feet from the left flank of the Matco Tools Firebird, I can tell you that it is loud and fast. I also must suggest that these two teams have made a very serious game of these face-offs. Whether it is the final round at Indy, the final round of the last race of the season with the rights for the first POWERade NHRA championships still in the balance, or in rent-a-cars headed for the final parking spot at Denny's, these two drivers/teams will throw everything they have into one thing winning.

I smiled and thanked them silently when after an absolutely fabulous race, the boards lit up with a 4.764/322.27 for the Castrol Mustang and a 4.815 /321.50 for the Matco Firebird.

I also headed for the parking lot, my sister's house, and this iBook to share my first day back. Can you tell I loved nearly every minute of it?

An apology to the classes I missed today. I promise you'll get your turn.

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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