The Final Gamble
By Phil R. Elliott
Considering the number of racecars out there in the
world racing and testing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the NFL must have
lost viewers for their Super Bowl. I watched exactly 1-1/2 plays…
Up at Sacramento, nearly 200 cars braved a cold,
overcast day to welcome the new year. There was a decent turnout at
MoKan Dragway, too, on the Missouri-Kansas border. Many eyes turned
toward Houston and the Pontiac Excitement Super Bowl, an extravaganza
that matched unreal weather conditions with tuners and drivers willing
to push to and beyond previous limits.
A thousand miles to the west, right near famed Nellis
Air Force Base, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway saw relatively low
temperatures and a decent number of racecars, including the NY Yankees
TFer, now with Andrew Cowin in the bullpen, and the new Toyota Supra FC
of Alan Johnson and driver Gary Scelzi.
There were also many sportsman entries trying to get a
jump on the POWERade NHRA season, less than a week a way.
As I said in earlier T-n-T coverage, many, many of the
runs and attempts at runs were by design, while teams tried a variety of
clutch and fuel system combinations. Today, with sophisticated
incremental timers and onboard computers, a big story can be told in 330
feet or even just 60 feet.
I'll try to hit the highlights from Las Vegas as
best I can.
Aussie Andrew Cowin seemed to take to Darrell Gwynn's
Yankee machine, now painted in "away" livery, as the team
clicked to a 4.773 on their second run. Not only was the driver new, but
this team is in a total rebuilding season since the departure of Mike
Dunn and Ken Veney. They made several short track attempts, with the
sixties in the range of 0.874 to 0.878, with the best a 0.859.
Gary Scelzi had a different regime. He not only had to
get the Whitecap Pro-Contractor Supplier Supra down the track, he also
had to complete his license requirements. After what seemed like a
half-dozen attempts, with a string of decent sixty clockings (0.924,
0.929, 0.937, 0.917, 0.925) but little else, drama was building, and
even the consistently smiling Scelzi was getting a wee bit apprehensive.
But, a less aggressive tune-up lumbered the new Toyota to a 0.953-sixty,
then downtrack to a 5.305/285 to fulfill obligations.
Both Rhonda Hartman and husband John Smith were on the
scene with their matching Fram dragsters, making innumerable runs. Short
times ranging from 0.847 to 0.875 indicated they were on the right
track, and under the control of crew chief Virgil Hartman. Rhonda did
have a 1000-foot 4.93 to her credit as well.
John Mitchell's Montana Express experienced nothing
but tire smoke past about 200 feet. David Grubnic only had a few very
short rides (0.896, 0873, 0.896). A similar fate befell Joe Hartley
(0.886, 0.899, 0.869, 0.878, 0.859).
Mike Strasburg had an exciting learning curve in his
family's new project with first mediocre short times (0.893, 0.910,
0.905, 0.903), then when the wick was turned up for a better
0.887-sixty, the car went boom and coasted to a 5.072/216. Later,
another loud report was followed by a substantial conflagration.
Bob Hallock had two decent rides to his credit over
the weekend – 5.075/280 and 5.065/292.
The plastic-bodied FCs were hard pressed to get past
200 feet most of the weekend. Cruz Pedregon was best with his new
Advance Auto Parts machine, which turned in a 5.084/281 after several
aborted attempts. His best sixty was a 0.918.
John Lawson had similar sixties to Cruz (0.926, 0.916)
but his Lucas Oil-backed car never got much farther.
Steve Kotten continues to shake down his
hand-controlled Mustang, and he recorded some decent short times (0.974,
Scott Negley had nothing but trouble with his new
mount and never successfully got to the tree.
Several of the Pro Stock contingent showed at
"The Strip" for tune-up runs.
Nearly every time you looked up, Washingtonian J.R.
Carr was going through the gears of his AgriPack-backed car, which after
many disruptions, sang to throaty 6.940/198, 6.969/197, 6.955/198,
6.953/197, and 6.942/198 passes.
George Marnell gave his new Grand Am a major workout
and finally ended up with decent recordings of 6.966/197, 6.955/198, and
Another team that made many laps was Western
Motorsports, V. Gaines up, with a nice grouping of 6.959/197, 6.972/198,
6.960/198, 6.924/199, and 6.918/199.79.
Comp graduate John Geyer blasted the Tesor Petroleum
Mopar Missile to 6.963/198, 6.957/199, and 6.951/198 runs.
After a best attempt of a 1.021-sixty Saturday, the
world's tallest Marine, Larry Nance, had several 7.0/196 runs coupled
to short times that spelled clutch woes. He finally recorded a 6.992/196
Kenny Koretsky had instant shake in his Valspar Grand
Greg Anderson made a successful debut with his new
Cavalier with a 7.031/197 and a 6.935/198 in only two runs.
Dragster: Duane Shields (a 5.519/260 and a later
boom), David Busby A/FD, Brian Hough in Mike Johnson's Division 6 car
(5.413/259, 5.531/251, and 5.438/259 with a best of 0.924 sixty),
Matthew Seltzer and Larry Miersch's A/FD (0.957, later a decent
Funny Car: Bucky Austin (two 0.950s in sixty, then
shake, then a 5.82/250 and a great 5.662/252), Steve Gasparrelli (5.88,
5.724/251 and 5.757/248 with a 0.968-sixty best) Randy Fleming, Mike
Andreotti (0.977, 0.961, 5.925/237, and 5.964/239), Ed Marx (5.859/244,
5.834/245), and Bernie Harrington
Only two Pro Mods rolled through the Las Vegas gates,
Dennis Radford's nasty-looking Viper (6.41/218 and a 6.687 with engine
smoke) and Lee Smith's 58 Corvette that exploded on its only attempt.
So ends the pre-season testing.
I wish all a superb 2002 racing season. It is easy to
predict that it'll be a thrill from beginning to end, at least for me.
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