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Vegas Observations:
Saturday Qualifying in the Heat

By Phil R. Elliott

With the Pro Stock bump at a tough 7.019, and predicted temperatures of 88-90 degrees, it appeared that the teams in the field were safe, and the teams outside would remain thus. The two best runs in session three were by Greg Anderson (6.995) and George Marnell (6.996), and next there were a number of 7.00s (Bruce Allen, V. Gaines, WJ), and 7.01s (Jim Yates), as qualified teams moved into race mode.

The fuelers didn't face the same problem but another. Continuous heat on the Las Vegas pavement had the same season-long tire vs. track arguments in full swing. Top Fuel and Funny car switched running order from the previous day, with the long cars out first.

Robert Hallock and Arley Langlo tried first, against a 5.087 bubble, and neither moved too far. Langlo drug his chute most of the distance, and Hallock's combo was just too soft. John Smith and Yuichi Oyama came next, with the Tokyo ace showing engine damage on a 4.998/276, and Smith bumping Ken Zeal with a 5.031/264. Next came an engine-eating pair Kenny Bernstein with a fireball and Darrell Russell a lot of piston smoke. The Safety Safari rolled.

Andrew Cowin and Scott Weis tried next but both billowed tire smoke. The Aussie tried to pedal but ended up with parts damage as a result. Doug Kalitta's third tire melter came next, against Garth Widdison's improving-not-quite-enough 5.190/220. Tony Schumacher spun his tires against rookie Mike Strasburg, who recorded his first "four," a fishtailing 4.986/285, to advance to 13th. Doug Herbert was next to spin the new Goodyears, while opponent Chris Karamesines zoomed to a 4.811/312 (career best speed) for 11th.

Ken Zeal put Bill Miller's entry back into the fray with a 4.846/296 for 13th while Melanie Troxel showed consistency with a 4.823/302. Zeal's numbers put John Smith back on the bubble.

Gary Clapshaw, who'd just been bumped, had instant tire smoke for his effort, while Cory McClenathan hit a 4.750/305, slower than his previous pair but better than anyone else so far (in this session).

The last pair saw David Grubnic smoke his tires and Larry Dixon shake his loose midcourse. Both clicked off.

The Funnies started with a resounding 4.960/296 from Todd Paton in the rejuvenated Nitro Fish, while Chuck Beal showed for his first run of the weekend with a faltering 8.94. The Canadian team hopes that by Houston, they will have all their geese in a row for the remainder of the tour. Todd's time put Dean Skuza on the bump, a stout 5.024 number that made those not in the field wince.

Johnny Gray's 5.036/297 came next, close but no cigar. Beside him, Louis Sweet moved around too much and he wisely shut down the System 1 Filters Camaro before it caromed off something solid. Dale Creasy and Phil Burkart were next to try, but both spun their tires. Terry Haddock, who'd been the earlier bumpee, and Bob Bode, under a silver metalflake 2001 Avenger that replaced the previous yellow one, also underwent tire spin. So did Bob Gilbertson, Cruz Pedregon, Frank Pedregon, Dean Skuza, John Lawson, Tommy Johnson, Jerry Tolliver, Tony Pedregon, Gary Scelzi, Ron Capps, Gary Densham, Scotty Cannon, Whit Bazemore, and John Force.

Actually, Lawson's run though definitely spinning the tires, was a respectable 5.158. The best runs of the session? The previously mentioned 4.960 by Paton, and of course, Tim Wilkerson's right-down-the-lane 4.959/308. These guys rarely falter.

Besides Bode's new shell, Gilbertson, Tony P., and Force sported different bodies from Friday, the latter in full Elvis trim.

The final session for Pro Stock, again considering the heat, looked grim for those outside the inner sanctum. The bump was KJ's 7.019 and that looked fairly secure, especially when none of the initial six shooters could get below a 7.094. Then Kenny Koretsky improved slightly to a 7.034/195. In the very next pair, Larry Nance ran a consistent 7.053/195, while JR Carr stunned all with a solid 7.012/196 from the AgriPack Firebird. The eastern Washington farmer was in, Kurt Johnson was toast. After that, the PS fans mumbled their disbeliefs, the drivers rode to 7.04 bests or tire shaking pedal jobs, and the fans waited to see what Kurt could do. He recorded a 7.061/196, far from enough to get back in and he remained 17th.

The best runs of the session were by Krisher (6.995), Gaines (6.999), WJ (7.000), Yates (7.019) and Edwards (7.019), while the rest slid into the 7.02 to 7.06 range. The race will be interesting in that this field is again over a tight .06 spread. It is exactly what we've seen at the previous three events. The first 12 DNQs ride in a small groove too, from KJ's 7.01 to Gordie Rivera's 7.08. Only rookie Mark Wolfe, a Washingtonian who recently bought an Ex-Hurley Blakeney Probe (7.159/194), and Colorado rookie Jamey Ober (7.176/191), brought down the tremendous "curve." And, neither of them expected more than they earned here.

For the final, last ditch Top Fuel qualifying effort, everyone gambled on that 5.031. The qualifying pairings are based loosely on where the cars are qualified at the moment, the better numbers earning later spots. It is always a surprise to see a usually strong car start things off.

Such was the case with the Kalitta family Mac Tools car. After three aborted runs, it was beside Langlo's TitanXpress in the first pair. And, though Arley did a decent job on his run until the blower belt slung off Doug rode to a 4.875/307 that earned him 14th for the moment. When Connie was asked to comment, he came up with a sarcastic jewel: "We aggressively detuned it for the conditions."

This moved the bubble to Strasburg's 4.986, bumping Smith. Neither Widdison nor Hallock could find the necessary combo, the former with no oil pressure and the latter running a 5.251/236. The just-bumped Smith picked up to 5.011/247 next to just miss, while Clapshaw's crewchief Lonnie Strode found a 4.862/297.

The next pair saw the just-bumped Strasburg family entry against Weis in the bubble sitting Race Girl machine they were the last cars able to do damage to the field and neither did, though Mike Strasburg got further before clicking off. It was then a matter of going through the motions and seeing just who had a combination for raceday heat.

Nobody changed positions but that is not to say there wasn't plenty of excitement. Russell spun his tires on a 4.812/302 to give Joe Amato's rebuilding team a moment of pleasure. Zeal showed driving prowess too as his mount got badly crossed up at the top end. His 4.935/301 could have been much better.

Herbert shut off before halftrack with a sour sounding engine, a single when the Greek chose to sit out the session. Miss Troxel's 4.862/302 came next, leaving an up-in-smoke Grubnic at the start. Rhonda was next with the best to that point, a strong 4.737/286 that improved her weekend numbers as well. Cowin was on a good run beside her but gave up before halftrack. Shoe's pedaling 4.900/302 came next beside a tire spinning Oyama, and Dixon did as he is wont to do, record the best of each session and defeat Bernstein at all costs. Larry ran a 4.621/323, Kenny a tire-spinning 6.110. What has been titled the "Forever Red" tour has so far been rather blue for the Budweiser team.

In Funny Car, Skuza's 5.024 bubble looked precarious, especially considering the potential clout of the eight cars/teams still clamoring for a spot on the ladder. Of those, Cruz (5.080/300) and Gray (5.059/305) were closest, but still lacking.

Gilbertson's Stewart & Stevenson Fram/Trick Tank Firebird recorded a soft-on-the-bottom but smokeless 5.064/300, and Frank P. had similar 5.011/310 numbers in the K&N Filters Firebird next.

Skuza (5.028/294) and Lawson (5.012/296) made for a nice race, but neither improved. TJ's loose 5.428/199 came next, followed by smoke from the WWF car and a clean, straight 4.937/315 from Tony P's Castrol Syntec Mustang. Scelzi followed suit with a sashaying 5.005/304 in the White Cap Toyota while Worsham lit t he tires on the C-S-K Firebird. Densham and Capps put on a great battle, 4.934/307 to 4.942/301, but neither moved a position. Similarly, Wilkerson and Cannon made the crowd happy, 4.993/277 and 4.910/308, respectively. And lastly, Bazemore drove around Force for a wild finale, 4.894/315 to 4.906/315! The bragging rights, and the big cheers, were Whit's for one night!

Phil Elliott

 

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