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2002 Las Vegas: Saturday Morning Report

By Phil R. Elliott

Todd Paton's new Nitro Fish Bites Back Camaro. Flyin' Phil Foto
Todd Paton's new Nitro Fish Bites Back Camaro made a patriotic debut. Flyin' Phil Foto

Things got a wee bit too late last night so I'll start writing this during R2 of Stock, SC, Super Stock, and SG. The Summitracing.com Nationals is into day three.

It was hot yesterday, but not quite as hot as Thursday – about 82-85 degrees, and 17% humidity. Track temp hovered around 108 degrees during the first Professional session. It was also somewhat breezy. This track has an altitude factor of 2100 feet.

With all that said, it was until the tenth pair before the first Pro Stock car dipped into the sixes – Greg Anderson's 6.998/198. There were a few tires shaking, and a few aborted runs. But for the most part, everyone went right down the mirror-smooth concrete and asphalt that is "The Strip." Ron Krisher duplicated the 6.998 a little later, but at a lower 197 mph clocking, which put him 2nd. Those were the only two drivers with sub seven-second ETs, and the first bump was a 7.047.

After seeing three previous national events, I held my breath to see just what the fuelers would be able to do.

Frank Pedregon in Jim Dunn's K&N Filters Firebird, without benefit of any points, started things with a tire-spinning 6.032.

Next up, Todd Paton in the wildly painted Nitro Fish Camaro lost a blower belt. The car is now titled the "Nitro Fish Bite Back Tour" and has a USA flag draped down its left side and a Canadian flag on the right. Don't ask me about the political ramifications of that – I didn't sit in on the board meetings.

In the other lane, also with a new paint scheme, Tim Wilkerson spun his tires down track and came up with a 5.100/286.

Jerry Toliver returned in WWF livery, and he wrestled it down from an increasing wheelstand. Phil Burkart was to have been in the other lane but the team was unable to get their batteries and starters to work. A great side-by-side between Dale Creasy and Bob Bode came next, 5.226/296 to 5.241/286, and a similar run between Dean Skuza and Bob Gilbertson was right behind, 5.189/288 to 5.256/271.

Whit Bazemore also debuted a new paint scheme. Flyin' Phil Foto
Whit Bazemore also debuted a new paint scheme to much fanfare. Flyin' Phil Foto

Tires were smoked by the next pair, John Lawson and Cruz Pedregon, and then what looked like all of Corporate Matco helped Whit Bazemore unveil the latest paint scheme right in the water box. After that quick presentation, the Firebird hazed its tires but still rang up a 5.033/296. Beside him, but not so lucky was Tommy Johnson Jr.

Behind Bazemore came Scotty Cannon, in new "Time Bomb" livery with a stunning rendition of the mad scientist on what would normally be the hood of a Firebird, and he recorded a 5.033/296. Gary Densham's decent 5.138/301 faded in comparison.

Johnny Gray's tire spinning 5.090/300 was next, followed by decent runs by Ron Capps (5.064/299), Tony Pedregon (5.126/275), Del Worsham (5.052/304), and John Force (5.009/304). Gary Scelzi's 6.104 was the initial bump.

Gary Clapshaw and Melanie Troxel started Top Fuel, and neither of their attempts were successful – she smoked her tires and he pitched a blower drive belt off his all-white, Technical waterproofing machine. Mike Strasburg (in the Strasburg family machine Garth Widdison was in at Phoenix) debuted with an effortless 5.074/259 while Arley Langlo launched, spun and coasted. Widdison felt his own car labor the entire course but chose to stay in the pedal to 1100 feet. Rob Passey was shut off with a leak. Both lanes needed maintenance.

Bob Hallock's smoking 5.358/246 came against and even harder smoking Chris Karamesines, followed by Scott Weis' 4.951/291 against Ken Zeal's 5.177/220. At the moment, the Virginian had the pole.

Yuichi Oyama returned to the circuit to make a loud 4.722/314 statement in Japanese. In the other lane, Darrell Russell slammed into 4.834/289. The Bilstein team's troubles, documented here earlier, didn't end when the crane unload their trailer as a wide stripe of oil followed the decelerating racecar.

After the cleanup, Andrew Cowin added a 4.776/286 to his resume, the speed way off due to what appeared to be a head gasket flash. John Smith's 5.123/215 showed trouble for the Fram team.

Right behind John, his wife Rhonda's 4.985/272 looked cleaned, just down on power in comparison with Doug Herbert's 4.798/307. Cory McClenathan, now sporting Waterloo Tool Storage and Centennial Batteries on his McKinney dragster, zipped to a 4.676/315. David Grubnic spun John Mitchell's tires.

Tony Schumacher started his weekend with a 4.714/294, while in the left lane, Doug Kalitta spun his tires.

Bud King crew is running well, but Dixon's still in front at every meeting. Flyin' Phil Foto
Bud King crew is running well, but Dixon's still in front at every meeting. Flyin' Phil Foto

That brought up the final pairing, the ubiquitous Kenny Bernstein vs. Larry Dixon match-up, which went to Miller over Budweiser, 4.637/325 to 4.692/319.

It was dark and much cooler for session two – down to just about 70 degrees. The afternoon breeze had died down completely. Expectations were for a tremendous second qualifier and that is exactly what those lucky enough to be on the grounds of Las Vegas Motor Speedway saw.

Though there was some initial movement, the carb'd gasoline burners were slow to make the predicted wholesale moves. It was until Terry Adams' 7.027/196 that the PS fans began to take notice. His time was decent, but it was boss Barry Grant that drew the attention – he and his new bride showed up on the starting line in their wedding duds. The 2002 Grand Am had a "Just Married" sign in its back window.

John Geyer's 7.009/197 in the Mopar Missile moved him up to 5th momentarily, and behind him came the onslaught of sixes. Jeg Coughlin (6.98) and Bruce Allen (6.99) started things, followed by V. Gaines (6.97) and Mark Pawuk (6.99), Jim Yates (6.97) and Troy Coughlin (6.98), Warren Johnson (6.97), Tom Hammonds (6.97) and Mike Edwards (6.98), Tom Martin (6.96) and Krisher (6.95), and George Marnell (6.95). Mr. Anderson slowed to a 7.01 and plummeted to 13th. Whew.

The bump is now Kurt Johnson's 7.019. Considering the weather, many predict that won't change.

Terry Haddock started things with a mighty 5.074/268, the Negley Electric Firebird pitching porcelain off its spark plugs from halftrack to the early shutoff.

Tolliver, now with Norm Grimes at the wrenches, had a nice 4.950/308 ride while Burkhart didn't move very far. The same story went for Paton and Louis Sweet – tire shake their enemy.

Johnson and Frank P. recorded a stunning side-by-side in front of a grateful crowd, 5.010/305 to 5.006/303, and John Lawson picked up to 4.962/301 with the Mark Oswald-tuned Lucas Oil Firebird while Cruz did not Advance. His Firebird looked to be on its way when it boomed a blower, sending the "sneeze hatch" higher than the LVMS suites.

Bob Gilbertson made the field with consistent 5.0s. Flyin' Phil Foto
Bob Gilbertson made the field with a respectable 5.01. Flyin' Phil Foto

Scelzi and the Toyota looked stout on a 4.925/314 against Gilbertson's 5.018/305, followed by Bode's tire smoker beside Creasy's 5.153/287. The Craftsman Firebird continues to move conservatively forward.

Dean Skuza recorded a 5.024/303 in the Lance Larsen-tuned Dodge, after a very late and short burnout procedure that had starter Rick Stewart about to hemorrhage. Opponent Gray in the Checker-Schucks-Kragen Firebird, waited patiently, and then smoked his tires midcourse.

Next up, the hitters began their assaults. Densham's 4.871/319 literally drove around and buried Ron Capps' usually decent 4.932/304! Tony P's 4.963/309 and Worsham's 4.937/294 came next.

Next came Wilkerson and Bazemore. When you see this pair, your eyes are naturally drawn to the stunning paint and snappy uniforms in the Matco Tools camp. Not that the new flame-job on the Levi, Ray & Shoup Firebird is any slouch, but it does not give off the heavily backed image that some others portray. They do all their image setting on the racetrack…

When I say that Whit went right down the track and crewchief Lee Beard whipped up 4.857/316 combination, you won't bat an eyelash. What is amazing though is that Fred Mandoline gave Tim an even better recipe, a more aggressive start, and a 4.848/314! As the current saying goes, these guys have got it going on!

The final pair was a great one, with John Force hitting a 4.831/315 against Scotty Cannon's 4.875/317, numbers good for #1 and #5Q in the already great field. Haddock's 5.07 bumps the group.

Force stated that he wanted to run the "Elvis" body but Austin Coil went with the lightest chassis/body combo they had. He promised the press he'd have Elvis on for final qualifying.

Still on the outside, and perfectly capable of making this show very interesting, are Gray, Creasy, Body, Cruz, Paton, sweet and Burkart. Look for this one to heat up.

With the bump just 6.23, everyone had a chance to get into the field, at least momentarily.

Gary Scelzi was the early bump spot sitter, but improved in the second session. Flyin' Phil Foto
Gary Scelzi was the early bump spot sitter, but improved in the second session. Flyin' Phil Foto

Passey, shut off after his burnout in the afternoon, was first out. When he switched the handles to the "high side" of the fuel system, the engine soured and got worse when he stepped into the pedal. Before 300 feet, the engine behind him was a fireball and the Safety Safari rolled.

After the major cleanup, both Kalitta and Karamesines spun their tires but with different results. A match racer at heart, the ageless Greek pedaled his way out of the smoke to record a 5.004/304! Miss Troxel moved back to a more familiar spot whit a fine 4.766/302 in the Western Rock machine.

Meanwhile, Clapshaw rode out a 5.084/243 that he'd rather forget. He squirmed in his own oil then had the engine light up big time before halftrack. The blaze consumed most of the lubricant so that the Safety Safari's job was not too extensive. In post run checking for the worst, the crew discovered the entire problem came from a spark plug hole – the plug spit out, followed by a geyser of oil and fuel.

Widdison's 5.327/252 showed improvement, though not as much as opponent Grubnic's 4.785/307. Smith was the next to flambé a powerplant, a single made after Hallock had to pull the plug after a very high RPM burnout, sending valve heads and porcelain into the night sky.

Rhonda Hartman-Smith's 4.750/276 came next, a run that could have been much better considering the split times. Her Fram Filters machine was running over 263mph at halftrack. The BME-backed machine improved slightly for Zeal in the other lane, but it too was silent before the stripe.

Weis/Strasburg, Russell/Herbert and Schumacher/Cowin were all pairings that failed to materialize. But Cory Mac grabbed a 4.608/320 after Oyama's team found pre-start troubles, and Dixon blasted to a whopping 4.575/325 while Bernstein spun his tires.

Ashley Force made her competition debut this weekend. Flyin' Phil Foto
Ashley Force made her competition debut under dad's watchful eye. Flyin' Phil Foto

The evening went far longer than had been planned but for the most part a large crowd stayed to the end.

More soon…

Phil Elliott


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