2002 Las Vegas: Saturday Morning
By Phil R. Elliott
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 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
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
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.
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 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
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
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
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
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 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.
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