Phoenix Day Two: Get Ready, Get Set
By Phil R. Elliott
My morning started early again, with a quick stop at
McMex (they don't speak much English here) for semi-congealed chicken
embryos on a bun, and through the gate at PIR by 7:20am.
I spoke to NHRA starter Rick Stewart about the track
surface and we discussed the several-hour session of scraping and
sweeping "under the lights" last night. I suggested that the
teams had been trying way too hard and that there was nothing wrong with
the track anyway. He nodded and was in complete agreement, then said
with a hopeful tone, "We'll see today."
Not too much later, I walked through the Pro pits and
talked to everyone I could about their race strategy, and without typing
in a very long list of names of crew chiefs and drivers, to a man, the
generic quote would be, "As soon as we get a handle on these tires
For 2002, Goodyear released a new fuel drive tire, the
D1430. To refresh your memory, the tire was designed and constructed to
rid drag racing of the high-speed blowouts that were becoming all-too
prevalent. Indeed, though several teams have still experienced minor
"chunking," the new tire has been tested beyond 375mph without
failure. This is good news for the guys sitting in the seats of these
land-based missiles that are totally reliant on their rear tires for
traction and safety. Keep in mind that we're talking about the
unbelievable task of putting nearly 7,000hp to the ground.
But, in typical good news-bad news fashion, the D1430
is different enough that it has a thrown a nearly unhittable curveball
at everyone. These teams have had to pretty well throw out their old
notebooks and start fresh.
One major difference is that the tread is wider than
the previous D1230 tire, while the rim has remained the same. What this
causes is a more crown in the tire. Remember the term "up on the
tire?" As the car moves from static to speed, centrifugal force
slings the tire taller and narrower, and this new tire/rim combo has
exacerbated this the tire moves to its taller, narrower shape
Add in that the D1430 has a different compound, and it
is of a new construction on both sidewall and tread than anything tried
before, and you can start to see why folk are somewhat troubled.
Not too many years ago, Goodyear and NASCAR switched
the Winston Cup from bias ply to radial tires. Teams scrambled for two
years to find the combination. I'd guess the switch still confuses an
old crew chief that wishes he could still make minor changes the way he
This switch in nitro tires was made for one reason
to make drag racing safer. These Professional teams will find the proper
combination. And, Goodyear will continue to evolve the tire to make
things better for everyone.
When the Pro Stocks headed down the black strip in the
Valley of the Sun for their third attempt, ambient temperature was about
84 degrees, less than the local meteorologists had predicted.
Bob Glidden was the first to try the surface and he
experienced hard shake again, this time before the 60-foot timers. It
would be eight or so pairs before Troy Coughlin would bump Tom Martino,
his 6.932 good for 15th. This started wholesale changes that
saw virtually everyone in the bottom half improve while those previously
in the top half slowed down. Greg Anderson ended with the 6.933 bump,
while up top, Ron "the Krusher" Krisher squeezed another
hundredth out of his combo, hitting 6.866/201.43 for yet another track
ET record. Bruce Allen picked up a like amount (6.877/200) for 2nd.
Still outside biting their nails were many superb
automobiles with capable drivers and hard working teams all with
just one chance remaining.
Top Fuel came next and the first pair proved exciting.
John Smith pulled the Fram machine into stage and waited
not-so-patiently for Arley Langlo, making his first attempt of the race.
What didn't wait was the CompuLink AutoStart, which sent John on
basically a single, while the TitanXpress sat blubbering. The extra time
may have caused a problem because Smith experienced tire smoke before
200 feet. Langlo finally staged and left on somewhere between 3 and
5 cylinders. There was an immediate and very animated
"discussion" between Virgil Hartman and Rick Stewart, but
there was nothing either could do at that moment.
Yuichi Oyama came next and his 4.718/309 drew a major
crowd response and gained him a few spots. His opponent was supposed to
have been Wyatt Radke, but for the second time in a row, the sponsorless
yellow and red machine had problems after the burnout.
Paul Romine Car Quest hit a necessary 4.800/296 to
make the field. Doug Herbert smoked his Goodyears next while Rob Passey
leveled the top of the MSP Motorsports entry. Parts whizzed right past
my head and ended up hurting a spectator about threes rows up. A few
minutes were spent in track cleanup and taking care of the slightly
A few broken blower belts, lots of tire smoke, and
some respectable runs without ladder improvement led to the final
pairing of the session, Larry Dixon and Kenny Bernstein. They put on a
great race that Miller won over Budweiser, 4.577/321 to 4.639/319.
Utah's Garth Widdison, driving Mike, Jeff, Lindsay
and Aaron Strasburg's Parts Plus Auto Parts machine, sat on the 4.955
bump spot. The Strasburg family now owns B&J Transmission.
For the FC teams, most felt that calming things down
to get in the field was a better idea than blowing the tires off yet
again. Dale Creasy Jr. started things off with a 4.999/276 in the
Craftsman Firebird, a wall-hugging run that made his dad and Jimbo
Ermalovich smile. In his tracks was Ron Capps, who took some of the
worry lines out of Ed McCulloch and Don Prudhomme's foreheads with a
very soft 4.980/302. In the other lane was Stephen Neese, who grabbed
his first "five", at 5.950/258.
The next car in the left lane was Bob Gilbertson's
Fram-backed Firebird, and Paul and Mike Smith gave him a fine 4.903/311
ride. It was "Burnin' Bob's" first 1320-footer of the
season and one that ended in the sand off the end of track. Dean Skuza
struggled to get the Dodge Stratus down the other lane but made it in
with a 5.079/292. Al Hoffman's 5.071/252 gained him a spot, and so did
Terry Haddock's 5.251/271. Whit Bazemore smoked tires and pistons on a
5.011/293 that looked double ugly.
Next came the Toyota, which Gary Scelzi rode to a
4.979/309 into the top half, and the last four pairs all ran strong
"fours." There was Cruz Pedregon (4.967), Johnny Gray
(4.952/312), Scotty Cannon (4.930/309), and Phil Burkart (4.868).
Wait, yesterday Burkart was second at 5.167 and a
career best 312.50 mph speed, and now he's run an incredible 4.868, at
a seemingly off-pace 292mph?! I spent about half an hour with crewchief
Donnie Couch this morning and he said everyone was pretty happy with the
way things were going. I guess so! Congrats to all concerned, including
overseer Bill Schultz. This team is coming.
Gary Densham took some of Burkart's thunder with a
4.849/318.69, a new track speed record, in a pairing with Tommy Johnson
(4.971). And Densham's boss, Mr. Force, finished things with a
4.838/316 over Tony Pedregon.
With all the shuffling, the new Mopar of Skuza sat on
the bubble with it's 5.079.
After some great Sportsman action and a thorough
scraping and sweeping of the racing surface, the Pros were back, and the
whole place seemed to be asking questions.
Would Bob Glidden finally jump up and make the PS
field? Which of the other 17 PS non-qualifiers would earn spots? How
about Doug Herbert? Would his usually potent Snap-On machine tool itself
into the program. And maybe the most asked question, would race sponsor
Checker-Shucks-Kragen's favorite son, Del Worsham, who happened to be
featured on the race poster seen everywhere, be a part of the show?
The first question can be answered simply. No. Once
again, the Schmidt Pontiac shook, but this time Bob drove through it and
tried to manhandle it a bit. When the tailwiggles began at about 200
feet, Glidden gave up the attempt.
Had this been a Chicago-style match-race, the barrage
of 6.94s and 6.95s would have kept even partisan PS fans happy. But this
was an NHRA national event after all, and with a 6.933 bubble, there
were some unhappy folk following the last-ditch effort.
Jeg Coughlin was first to make a move; a 6.925 finally
placed him in 15th, at least for the moment. In the next
pair, Greg Anderson's 6.922 moved him to 15th and Jeg to
the bump, and that's the way things stayed, with minor shuffling among
the inner sanctum. Improving in the heat were Alderman (6.909) and Yates
(6.879), and WJ stayed consistent (6.890), while the rest of the hitters
stayed relatively close to their Q numbers. This field is pretty
amazing, and I actually look for the winner to come from outside the
normal group. No hints though.
In Top Fuel, John Smith powered to a 1000-foot
4.85/230 victim of another blower belt. Behind him, Zeal improved
(4.790/299) and Herbert finally made the field in 15th
(4.804/302), bumping Widdison. The Utah driver was next, and he shook
loose and shut-off. Russell, in the left lane, zinged a motor at
1000-feet, but luckily the flames went out before doing much damage.
While expensive, his 4.735/302 moved him to 11th. A few
minutes later, just-bumped Weis failed to get back in. He was running
against Romine, who burned both head gaskets on an entertaining
4.900/273 pass. Millican improved (4.695/312) a few minutes later, as
did both Rhonda Hartman (4.683/269) and David Grubnic (4.644/314.90).
Andrew Cowin's 4.705/318 drew a decent crowd response but failed to
improve his spot, but Tony "Shoe" did gain two spots with an
impressive 4.588/326 performance.
That brought up the final pair, Messrs. Bernstein and
Dixon, and the pre-match hype that it deserved. Though the crowd wanted
more, the big red Budweiser King lifted it's blower at the 60-foot
timers, while the Miller Lite and D-backs machine pounded out a
According to my notes, the Dick LaHaie tune-up was
quickest in three of the four Q sessions, 4.555, 4.577 and 4.565, all at
320 or 321mph. I'm gonna go way out on a limb here and go with Larry
Dixon Jr. to win here. Duh.
Louis Sweet and Jerry Toliver started the final FC
session with a bang, literally. Both boomed burst panels before 1000
feet, and both coasted to DNQs even though their numbers 5.278 and
5.136, respectively were bests of the weekend for both teams. Bode
and Haddock tried next, and though Bode looked to be on a decent pass,
his 5.148/292 was deceptive due to Haddock's even softer set-up. By
the way, the Negley Electronics car was helped here by Sun Energy, Inc.,
a Phoenix residential cooling and heating installer.
Neese smoked instantly while opponent Bazemore got to
about 500 feet before disappearing into a self-created fog bank, and he'd
have to be happy with his earlier 5.011, 14th at the moment.
Next came Del Worsham, with a smoky 5.864/245 best to
his credit. He singled to a 4.929/314.53, and dad Chuck walked away
shaking his head with relief. The C-S-K machine will start its namesake
Del bumped Skuza's 5.079, and his Mopar came next. A
calmed-down 5.095/292 was disappointing, and the Stratus was pushed into
its trailer. In the other lane, the Lucas Oil Special, John Lawson up,
smoked his tires at halftrack.
With the field set, Hoffman and Capps came next, and
Skoal green thundered to an improving 4.908/312, while the K&N
Filters earned a respectable 4.972/304 to get off a 5.071 bubble.
The pairing did several things. The announcing staff
talked heavily about the fact that the ladder changes got the two C-S-K
drivers away from each other in the first round. They failed initially
to notice that should things stay as they were, #1Q Force would face
#16Q Bazemore. That is exactly how things remain.
Next up, Scelzi put the Toyota into 5th
with its best run to date, a 4.886/312.35 that finally gave Allen
Johnson something to smile about.
Gray, in the other C-S-K car, hit 4.999 against a tire
smoking Gilbertson, and then it was down to three pairs.
TJ and Scotty came first, and they stunned the
sun-baked crowd with a 4.867/302 to 4.848/317 (respectively) race, that
saw the Oakley Firebird get the win light and both improve.
Teammates Tony P and Densham were next, and AAA beat
Castrol Syntex, 4.833/321.19 to 4.946/289. Pedregon knocked down the
1000-foot cone, and the ex-school teacher gave Jimmy Prock another track
The final pairing was exciting, but for all the wrong
reasons. Burkart matched wheels with Force to half track where the
Castrol Mustang smoked its tires for the first time all weekend and the Geronimo
Nitro Fish boomed a blower.
The first round between Force and Bazemore Austin
Coil vs. Lee Beard, Ford vs. GM will be worth the price of
admission. I'll be there (I'm actually going on raceday!), and I
have no overall pick to win this thing. After Friday, virtually anything
can and probably will happen.
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