On the Road to Bakersfield and
By Phil R. Elliott
I haven't written a column since the post Phoenix
coverage so I'll try to make it up to you while winging my way east
(onboard a U.S. Air 757) toward the Gatornationals.
During Pomona, I suggested that Minnesotan Mike Nahan
would reap Best Engineered awards. I was wrong. His E/D won at the
Nationals. This is one of those must-see cars. From a distance, unknowing
folk might get the idea this is some old front-engine dragster refit with
a cast-off inline six (insert laugh here). This piece is whittled out of
the best stuff Dave Tuttle could find, and Nahan's powerplant is
certainly a six a Ford to be exact with an Allen Johnson head,
backed by a clutchless five speed. It looks good and goes fast as well.
I recently got word that several cars will sport a
Muppet motif sometime this season. The collectible crowd will have Kermit,
Fozzie, and a number of the loveable Jim Henson characters to choose from.
No word on just who might wear Oscar (the grouch) or Miss Piggy livery.
I planned to go to Bakersfield this past weekend. I even
packed everything and departed the house for the mere 2-1/2 hour drive to
the Famoso front gate. But, halfway up the Grapevine, my tired '89
Mustang began to ping hard, hiccup, and lose power. At first I thought
"water in the gas" and even pulled off to top the thing with a
much higher octane than the crap I've been buying. That helped some but
as I climbed higher, the overtaxed 4-cylinder continued to nose over in
protest. I quickly surveyed my options, one of which was to go on and hope
for the best. That one seemed pretty obscure, especially since my return
was planned for late the same night. Having a total breakdown in mountains
at night seemed wrong. So, I turned back and went to a shop. I suspected
fuel filter and they replaced that said it was plugged solid, and may
have been the original) and the air filter. It seemed to run better but I
couldn't duplicate the Grapevine load so I don't know fersure. Anyway, by
the time all that was done, it was nearly 1pm and with a 2-1/2 hour ride
ahead (again) I chose to return to the house and take a nap.
The race sounds as if it was amazing, from Jim Murphy's
stunning 5.81/255 bests ever for front engine dragsters, nostalgic or
original, to Gerry Steiner's 5.88/248 (career bests) and runner-up, to
Gary Reinero's win in AA/S, to Wayne Ramay's Jr. Fuel win, it was a
good one. And, for the first time since Goodguys' inception, potential
competitors AND spectators were turned away at the gate.
My next few days will be pretty hectic. I'm meeting
Gordie Bonin (I know his nickname is "240 Gordie" but I like to
call him "340 Gordie" he's been over 340kph in European
competition, so why not?!) in Charlotte, and we'll spend the next few
days reliving old times and making some new ones. First, it'll be the
Don Garlits Drag Racing Hall of Fame Banquet, where his old crew chief and
our friend, the late Jerry Verheul, will be inducted.
Then it'll be on to the Gatornationals, where the
entry lists sounds like a chapter from Jungle Book The Greek, Cha-Cha,
and the Swamp Rat. I look forward to renewing old friendships.
Just before I left, I heard that Melanie Troxel would
get a chance to jump into TF again. As early as Las Vegas, she'll be in
the car Wyatt Radke has been punching.
I know that very soon, John Force and his band of merry
men will be celebrating his 100th win no question. He
already has his 99th (Pomona) this year and a r/u (Phoenix) to
his credit so the brain trust of Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly doesn't
show any sign of fatigue. What I've just written is hardly a gamble on
And, though he's faltered in both initial 2002
offerings on the POWERade NHRA tour, Witt Bazemore is sure to jump up
soon. Lee Beard will certainly see to that!
These two teams receive the lions share of the
headlines, and justifiably so. And teammates of Force and Bazemore receive
a whopping helping, too.
On the outside of this ink-grabbing mêlée is a SoCal
team that is on the edge of stardom. Amazingly, though they have been in
the finals at the three most recent national events, winning two, Del
Worsham and the Chuck Worsham/Rob Flynn wrenched,
Checkers-Schucks-Kragen-backed team, are still considered an underdog.
Other than at Phoenix, where their powerful combo had
difficulty negotiating a less than adequate coefficient of friction
equation (who didn't?) and they needed a last ditch "Hail
Mary" to just make the field, they have matched wheels every time.
If any members of the press are listening, this team is
good, damned good. They were 4/5 in final rounds during 2001, including
the final event. Now they are 1/2 in 2002, after two events. PLEASE put
Del Worsham further up your handicapper sheets.
Not too bad so far. I'm in the Norm Froscher Press
Center at Gainesville.
I experienced no searches at LAX -- my flight was pretty
late though. Since I had the time, I decided to get my shoes shined. And
who should leap into the vacant seat next to mine? Jimmy Walker
("JJ" from the old TV sitcom.) He's doing stand-up, mostly on
the college circuit these days.
After that, I found a little something to eat and went
back to my gate. No plane. The plaque said it was gonna be at least 30
minutes late. OK, no big deal. I had a 45-minute layover in Charlotte but
that was decreasing. I wandered around and found an electrical outlet and
typed for a while. The plane finally came and when boarding was underway I
wandered back over there. In line behind me, on her cell, was a tall,
slender, pretty cute young lady, who went around me and walked through the
folk. I followed. I thought she looked familiar and then spotted her ID --
Katie Holmes. Obviously heading for location shots for Dawson's Creek near
Interesting point -- they take all sharp items away
before we board. My veg meal was a shish kabob -- a bunch of veggies on a
sharp wooden skewer on a bed of rice. Did you hear that? A sharp wooden
skewer. OK. Big deal.
They had a little trouble in Charlotte finding someone
to operate our jetway. Finally, we were allowed off but the jetway opening
didn't match the door and everyone had to be really careful.
I ran with everyone else until I saw that the next plane
was late, too. Problem over. I got to the gate and saw Mr. Bonin there,
chatting with some young lovely who used to work for NHRA. We got on the
plane and Gordie asked a gentleman to change seats so we could sit
together. On that leg of the trip, we chatted about a zillion things. When
we walked of the 737 in Jacksonville, we walked right into Pat Foster,
Steve Gibbs, and several other racers. Gordie's friend Bob, who used to be
head of maintenance for the Blue Angels, picked us up, whisked us to a
Waffle House, then to his home for a little sleep.
By the way, Gordie and I haven't seen our new
"host de jour" yet so we had to put our bags in Gainesville
manager Don Robertson's office. To do that, we had to schlep everything
through the spectator gate. Guess what? Two of Florida's finest searched
everything! Welcome Phil and Gordie!
I promise there'll be some race news in my next
Flyin' Phil Elliott
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