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On the Road to Bakersfield and Gainesville

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. Congrats guys.

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 my part.

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. 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.

Getting here.

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 Charlotte.

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 update.

Flyin' Phil Elliott


Thanks for checking out the PhilZone portion of Draglist.com. If you have accolades, complaints, comments, questions, or if you want to share a story, please feel free to post it on the PhilZone Message Board. Phil

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