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PhilZone

Schedule May Be Subject to Change

By Phil R. Elliott

It hadn't rained in SoCal since a 45-minute drizzle in June; that is until the NHRA POWERade NHRA tour returned to Pomona for the 38th World Finals. Two major storm fronts one from the southwest and the other from the northwest both converged on the California coastline within a twelve hour period, giving local commuters fits and NHRA officials some extremely difficult decisions.

Actually, Thursday gave false hope. Except for a brief mist that delayed things right in the middle of Top Fuel session one, all scheduled happenings, well, happened.

Pro Stock was first, and Warren and Kurt Johnson were best, 6.797/203 and 6.806/203, respectively. Due to the cold, heavy air, many other cars performed above and beyond the call of duty. The bump was already J.R. Carr's 6.880.

Three drivers gained super 4.5-second elapsed times -- Darrell Russell, Larry Dixon (324.98!) and Doug Kalitta, another five recorded 4.6s -- Cory McClenathan, Rhonda Hartman-Smith, Kenny Bernstein, Doug Herbert and Jim Head.

In 9th was newbie Mike Strasburg in the Strasburg family B&J Transmission Special with a career best 4.705/303, a tremendous run for a team so young.

In Funny Car, the cold track eluded many of the early attempts, before Bruce Sarver (4.859/308) and Dean Skuza (4.833/302) made it look fairly easy. Ron Capps (4.873/313) showed well too, at least until the final pairing staged up.

With the only championship points race still awaiting a conclusion between teammates John Force and Tony Pedregon, separated by a mere 31 points, it was only fitting they were held until last.

At the hit of their throttles, both Castrol Mustangs moved as one, and both drivers held their breaths. But quickly, Tony's mount bucked, he dug his spurs in a couple times but finally gave in and had a 285mph ringside seat to view his boss run a stunning 4.762/324.05.

I wasn't there for any of it. But as I drove through heavy rain the following morning, amidst some of the worst traffic problems in Los Angeles history, I hoped the weather would ease. There is nothing like cool weather and a great track to add drama to a points battle. And Fairplex could have dished out just such drama -- at least all the components were in place.

With cool weather at Pomona, even the daytime sessions would be capable of record setting performances and their backups. It seemed a possible scenario for all kinds of points adding and position movement.

The extra ingredient of all that H2O however, was just what all those "what-ifs?" did not need. In fact, "what-ifs?" were replaced by a great many "what-will-they-dos?" as rain continued to fall all through Friday and Saturday.

The Budweiser Top Fuel Shootout was first to fall -- put off all the way until February and the Winternationals. After all, it is a non-points event that had no bearing on the 2002 outcome. My question is this. Since top qualifier Kenny Bernstein will be fully retired, will he put together a car for that one event, will his son Brandon be allowed to race in his stead or will an alternate -- Rhonda Hartman-Smith's #9 -- get in?

Points? When you schedule the big NHRA POWERade championship banquet for the night after the final race of the season, chances are that the gamble one day might not pay off.

And, when the roulette wheel happens to be the Kodak Theater, the same place Hollywood holds its hallowed Oscars, things must be planned far in advance, and gambling takes on huge ramifications.

So, 5-6 inches of rain in a 48-hour period and a racetrack that could have been renamed Parker River was not about to dampen the spirits of planners and racers and fans of professional NHRA dragracing.

I stayed with my sister Shari and her husband Tim in Diamond Bar, less than five miles from the track. It was still raining there at midnight Saturday. In fact, we were still watching water levels in a pair of buckets under unfortunate leaks in a nearly flat roof over their family room. And though LA meteorologists were saying the worst was behind us, I was skeptical of a drag race happening.

My fear was certainly shared by a great many of those assembled for NHRA's final 2002 event. Officials still discussed and planned, and released an ambitious Sunday schedule. They also released the final professional qualifying list, which included a little known rule, one never utilized before.

It seems that a nearly secret edict declared that should a set of circumstances befall an event, similar to those that presented themselves at the 2002 AAA World Finals, those currently in the Top 10 in POWERade points would be "seeded" into the race. Honestly, I have never heard of the rule and the way others commented, few if any others had either.

"There were a lot of factors for us to consider," said Graham Light, NHRA Senior Vice President-Racing Operations, in a prepared press release. "There are a lot of Sportsman and Professional teams here who only have one round of qualifying in the books. But at the same time the finality of the last race of the season came into play so we've decided to set the fields based on the one session we have while also applying the rules we have set in place for the Top 10 drivers who haven't qualified yet.

"The rulebook's qualifying procedures clearly states that if only one qualifying session is run then all of the current drivers in the top 10 will be assured a spot in the fields. Therefore, Andrew Cowing will be inserted into the Top Fuel ladder, unfortunately displacing the lowest qualified driver who is not in the top 10, which is Clay Millican. In Funny Car, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Scotty Cannon will be inserted in place of Bob Gilbertson and Steve Neese. George Marnell, Mark Whisnant, and Allen Johnson will knock Greg Stanfield, V. Gaines, and JR Carr out of the field in Pro Stock. And in Pro Stock Bike, Steve Johnson will replace Redell Harris."

I've always explained to NASCAR fans, familiar with provisional starts available for all kinds of ex-winners, champions, owners, et als, that "we" never do such things. Every race is different, and nobody gets special treatment. If the world or defending champ fails to qualify, so be it. If a many-time champion, after 300 successful qualifiers, fails to make a field, oh well.

That is all behind us now, ladies and gentlemen.

As I wandered through the pits sunny Sunday morning, amidst the madding crowd of race-starved SoCal-ites, there were two concerns on the lips of drivers and crewchiefs.

The first was the controversy over the way the ladders were arranged. Those in or on the benefiting end of things were OK with the situation. Those not, weren't.

The other thing was the track itself. All were of the opinion that if the ambient temperature stayed in the 70-degree area, all would be fine. If it went too far above, water would be brought back to the surface through natural "weepers."

The racers weren't the only ones concerned Sunday morning. The Safety Safari was having fits trying to pump, suck and blow the famous concrete and asphalt strip back to some semblance of a racetrack. They requested some extra time, so officials quickly huddled and changed the schedule around yet again. They returned to full pre-race festivities, forcing POWERade media folk into high gear to set up the driver introduction stage. They made it.

Top Fuel

At 11am, with the thermometer reading 66-degrees, Jim Head's blower banging 5.186/240 defeated a tire-smoldering Mike Strasburg. The race we skeptics didn't believe would happen was happening.

A few pairs later, Kenny Bernstein watched in horror as his retirement began three rounds earlier than planned. His Budweiser King spun its tires into suds before half-track, and Yuichi Oyama picked up considerably to a 4.676/318 victory.

On his last ride up the Pomona return road, the multitude gave the King of Speed a much-deserved standing ovation. His record will stand and his scepter will now be passed on to his son.

Of course, the 2002 TF world championship battle had already been sewn up by Larry Dixon. But there were other battles. For example, coming in to Pomona, Tony Schumacher led Doug Kalitta for third place by 23 points, while Cory McClenathan was just two points ahead of Darrell Russell fifth.

Cory lucked into a first round win while Darrell lost to erase doubt on that battle, but the other two added drama to their little war by meeting in the opening stanza. Schumacher was just 14th after qualifying and quickly went into tire smoke while Kalitta sped to a 4.629/322 exclamation point.

To close the first round, Scott Weis won a huge upset when Larry Dixon went into violent tire smoke in the first fifty feet of track. It was not a fit end to such a tremendous record setting season, and crew chief Dick LaHaie was fairly certain a mechanical malady had stopped the Miller Lite team.

In round two, with the temperature just below 70 degrees, Cory Mac returned to earlier form and his Berryman mount earned a close one over Rhonda, 4.636/317 to 4.712/313. Next up, Weis holeshot Doug Herbert and improved to a 4.718/319, only to be nipped by Snap-on power in the lights. Herbert went on with a better-than-qualifying 4.648/317. In an almost instant replay, Jim Head moved first but lost by .003 to Andrew Cowin, 4.633/322 to 4.727/301. Each of the three matches had a low "sixty" winner and a low "seventy" loser, showing that the teams were pretty trusting of the track.

The final match of the quarter-finals had Kalitta against Oyama, and there could not have been twelve people in the place that had their hopes with the Tokyo resident. Considering Doug's recent performance string, he couldn't lose. Of course, his Mac Tools mount went into instant tire smoke and Oyama struggled but won nonetheless, his fireballing 4.910/285 far ahead. Kalitta missed moving up one spot by three points 3 points!

This set up a Hollywood-style semi-final match, with Dougzilla certainly about to conquer Tokyo. But, once again, the Hot Rod Harry's machine powered away from the starting line as its opponent played "sit-n-spin."

The other semi match was a far better race. McClenathan jumped out to a big lead (RTs .487 to .524) over young Cowin, then held on as his Baca-Henkelman powerplant melted behind him. It made power just long enough for a .01 victory, 4.670/309 to 4.643/316!

Yuichi Oyama became the second Japanese national to reach an NHRA final round, and though he once again did not have lane choice, he did rely on Robert Reehl to produce enough horsepower to get him A to B. All of that did happen. For the 4th round of the day he did not have lane choice but his 4.739/305 was not his best performance but did seem up to the task.

In the other lane, Cory McClenathan was a little quicker launching, and his 4.756/302 was just enough to give him the victory, his first at the World Finals, and though his 27th national win, his first since his hiatus.

Funny Car

The stories were many, but truly, if everyone had gone home after John Force ran his 4.762/324 qualifier, the outcome would not have changed.

There were still points arguments to shake out, including the top spot between Force and Tony Pedregon, far from a foregone conclusion at that point in the weekend. Force camp #3, Gary Densham, wanted third but was scarcely behind Del Worsham, CSK team driver Johnny Gray led Bruce Sarver by even less, and Team CSK/Worsham had rolled out its #3 car -- Cory Lee was ready to help in any way he could. Skoal #1, Ron Capps, was ahead of Schumacher #2, Scotty Cannon by just a few markers as well. Most of the points stories would end right up front.

In the third pairing, after Lee trounced Terry Haddock, and Tommy Johnson Jr. whipped a tire smoldering Dean Skuza, Force moved to round two over a gallantly scrapping Cannon -- his .453RT and 4.862/315 performance looking extremely stout.

Worsham lost his match to Ron Capps and was forced to await the outcome of the very next pairing to how where he'd finish in POWERade points. And, for just the reasons these teams are put together, Johnny Gray outpedaled Densham to hand #3 to Del.

Just like his boss, Tony P looked ready to take on whatever was thrown in his pass. His .446RT and 4.917/314 winner only looked slower (than Force) on paper he'd gone in deep against Bruce Sarver. The world title question moved on.

Tim Wilkerson's 4.949/307 took out Frank Pedregon, while Cruz Pedregon put an end to Whit Bazemore's up and down season with a 4.988/302.

With all but the real prize determined, round two settled to a fairly normal set of circumstances. First up, Gray jumped earliest but was surpassed in a close race by Wilkerson, 4.943/310 to 4.982/311. TJ Jr. drove to slightly slower 4.948/314 to defeat a slowing Cruz. Cory was no match for Force, 4.944/303 to 5.179/270, and Tony P won when Capps shook unmercifully, his 4.974/287 flaming testimony to the engine carnage he experienced.

The semis started strange, with Johnson anxiously double pumping the throttle. His miraculous "save" gained him a .467RT and a 4.983/312 win over Wilkerson's close 4.921/308!

Then, it was down to it.

When rules committees create points-gaining schemes, they hope that scenarios such as the FC race of 2002 will come to pass. They dream of two drivers going right to the wire after 22 events. They smile under their hats as the combatants beat each other's brains out. This year it was two teammates, a boss and his underling, two teams under the same sponsorship umbrella, the boss with a bazillion wins and eleven championship belts, the employee with a bunch less wins and no belts at all.

Since the days of Larry Minor and Gary Beck, there have been skeptics who suggest that teammates don't "race" when the chips are down. In my humble opinion, I believe Team Force has put those skeptics in their place, once and for all. I believe that John Force is the most major of cheerleaders and fans of his own teams, his closest opponents during 2002. I believe that behind closed doors, he prods, nay whips, his teams to do their absolute best against every opponent, including himself, then pays them well and even gives them bonuses when they do.

In his own words, he describes the situation as having hired his own assassins.

It is no wonder that emotions quieted the usually boisterous Mr. Force when he rolled out of his Castrol Mustang after beating Tony Pedregon in the semi-finals of the 38th annual Automobile Club of Southern California World Finals.

He gave the race every strength he had, going in deep and beating the often better Tony P off the line (RTs .447 to .471), then romping to a 4.954/315 win over a quicker and closing 4.935/310. In fact, this single quarter-mile race had more lead changes than most entire Formula One races. For those not counting, Force now has an even dozen championships (11 in a row).

But the World Finals wasn't over, and John Force needed to go again. He tried to keep the interviewers at bay, telling them all that he needed time to "get up" for the final. Under all that pressure, John's final reaction was his worst of the day, it was still far superior to Tommy Johnson's (RTs .463 to .510) and though the Skoal car remained smokeless, its 4.906/313 was not enough to surpass a 4.867/317.

Pro Stock

With the world championship was already in Jeg Coughlin's bag, and rain sending a few folk home that probably would have made the final field, it was down to a race. Like the other Professional eliminators, there were certainly a few top ten folk that had the desire to move up a few spots.

When round one began, the temp was 71 degrees, the humidity was 48% and the PS crew chiefs were smiling. Other than George Marnell's off pace 6.916/199, every other driver was in the 6.8s a low of Kurt Johnson's 6.817 to a high of Darrell Alderman's 6.897. There were a couple holeshot victories -- including Gene Wilson's great .431RT -- that tightened those races accordingly.

Jeg started round two with a fine .431RT and a 6.882/200. It was only second best to Wilson's .409RT and 6.873/201. Mike Edwards fouled against Greg Anderson's 6.822/203, Kurt Johnson took out Tom Lee, 6.825/202 to 6.846/202 and Warren Johnson drove around arch rival Jim Yates with a 6.827/203.

For the semis, the temperature was up slightly, but few took notice.

Wilson salvaged a fairly wild season by grabbing another mystical light (RTs .404 to .454) and a win over WJ, 6.873/201 to 6.881/200. His win was slightly tainted when it was discovered that Johnson's Pontiac had slipped out of high gear forcing WJ to hammer it back home.

KJ had it easier because Anderson had a valvetrain failure on his burnout. More accurately stated, a misadjusted exhaust rocker fell off and let the pushrod hop out. Johnson blasted on to a lonely 6.842/202.

Neither finalist had reached the podium during 2002. Kurt really needed the win to maintain his annual streak of at least one per. Gene, who started the year as a Mercury driver that held the 2001 IHRA championship, really needed the win to give his last appearance for David Nickens' Dodge a high note.

Both teams had had difficult seasons throughout.

Nickens went through several drivers and sporadic performances before hitting a reasonable stride. Even Wilson's teammate, Darrell Alderman, has had a horrible (for him) season.

The usual Johnson juggernaut was off its feed throughout the season too, and though there were a few bright moments, they didn't really see real numbers until very late. The team did end up with the Pomona track record, WJ's 6.797.

When the clutches flew in the final, KJ showed some of the brilliance which once was his trademark (RTs .425 to .467) while Wilson eased back on his concentration. He admitted later that he was somewhat distracted, but that it didn't matter anyway Johnson pulled away to a stout 6.801/202 to 6.843/201 victory.

Both Warren and Kurt pledged to work for two months on nothing but horsepower, and that they have allowed others to more than catch up. Following a season that saw a total of thirteen different national event winners and seven drivers earn more than 1,000 points, they have their work cut out for them.

Pro Stock Bike

With just a single blast and a rulebook to set the ladder, and the POWERade points picture totally out of the scene, it appeared the two-wheeled contingent would calmly and routinely end their season. It appeared that way especially because the usual suspects, Shawn Gann, Angelle Savoie, Matt Hines and Craig Treble were up top and all with high teen performances.

Of course, few predicted that three-times-WC-in-a-row Angelle Savoie would double clutch and lose in round one. No one predicted her fellow distaffer, Karen Stoffer would hit a great 7.26 Thursday only to finish the run in the sand with a badly bent Suzuki, and a bruised knee and elbow. And no one predicted that rookie Andrew Hines would pop a perfect .400RT on big brother Matt in round two. The veteran rode by for the victory, but not without needing a 7.167 to do it.

Meanwhile, Gann was running a 7.149/192 and a 7.158/190 for best numbers of the group, only to have a carb fall off his Kawasaki in the semi, handing the win to Geno Scali.

Hines' 7.186/189 semi victory came over surprising Michael Phillips, and it was a consistent 7.185/191 that gave him victory number thirty, and he earned number 3 in the points standings behind Savoie and Treble.

Top Alcohol Dragster

When 18-year-old Morgan Lucas stepped into the seat of Jerry Darien's hallowed ride back in July, a ride that has taught so many over the years, it was a virtual promise that within a few months, Forrest and Charlotte Lucas (owners of Lucas Oil) would have a "Wally" sitting on their mantel. No one was surprised that that win came at Sonoma, just a few weeks later. And, nobody was surprised when the youngster won again at Pomona, a track that has actually favored the powerful injected nitro machines. The combo led qualifying with a 5.315/261, ahead of Tony Bartone's similar A/FD entry in the ET department but not in speed (5.384/270). The pair of cars astounded on virtually every run.

The only seeming falter for Lucas was in round one where the car slowed to a 5.378/254 but easily defeated northwest hitter Mark Hentges who found himself badly crossed up and across the centerline. After that, Darien wrenched the car to 5.320/267, 5.287/266 and a final 5.239/269 (new NHRA record) for the outstanding victory.

Bartone, a 25-time national event winner, was never under 270mph in his five Pomona runs. After his qualifier, Tony hit 5.393/270, 5.367/270, 5.317/273 and a final 5.410/272.

The final saw Tony get a slight advantage only to have it all go away in the first 100 feet, and Morgan Lucas handed his folks another trophy.

Top Alcohol Funny Car

In the Funny Car heavy west, it was strange that only 14 cars made the tow.

Bucky Austin grabbed the qualifying headlines (5.621/254) and truly looked unbeatable as he has at many races during 2002. A 5.681/255 and a 5.646/256 bye in the first two rounds seemed to secure that thought.

Second qualifier Tate Branch nearly duplicated his Thursday number with a 5.673/252 in the first round, but his grasp slipped with a 5.74/249 in a round two victory. Then, the blower blew in the semis and he was gone.

Meanwhile, Lou and Steve Gasparrelli were fine tuning the Prisms Unlimited Firebird. After a 5.702/251 round one win over Jason Rupert's 5.791/245, the car improved to 5.696/247 over Mert Littlefield and a 5.672/254 when Branch broke.

Expectations of those long sufferers that had waited out the nearly 9pm Sunday alcohol finals were a holeshot by Steve and a driveby win for Bucky. It was almost exactly that.

Sure enough, Gasparrelli moved first (RTs .462 to .491) then he sat in his fast moving machine sure that at any second a black nose with the words Centennial Battery and Bucky's Muffler would surge ahead. But, once again, the Firebird had improved and its 5.648/255 held off Austin's 5.639/258.42 (new Pomona speed record) charge. Gasparrelli had won the race and the right to wear the numeral 2 for 2003.

Sportsman

Unlike the alcohol classes, the remainder of the SoCal AAAuto Club NHRA Finals were run on Monday, under bright blue skies. Unfortunately, all the drama that can be dragracing played to empty grandstands.

After qualifying numbers one in two in Competition Eliminator, it was fitting that Jeff Taylor and Wayne Ramay met in the final. But the story goes way beyond just that.

For those that keep up, the fact that the Lumberton, SC engine builder was competing in his C/SMA Cavalier for the last time is nothing new. Jeff had a new Pro Stock Neon on the grounds tipping his hand to future plans. The many-time, several different eliminator winner will move up in 2003.

Even the early season faux pas where the engine he and then partner Arnie Martel developed was deemed illegal has been heavily covered in the media. Partially covered up was the amount of money invested and subsequently lost in that project. And, swept under the carpet is the amount of potential revenue Taylor lost from that, and previous Pro Stock Truck engine sales.

In fact, the Cavalier actually sported a controversial and powerful 358ci splayed-valve PSTruck engine under its hood at Pomona. Taylor was certain he had CIC power should he need it.

And though he hasn't been running the full circuit in 2002, Jeff Taylor managed to jump right in and help decide the WC outcome by whipping Don Stratton's B/SR in round two. Reigning champ Stratton's loss handed the POWERade title to South Carolinian Mike Saye, whose G/A Cutlass had already gone down in round one. The bad part about the win was that Taylor was forced to run .65 under, dropping the C/SMA index for round three from 9.11 to 8.96. It was obvious that Jeff Taylor had ventured west to win the race.

The power was present again in the third because Taylor legged out an 8.391 (-.56) to hold off Brian Browell's D/D.

Meanwhile, Wayne Ramay, whose A/ND has been the most successful since the Goodguy's class for front-engine dragsters with alcohol-injected small blocks was adopted by NHRA, did not touch his 7.79 CIC until the third round. A late leave against Scott Tidwell required him to stay in the throttle to get around the D/AA Grand Am and a 7.194 (-.596) rang up.

In the semis, Gary Carter left the line .001 early against the onslaught of Taylor, so the Arizona A/ND was out, and Jeff lifted. Ramay had a much tougher time with Mike DePalma, starting behind (RTs .525 to .539) then reeling in the Mopar-powered C/A Lumina, 7.095 (7.70) to 7.509 (8.07).

In the battle of CICs, Taylor was ahead of Ramay, .21 to .19(!) and nobody was quite sure who had more, leastwise the two competitors. Following the .494 foul by the Simi Valley dragster driver, and the subsequent early shut-off by Taylor, no one will ever know.

Super Stock

While I was with IHRA, I experienced many wins by Virginia's Anthony Bertozzi, even before I learned to pronounce his last name. There were even double wins. Just about the time I left, he'd added a Super Stock car and an 8.90 dragster for his gorgeous wife Malinda.

Anthony was one of those guys that wasn't shy about telling me he could do no mechanical work on his fleet and was just a driver. He worked days in the family cabinet business then toured to all the IHRA events with one of those giant trucks and trailers that have now become mandatory for multi-class Professional Sportsman. His racing adviser and close friend was (is) Peter Biondo. He was deadly impressive in his ability to hop from car to car, class-to-class, handicap to heads-up, and win-win-win.

I smiled as I followed his progress during 2002, running multiple classes and quietly stay close to the top of the NHRA Super Stock points on his way to his first World title since sticking closer to a fulltime sanction crossover. The POWERade championship was wrapped up without a win, hardly Anthony's style. He did have a Super Comp win (Dallas) but prepped to fly west to the championship banquet without a SS Wally.

Then he got a call from John Coughlin. John offered his own SS/CM Cavalier to Bertozzi, a car already entered, just because John thought the world champ should race in the world finals.

It was no surprise to me that Mr. Bertozzi could visit a totally unfamiliar track, slide into an alien racecar, in his one and only attempt qualify 5th, hang around in horrendous weather for several days then go on to win the event.

In the final, he faced another superb example of a talented multi-class winner, second-generation racer Kyle Seipel. Kyle has a family heritage for dragracing that includes parents Ted and Georgia who combined have won enough local and national trophies to choke most living rooms in America. I've been in their home and the history, going back to the early 60s, pretty well sums up Sportsman racing in Northern California.

While Bertozzi qualified more than a second under his SS/CM index and nearly a tenth under the class record, Seipel's SS/AM 89 Camaro started its journey from 41st. Strangely, Bertozzi's C-ride actually quicker than Seipel's A-entry. In fact, all of raceday found the Camaro dialed slower than the Cavalier.

Anthony had a couple scares, the worst a double foul in the semi-final against fellow south easterner, Ronnie Courtney. Seipel was the recipient of yet a third foul start, recorded by twice Stock WC Kevin Helms.

.551) and with similar dials (8.90 and 8.94), Anthony simply drove alongside and took the light, 8.918/152 to 8.939/147.

Stock

New Yorker Dan Fletcher is most assuredly a legend. His string of SS victories (two WCs) has gained him sponsorships and a reputation to envy. After such a record, it was not too surprising that he would have another 69 Camaro, previously his street driver, into a Stock Eliminator machine. Summit went along with the project to build a full-on 375hp 396 B/SA to give Fletcher the advantage of being among the quickest and fastest in Stock.

But, although he continued to win with the SS version, the new car did not seem to wish to respond. In his own simple words, he "sucked" at the divisional level. As the season progressed, the B/SA entry improved as Dan discovered just what it wanted, and during the final six weeks of 2002, he won an unprecedented 27 of 28 rounds, earning him three national event titles and a runner-up!

Now included in that list is the finals where he drove well enough to win, on whichever end of the track was necessary. Neither he nor his mount was a dominating factor, just good enough each round, and better when it counted.

Take the final for example.

Opponent Jim Penta, like Fletcher, a long way from his Rhode Island home, was somewhat slower than usual in reacting (RTs .523 to .561) then was tentative at the stripe. His 10.976 (10.95) was not enough to hold off an eased up 10.726 (10.68).

It was a weekend made for Mr. Fletcher.

Super Comp

The biggest smiles around the track on Monday were on the face of Ashley Force's dad. In case you didn't know, he's won a few rounds in his career, and he was a proud father watching young Ashley reach round four.

The second biggest smile was on the face of SC winner Kyle Rizzolli, son of Jim. The 19-year-old Californian had been denied a win in his only previous national event final due to an untimely water leak. This time, with everything sealed properly, and a nearly perfect .402RT, he grabbed the gold.

His final round came over Ohioan, David Connolly, who in the previous three rounds took out the aforementioned Miss Force, Phoenix winner Ed Olpin Jr., and Idaho's Dick VanderMeer (who had the best race package). Rizzolli's wins came over Kain Gallagher, Geoff Hughes and Jim Hughes (Jim was crowned WC).

The final reaction (RTs .402 to .413) was quite necessary, because Mr. Connolly ran a right-on 8.908, but Rizzolli's 8.917 was good enough for a true win of .002.

Super Gas

The old television line that "there are a thousand stories in the naked city" could easily have been describing SG at the finals. Everyone suffered from the loss of time trials and baseline-setting qualifying runs, some more than others. Everyone sat in the cold damp rain on standby should the race ever get underway.

Two men agonized slightly more than the rest, Todd Stewart and Tom Stalba. Stewart was contemplatively preparing his 2000 Corvette roadster, while Stalba stared at the completely unknown 66 Chevelle owned by Mark Parente. The New Jersey racer had done well all season including one national and two divisional event wins, but a cross-country trek was just not in his budget. When Parente offered the use his musclecar, a decent racecar but not one that had won many rounds, Stalba took the offer and the challenge.

On Monday, Stalba reached round five. Stewart made it to the final and won the WC by 20 points.

Another major story was that of Kenny Yeoman, driving an ex-Gecker King Kong. Already a proven winner, Yeoman and his dad, Kenny Sr., stacked extra power into the Daytona, in the form of a Ray Barton-built 528 wedge.

At Pomona, an oiling problem showed up that galled push rods and forced a minor change in engine tuning more lash. That seemed to Band-Aid the problem early so Kenny continued on through six rounds.

In the final, after literally hot lapping to beat the Pomona City curfew, the Mopar with its minor problem was red hot. Yeoman stated later that had he been asked to run immediately, he would have refused, given up the Wally, and headed back for Las Vegas with a damaged albeit not destroyed powerplant. Instead, Todd Stewart waved his right to run the final and waited a few minutes.

That bit of sportsmanship should be a story to all on from what a true champion is made. Stewart could have said, "I wanna run now" and been fully justified. Instead, he waited to race and lost the gamble.

Like virtually every other of his races all day, Kenny Yeoman recorded a decent light (RTs .437 to .433) then held his foot on the floor and let his car and electronic gear do their thing. His consistent mid-150mph speeds were a major part of his win, and the final was no different, 9.908/154 to 9.896/144.

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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