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Bill's Prez Cup Notes, Day Two

by Bill Pratt

When last we spoke... Bunny Burkett had just blackened the crank on her number one engine in a failed attempt to make the IHRA President's Cup field. The plan then was to put in the old WAR 540 incher that had seen her through so many match race victories. A team meeting moments later changed that decision however. The WAR motor had not been fired this season and it would require additional modification to accommodate the dry sump oil system that Bunny and the Boys now use. The decision: run home to get a new block, run out to get their crank that was in being magnafluxed, and come back to MIR to put it all together. 

After a full day of work on Friday, Mo Burkett made the round trip from Budds Creek to Spotsylvania, Virginia, and then to Alexandria, Virginia, to get the crank. He left at midnight and returned at 7:00 a.m. The team worked like mad on little or no sleep to move the guts from the wounded engine into the new block. Despite their best efforts, the Boys missed Saturday's first qualifying session by ten minutes! Bunny came back out in the second session with a conservative tune-up and got into the show with a 6.10 at 234 mph. What a great job by a gutsy team and driver. Often, the fans don't know what the racers do to put on a show for them...

Talked to Mike Comella's team to get the scoop on where that 5.85 at 240 came from Friday night. They said that the number was there all year; the air finally came around to them! Mike Comella is funny car veteran Joe Comella's second cousin. The number was astounding for a rookie driver in his third race.

We got more details on Tommy Gray's Undertaker sporting a blown motor. It's a new Alan Johnson Chevy with all the good stuff. The team is just taking it easy. The former nitrous racers are on a learning curve and they don't want to hurt the new stuff. A 6.58 in the third qualifying session was the first chance the team had to obtain some tuning information. Mike Smigielski, of Carl Ruth '56 Crown Victoria tuning fame, is calling the tuning shots on the now-blown machine. 

The Undertaker pits at times looked like a Maryland supercharged racers brain trust with Tommy Howes and Sam Leland stopping by to chat and offer advice. Regular crew member Todd Connick, himself a blown dragster racer, had been after Tommy to go with the blown deal for three years and finally he did. Tommy and the Gang got a warm reminder of the nature of the class when some fellow Pro Mod competitors "expressed some concern" that the height of the carbon fiber injector was too tall. The IHRA staff measured it, however, and found it to be easily a half-inch within the rules...

Bruce and Pattie Mullins left the War Horse Pro Funny Car in the trailer all day, but it was hard on the ego to see their 5.86 slip from the number two spot to the number seven spot overnight. Just when they began thinking about taking it out of the trailer for a shot at the 5.70s, they wisely remembered their upcoming trips to Maple Grove and Bristol. They are looking to lock up a top five position in NHRA Division 1 this year. Doing so will save approximately $3000 in entry fees to 2002 races, so the desire to stay in the top five is not just a matter of pride.

Last year's event winner Billy Gibson didn't make the show with the Ken Sheetz machine. Billy hurt a transmission in the final qualifying session, then watched Bunny Burkett bump his 6.15 out of the show with her aforementioned 6.10. Later, it was discovered that the 16th qualified car of Ed Parker and Paul Lee was hurt and would not be able to make the first round. Billy said they still would not race the car. It has been sold to a new owner, and they need to concentrate on putting together a safe combination for the new owner instead of flogging it to go rounds at a national event.

I told you yesterday that I smelled national records. Although we don't have any official national records yet, three racers are ripe to get them if they can back up some jaw dropping performances from Saturday. In the first session, Fred Hahn rotated the earth with a fantastic 6.124 at 230.49 mph that brought the house down. It was a full five hundredths quicker than his previous "best in history" 6.170 run at Indy. Jim Oddy had the car loaded for bear in the final session, but Fred had a bit too much for the track and had to coast through. If he can run 6.185 or better on Sunday, he'll have the record.

Newly crowned World Champion Gene Wilson, who has been Mr. Everything in IHRA Pro Stock this year, also blew everybody's minds with an amazing 6.532 at 213.27 mph in Saturday's first session. He also failed to back up the run in the evening session, so Gene will be looking to run 6.597 or better on Sunday to get the new world record. Seems eminently doable for the Don Smith Ford team. The GM teams were looking good, too, as Tim Nabors laid down a superb 6.579 in Saturday night session to get right into the thick of things. Doug Kirk also impressed; his first session 6.599 led Pro Stock qualifying throughout Friday and currently stands third.

Mike Janis came out in the final session Saturday leading the 2001 Pro Mod world championship points but qualified second after Fred Hahn's histrionics of the earlier qualifying session. The year 2001 has been Mike Janis's year, however, and he wrapped up both problems on one pass. Janis took the Heintz and Weber '63 Corvette to the quickest pass in the history of Pro Modified, 6.112 at 230.53 mph. The full qualifying pass also vaulted him into the 2001 IHRA Pro Modified World Championship. Janis needs to go 6.173 to back up the 6.11 for a national record. 

The racers undoubtedly enjoyed the biggest improvement at Maryland International Raceway in years - a completely new set of high powered lights at the top end of the race track. The lights made the shutdown area nearly as bright as day, and were a welcome alternative to the overwhelming darkness that used to envelop racers at MIR's top end. Royce Miller took the occasion to announce even more changes for 2002. Number one: TOP FUEL! Yes, the premier drag racing category will finally come to the Washington, D.C., area in 2002. And in order to accommodate the bigger crowds the kings of the sport will bring in, Royce announced that a massive track improvement program will take place over the winter. Plans are already in the works for a major, state of the art, Motorplex-type tower with guest suites.

I'll be back for eliminations tomorrow, as another crisp fall day awaits the fans and racers in Southern Maryland. And I'll be looking for more big numbers from MIR - in many ways, the world's quickest drag strip.

Bill Pratt
bilden@draglist.com

 

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