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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Bill’s Virginia Nationals Notes 2000

By Bill Pratt

I had a great time hanging out at Virginia Motorsports Park today during final qualifying at the Nationals. My brother Tim, my son Jason, and I went down to check on the progress of "our" funny car, Bruce Mullins’ "War Horse" Mustang. I call Bruce’s car "ours" because we have sponsored Bruce with our new racetel.com website. With so many deserving teams out there needing help (all of which we love and admire), I had always resisted getting involved with any one team. Pattie Mullins, however, displayed a tenacity and determination shown by all great women throughout history and got my name on a dotted line for 2000! 

So we were going down to see how "our" car would do. Besides, it had been ten years since I stopped my annual pilgrimage to Indy. With the advent of the Virginia Nationals some years ago, the traveling NHRA circus came to my BACK YARD every year. It was inconceivable that I had not attended, but one thing or another always got in the way. This year, there would be no excuse!

Tim, Jason, and I arrived at about 12:30 p.m., and immediately set out to find Bruce and Pattie Mullins. We wanted to see how they were doing, and we wanted to lighten our load. We were returning several framed photos of Bruce’s various race cars. We had used the photos in creating the Bruce Mullins Racing Website (www.brucemullins.com). We came in the back gate and headed right, which took us on a complete tour of the entire pits without finding the alcohol cars. (Later we found that had we taken a left instead, we would have found them in five minutes). Anyway, we were on the "tour of the pits," so we made the most of it. 

We found ourselves in the pro cars pits, so we set off to say hello to some of our online friends. We stopped by Don Prudhomme’s pit to say hello to Draglist friend Ron Capps. He was nowhere to be found (although we did spot him at a distance later). We went by the Exide Batteries Top Fuel pit to say hello to Standard 1320 pal Don Schumacher. He was nowhere to be seen, although we did catch a glimpse of Tony as he sprinted past. We stopped by Gary Densham’s pit (and saw that he had launched a blower through the top of his number one body). We were looking for long time email pal (and Draglist advertiser) Al Liebman, but the Densham crew guys said Al wasn’t there. 

We went by Scotty Cannon’s pit to say howdy to the new NHRA star after I knowing him for years in Pro Mod. But Scotty wasn’t around. (Are you seeing a pattern here?) Finally, Success! We went by the Hartman Racing Enterprises Top Fuel pit to talk to Virgil Hartman, with whom we’ve emailed for years (most recently about his Southern Fuel Coupes circuit). Virgil was there! We had a nice chat for a few minutes. 

We then caught a few minutes of the Federal Mogul dragster qualifying. We STOOD in front of the grandstands because there was NO general admission seating. I heard many, MANY gripes about this. I have to tell ya, we dropped $84 getting two adults and a kid in to see some qualifying. For that kind of outlay, I don’t expect reserved seats, but I do expect SOME seats. Following that, we headed back to the pits where we finally found our alcohol burning friends.

Bruce, Pattie, and the gang were readying the War Horse. They were qualified 10th at 6.27 and elected not to make the final qualifying pass, since there were only 13 cars on hand. First thing they told me was that some guy had come by about four times looking for me. I suspected it was photographer Ron Dilley -- a suspicion Ron later confirmed via email. See Ron’s neat Draglist Story of the Day on Thursday’s opening at VMP. We never did find Ron at the races. Tim, Jason, and I fell into a comfortable groove in the Mullins camp. Jason, Alan Mullins, and Steven Beecher played as eight and nine year old boys will do. Tim and I hung out at Bruce and Pattie’s and with the other alky teams.

One thing we found out was that NHRA has restricted the cubes in FMFC to 528 cubic inches, immediately making Bunny Burkett’s venerable 540 inch Walt Austin combo obsolete. In the frame rails of the pink, purple, and black Bunny & the Boys Avenger sat a brand spanking new 526 inch Bob Newberry bullet. Although it retained the "IHRA" flavor of a Roots-style blower, the motor had the best of everything and Bunny & The Boys were very excited about having new iron for the first time in over ten years. 

I was left wondering just what the NHRA had in their minds this time. It’s not like alcohol funny cars and dragsters are beating down the doors to get into NHRA events. At Richmond, there were 13 cars in each category -– a total of 26 machines. The IHRA had 40 alky funny cars alone at their last national event. Now NHRA has made all the 540 inch machines obsolete with the stroke of a pen. And what about those few teams who use the 557 inch Arias combo? They are out, too, apparently...

Bruce Mullins didn’t have those worries, however, as the War Horse already sported a 526 inch Keith Black aluminum Hemi. And after fuel system woes that plagued the team in late 1999 and early 2000, Bruce, Pattie, and the team blasted through to some incredible performances and their first national event round win! In doing so, Bruce reset his all time best speed – 228.69 mph – and ran just shy of his all time best elapsed time at 6.131 seconds. 

Bruce had lined up against Fran Monaghan, Jr., in round one. Monaghan had been on a tear, the Petro Chem car adjusting quite well to the NHRA combo with some amazing low 5.60 numbers late in 1999 and some impressive performances in 2000. Bruce was uptight before the race, wondering how poorly he would show against Monaghan’s screw blown monster. He would need a holeshot; that was for sure. Then he would have to hope the 5.60 car stumbled.

Missions accomplished. First off, Bruce laid a .462 to .562 holeshot on the Pennsylvania racer. Monaghan made up half of that in 60 feet, however; the Compulink ET slip showed he had gone .946 to Bruce’s .968 60 foot time. Monaghan pulled ahead at the 330 foot timers, his 2.496 to 2.624 second advantage more than making up Bruce’s tenth of a second holeshot. Fran retained a two tenths advantage at half track, too, 3.790 to 3.978 seconds, but he was already in trouble. Monaghan had slowed to 176.81 mph -– uncharacteristically slow for a 3.79 second eighth mile elapsed time. Bruce, by comparison, ran 181.18 mph and was charging. By 1000 feet, Bruce had pulled back ahead, 5.146 to 5.161. He then took the win at 6.131, 228.69 as Monaghan faded to a 6.59 at only 145 mph.

After the run, Bruce immediately got on the phone to Leroy Dewdney, who was providing tuning help from afar. Leroy told Bruce to put some more weight on the clutch for Sunday’s second round. Fuel system and blown motor guru Bill Barrett stopped by to offer congratulations and to check the plugs. Bill said, "It’s rich – lean it out and you’ll get 6.0s tomorrow." Bruce related that he took the R’s up higher than he ever had before on that run. Bill said, "Good. Ya can’t get ‘em too high [on a blown alcohol motor]." 

Bruce also related that the shifter light is broken, so he shifted by the seat of his pants. He shifted when it felt right. Bruce said, "If you run one of these cars for that many years, you ought to know when to shift it!" The combination of this gritty team’s determination and the expert advice it receives might put Bruce, Pattie, and the gang into the 6.0s on Sunday and maybe past another opponent. The numbers might come, but advancement is less certain even than it seemed in round one. Sunday’s opponent is Jay Payne, whose 5.67 at 249 mph showed he is getting this funny car thing in hand after years in alcohol dragsters.

The War Horse crew got the car ready and then enjoyed a feast of boneless barbecue, hamburgers, hot dogs, cold fried chicken, cole slaw, macaroni salad, chips, soda, and beer. I felt somewhat guilty partaking in this feast when I didn’t do any of the hard work. However, those guilt pangs passed in about three milliseconds with Pattie’s insistence, and "the big dogs ate." 

The crew – sharing both the feast and the work – were as follows: Bruce, Pattie, and Alan Mullins, Scott Ankrom and Robert Ostrander (both recently of Rudy McAdams Chevy team), Mike Yohn, Kim (dad) and Steven (kid) Beecher, and finally, Bill, Tim, and Jason Pratt. I would like to say it was the neat racetel.com lettering on the side of the War Horse that provided the good luck for today’s big win, but I can’t really take the credit. Especially when you consider that Dave Keddy’s first voyage with a draglist.com decal on its flanks today resulted in a huge wheelstand and a loss!

Bunny Burkett, another anticipated Roots-supercharged sacrifice to a screw blown NHRA killer, hoped for some of that Bruce Mullins War Horse luck in her first round match against Paul Gill's 5.60 car. Bunny received luck neither in a win nor in parts attrition. The second run on the new, high dollar Bob Newberry motor did result in a dramatic performance improvement at 6.06, 230 mph (over yesterday’s clutch hurting 6.28), but with the performance improvement came disastrous breakage. Rods went out the side of the brand new block. 

Dollar estimates of the weekend’s damage range from a conservative figure of $30,000 to over $75,000. With a booked-in Mopar Event at Rockingham next weekend, Bunny & the Boys will drop in the old 540 incher. The team will hold off on NHRA participation until blown motor guru Dennis Whitestone recovers from a recent quadruple bypass operation and gets a chance to sneak up on the new combination.

Other alky stars were on hand as well. I got to greet Australian great Steve Harker on U.S. soil after meeting him on Aussie soil last June. Harker was low qualifier at 5.66 seconds and got a first round bye run. Did he take it easy? Nope – a super consistent 5.67 at 252 mph solidified Steve’s status as one of the odds-on favorites for final eliminations Sunday. Manzo then upped the ante with an amazing 5.57 at 251 mph (shutting off a bit?) I would have expected 255 with that ET. 

All the other matches went pretty much as planned, screw blowers taking out the Roots blowers, and big names taking out the little guys. One of the little guy teams who didn’t advance was that of Junior Fuel and Pro Comp veterans Dave Keddy and Rich Tartaglia. Their www.easyinteriors.com Olds Cutlass launched into a huge wheelstand in its first round match. Rich explained that the car usually carries the wheels about a foot, but this was WAY up there! Dave and Rich had applied www.draglist.com decals to the spoiler of the car just before its first round match. I SWEAR it wasn’t the added weight of the Draglist decals that caused the wheelstand!

Well, that’s my story. Tim, Jason, and I hit the highway back to D.C. shortly after 9:30 p.m. I needed to file this story, and I needed to catch up on a TON of Drag Racing List duties on Sunday. We all will have to get our Virginia Nationals info from the stark lists of results at summitracing.com or at nhra.com – as I always do. But it sure was fun being there in the flesh for once!

Bill Pratt


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