2001 Matco Tool Spring SuperNationals News And Notes
By Billy Anderson
**The most disappointed Top Fuel driver in round one had to be Bobby Lagana, Jr. After qualifying the low-budget Twilight Zone entry on one lap, a 5.505, 241.76 to open qualifying, the 1999 IHRA North American Nationals runner-up was running Snap-On Tools driver and former IHRA champion Doug Herbert. Just like last year's Keystone Nationals, Lagana felt he let his first NHRA round win get away from him due to breakage. He suffered a fuel shaft failure as he left the starting line, and he could only watch as Herbert smoked the tires to a 6.101, 269.03. All Lagana would have had to do was repeat his qualifying performance. For the Twilight Zone team, their day of upsets will have to wait yet again.
**John Smith again qualified the second Fram team car on one pass, just like his dad Paul Smith used to do in Top Fuel and Funny Car. Smith recorded a solid 4.956, 273.83, and like Lagana, put the car back in the trailer. In the only true upset of round one, he was able to advance further than wife Rhonda Hartman-Smith by defeating rookie Darrell Russell in a pedaling match, 7.06 to 7.96. Smith's day ended in round two at the hands of Tony Schumacher, 4.68 to 6.06.
**Kenny Bernstein had Low E.T. in three of four qualifying sessions in varying weather conditions. The Budweiser King ran a 4.561, 4.583 and 4.569 in the first, second and fourth sessions respectively. The Saturday afternoon third session was not very spectacular. Bernstein smoked the tires in the first sunny conditions of the weekend. Low E.T. of the session went to Mike Dunn at 4.682. The next two quickest times were Schumacher (5.004) and Bobby Baldwin (5.005), both coasting in the 230-mph range.
**Luigi Novelli suffered a fairly big blaze in Friday night qualifying. The fire started at half-track and continued burning into the shut down area, where a tire went down. Novelli wrestled it to a stop, then returned for final qualifying to run a 4.907 and qualify, but lost in round one to Dunn. One pair behind Novelli Friday night, Rit Pustari suffered engine damage, leading to two consecutive cleanups. The remaining cars started at 9:30 pm, but all was finished before the strict 10:00 pm curfew.
**The Funny Car class proved its competitiveness by garnering the Motel 6 Who Got the Light? Award. In quarterfinal action, Frank Pedregon used a reaction time advantage (.468-.510) to defeat Bruce Sarver, 4.880 to 4.838. Normally considered a dead-heat contest, NHRA's timing system now provides margin of victory down to the ten-thousandths digit. This time, it read .0005 seconds.
**Whit Bazemore had Old Bridge Township Raceway Park rocking Friday night when it appeared the Matco Tools Firebird laid down the quickest time on 90% nitro, 4.787, 309.56. Unfortunately, NHRA looked at the incrementals and decided the run was not properly timed. Thankfully for the Lee Beard-led Matco team, they had run a 4.929 in the first session, as Bazemore ran a 7.019 and 12.764 in Saturday's two sessions. He then eked out a backpedaling win over Dean Skuza in round one before losing in round two when the engine expired, 4.95, 299.13 to Frank Pedregon's 4.868, 313.88.
**New Jersey fans did not have to leave disappointed after Bazemore's run was thrown out, when Del Worsham thundered down the Raceway Park quarter-mile to the tune of 4.779 seconds at 321.88 mph. The Checker Schuck's Kragen team not only ran the quickest pass on 90% nitro, but also matched the quickest time from the unlimited nitro days. Unfortunately for the 1991 E-Town winner, he lost to John Force in the second round when he smoked the tires.
**The semi-finals was the strangest since 1992 when Del Worsham and Chuck Etchells defeated John Force and Cruz Pedregon on two consecutive holeshots. In 2001, Force opened the semi-finals by defeating Frank Pedregon in a coasting match. The 3A Racing Firebird blew up at 800 feet, while Force's Ford was silenced. Force coasted to a 5.24 to 5.30 victory, numbers that matched his 1992 pairing with Worsham. While the announcers didn't think that would hold for lane choice, they were baffled after the next pair. Gary Densham, still looking for his first national event win, fouled away his chances, as Tony Pedregon smoked the tires. Very interesting indeed.
**Low E.T. of each qualifying session were as follows: First session, Friday: Tony Pedregon, 4.825 Second session, Friday: Tony Pedregon, 4.801 Third session, Saturday: Del Worsham, 4.881 Fourth session, Saturday John Force, 4.824
**"Tricky Rickie" Smith has a new trick up his bag. In round one of Pro Stock, he was paired up with Jim Yates. Much has been made of the controversial auto-start system, particularly since Darrell Alderman was counted out at the Atlanta event in the best conditions to qualify. In round one E-Town, Smith tried to use it to his advantage. After Yates lit the pre-stage bulb, Smith rolled in and put both lights on. The auto start system is supposed to start tracking time at that point, with an approximate seven seconds for the other driver to stage. Chief starter Rick Stewart must have been ready for the override, because it appeared that Yates moved in when he was ready, not an abnormally long time, but certainly enough time to get his senses back after his opponent rolled in and staged immediately. All the tricks didn't matter when Yates got out of shape and Smith marched into round two.
**1997 winner Darrell Alderman suffered traction problems in round one. After making the semi-finals in 2000 and 1998, the Mopar Parts entry shook the tires against another overdue driver, Bruce Allen.
**Low E.T. for each qualifying session were as follows: First session, Friday: Warren Johnson, 6.839 Second session, Friday: Mark Pawuk, 6.832 Third session, Saturday: Ron Krisher, 6.882 Fourth session, Saturday Warren Johnson, 6.873
**Warren Johnson made two monster runs in qualifying, and two decent runs. The best run in relation to the conditions was his first session pass of 6.839, 201.88 as his closest competitor was Mike Edwards at 6.876. In better conditions that evening, the Professor was only able to "muster" a 6.856. He then survived round one of the Holley Dominator Pro Stock Challenge with a 6.981 after Richie Stevens fouled. A subsequent 6.976 in the semi-finals lost out to Yates, but W.J. returned for the last session to claim Low E.T. and the biggest cheers at 6.873, 201.19. Johnson's day came to an end in the semi-finals, as Stevens avenged his previous loss, 6.85 to 6.86.
PRO STOCK BIKE
**Bar none, the best racing of the weekend for drag racing purists came in Pro Stock Bike. The performances on Sunday were head and shoulders above any other Pro Stock Bike show from any previous event. Qualifying conditions prevented all but two drivers to enter the 7.1's (Antron Brown and Angelle Savoie), but did provide the quickest field ever (7.362 by Chris Bostick). Round one gave an indication of what to expect when Brown and G.T. Tonglet, Jr. laid down 7.149's respectively. Regular hitters Savoie and Matt Hines missed the tune-up as they were "mired" in the 7.2's. That all changed in the quarterfinals. Savoie led the hit parade with a 7.174 dusting of Stephanie Reaves in the Winston bike. Geno Scali, with Greg Cope horsepower, recorded a career best 7.177, only to watch Hines streak past with a 7.115 in what was then the quickest bike race ever. Tonglet "slowed" to a 7.173, before Brown dropped the bomb. Despite fouling, the Atlanta champ laid a 7.103, 184.72 pass on the scoreboards, the quickest pass ever in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle and new national E.T. record. While Reggie Showers gratefully advanced with a 7.276, it was a disappointment to not get to see the Brown-Hines showdown, and also eliminated Brown's chances to become the first Pro Stock Bike rider in the 7.0's. In the semi-finals, Savoie fouled away a 7.177 to Tonglet's 7.149. Hines stumbled to a 7.162, but ran the fastest speed ever at 193.71 to defeat Showers' improved 7.226. The final was the quickest side-by-side NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle affair, 7.119 to 7.138. Hines won on a foul, and reset the national record to 194.10 mph. Tonglet also ran a big speed, 191.59 mph. Due to warmer temperatures, it might not be until September when the national record is up for grabs. It certainly gave Pro Stock Bike fans a thrill for the weekend.
**G.T. Tonglet, Jr. quickly became the new teen star on the NHRA circuit at Englishtown. At a racetrack that has been very good to teenage drivers (i.e. Jeb Allen, Cristen Powell), Tonglet almost scored his first NHRA victory. He came up one round short, but was near the top of the pack all weekend, including qualifying.
**Low E.T. for each qualifying session were as follows: First session, Friday: Geno Scali, 7.230 Second session, Friday: Antron Brown, 7.173 Third session, Saturday: Matt Hines, 7.226 Fourth session, Saturday Antron Brown, 7.273
**Billy Gibson acquitted himself nicely in the Cindrich Racing ex-Jeannie Booz entry. Gibson, an IHRA Funny Car winner last year and like Johnny Gray, a multi-category driver, qualified second with a 5.587, then proceeded to the semi-finals before dropping a close match to eventual winner Cliff Bozzelli, 5.50 to 5.60.
**Former event winner Mike Kosky had a forgettable weekend in New Jersey. He was only able to bring his dragster to stage once during qualifying, in the very last session, and then could not complete the run. He was finally able to get the car off the starting line in round one, but a shaky 6.83 could not handle Billy Gibson's 5.626.
**Rich McPhillips almost joined Don Garlits in the blowover E-Town history books. In round one of qualifying, the A/FD driver headed for the sky, then the guardwall, then smoked the tires before bringing the dragster back to earth. McPhillips coasted to an 11.65 before improving to a 5.714 to qualify sixth. The former Alcohol Funny Car crew chief lost in round one to John Headley.
FEDERAL-MOGUL FUNNY CAR
**IHRA five-second hitter Fred Tigges missed a chance at his first NHRA national event win. After round one, he was paired off with Scott Woodington, whose best time to that point was a 6.630. Craig English was also on that side of the ladder, and he had yet to get down the track quicker than 11.262 seconds. When English did not appear for round two, it turned the Woodington-Tigges affair into a battle for final round status. Unfortunately for Tigges, he, like Frank Manzo in front of him, shook the tires and lost. To Woodington's credit, he did manage a coasting 5.986, 211.99, quicker than Tigges had run all weekend. Woodington, of course, went on to record the runner-up to Eric Lourie.
**The competition debut of Paul Gill's new Moduline Dodge was auspicious at best. After winning back-to-back match races at New England Dragway and Lebanon Valley Dragway two weeks earlier, Gill appeared ready to rumble. In the first session, he shut down to an 8.905 at 91.93 mph. In the second session, he got down the track but rolled the beams and did not receive an E.T. For the final session, Gill ran a 5.823, 246.35 to qualify third. Unfortunately for Gill, in round one, the car did not stay in the beams, and he fouled, handing the round win to Woodington.
**Steve Harker suffered a fairly substantial fire in final round of Federal-Mogul Funny Car qualifying at the end of a 6.72 lap, when he banged the blower at half-track. That was at 12:15 pm. By 4:00 pm, Harker was ready to race Craig English, and appeared to win, 6.18-11.26, but was disqualified when the car came up light on the scales. Unlike Dick Bell, who used a 1991 reinstatement to win the event, English couldn't take advantage after not showing up for round two.
**Competition Eliminator almost matched Pro Stock Bike for performance category of the event. The indexes that were affected are two numerous to list in this column. The bump spot was Pam Miskovsky's -.334, with the split for lane choice being Doug Harris' -.565. All drivers escaped round one without a CIC violation, the "quickest" run being Steve Johns at -.508 (7.402) pass. Ironically, in sunny conditions Saturday, the slowest winning pass was Johns' -.523, as all drivers received a CIC penalty. When all was said and done, Arnie Martel was standing in the winner's circle, defeating Frank Aragona, Jr.
As always, the NHRA Matco Tools Spring Super Nationals provided more excitement than just in the winner's circle. The storied history of the event continued in 2001.