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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

NHRA Keystone Nationals News and Notes

by Billy Anderson

Since motorsports.com has already reported on the NHRA Keystone Nationals, this article will attempt to fill you in on the many stories at the event. Maple Grove Raceway was the place for a very eventful edition of the Keystone Nationals. Stories on many levels developed during the course of the weekend.


TWO DEAD HEATS IN THE NITRO RANKS: At the 2000 edition of the Keystone Nationals, two nitro pairings were decided by less than .001 seconds. It is a race termed a "dead heat" in drag racing, when the calculated differences between reaction time and elapsed time net to zero. However, since the racer and spectator are only privy to information to the thousandth of a second, the finish line lights are able to detect a winner by less than that margin. To give you an example of the rarity of this feat in the nitro categories, from 1993 to 1999, the closest nitro race at the Mopar Parts Nationals in Englishtown, NJ was a 1998 round one affair between Cory McClenathan and Pat Dakin in Top Fuel. McClenathan edged Dakin that day by .004 seconds. At the 2000 NHRA Keystone Nationals, in the quarterfinals of Top Fuel, Bob Vandergriff, Jr. edged Tony Schumacher off the line, .480 to .506. He then maintained that lead with a 4.683, 302.28 to 4.657, 309.98 dead-heat victory. As if that wasn't enough, the semi-final Funny Car pairing between Ron Capps and Tony Pedregon produced the same effect. This race was also won on a holeshot as Capps edged Pedregon, 5.025-5.015.

COWIN'S CONSISTENCY: Based on qualifying, Australian hot shoe Andrew Cowin looked like the driver to beat. After a 4.610, 317.87 lap on Friday, Cowin returned Saturday for consistent runs of 4.630, 317.19 and 4.621, 311.13 in the K&N dragster. Neither lap produced the top end tire spin common at Maple Grove. The latter run was second quickest of the session, behind only Gary Scelzi's 4.589. The young team however, could not apparently adapt to Sunday's tricky conditions. A round one 4.788, 303.98 defeated a red-lighting Doug Kalitta. Joe Amato proved to be a bit tougher, as the hometown favorite's 4.729, 293.98 in the Dynomax dragster edged Cowin's 4.743, 288.70, ending his hopes for a first-time national event title.

LAGANA ALMOST UPSETS: Vicky Fanning and Jim Cavalieri know the deal: take advantage of Winston Champions' misfortunes when you can. For Bobby Lagana, Jr. and the very independent Twilight Zone team, they almost made it to the quarterfinals using this rule. In round one, Lagana was paired with defending Winston champion Tony Schumacher and the U.S. Army car. When Schumacher went into tire-smoke just past the tree, it appeared that the capacity Maple Grove crowd were going to get to witness one of the biggest upsets of the year. Unfortunately, Lagana's blower belt broke, allowing Schumacher to pedal to victory at 6.473, 188.78. Despite coasting across the finish line at 8.793, 90.37, the Lagana team still got a big cheer as they went down to pick up their young driver.

ROUND ONE MARATHON: Despite the addition of the oildown penalty rule to reduce downtime at national events, round one at the Keystone Nationals was for the hard-core only. With no less than five interruptions during round one, it took an hour to complete each round of Top Fuel and Funny Car. It was probably the longest round of nitro racing all season. While the show has been made shorter to bring in a more casual observer, this type of action will certainly weed those out from the purists.

FORCE GONE AFTER ONE ROUND (AGAIN): As in 1999, when he fell to Cory Lee in round one, John Force was defeated in round one in 2000, this time by Tommy Johnson, Jr. in Helen Hofmann's Pontiac. The place was rocking when TJ's 5.036, 289.69 handily defeated Force's 5.133, 271.57 after the Castrol Mustang got near the wall. The top end of the left lane must have been loose, as Del Worsham and Scotty Cannon followed the same route in their subsequent races. Cannon managed to win after opponent Al Hofmann drifted near the centerline.

TOLIVER WANTS THE CHAMPIONSHIP: It was an effort in frustration for Jerry Toliver in round one of Funny Car, but he showed how badly he wants to win the 2000 NHRA Winston Funny Car Championship. In that race, The Rock Pontiac began shaking the tires at approximately 250' against Tony Pedregon. Toliver pedaled, then started smoking the tires. He tried valiantly to pedal out of that, but ended up across the centerline and unable to take advantage after Force's early exit and the knowing the season is winding down.

TROXEL'S BURNOUT: Melanie Troxel was not very happy after her round two loss to Doug Herbert. While backing up from the burnout, the car lurched backwards across the center-line, whereupon the parachute exited the car. Troxel had no choice but to drive down the racetrack, having already been disqualified by crossing the centerline. Adding insult to injury, Herbert smoked the tires. The Winston Vision screen showed Troxel exiting her car at the top end and walking out into the distance, obviously very upset over the turn of events.

WEIS SCORES FIRST ROUND WIN: Scott Weis took his Bruce Super Shops Corvette to a round one victory over Dean Skuza. Weis used a telepathic .409 and a 5.037, 286.25 to punt out 1998 winner Skuza, who ran a respectable 5.047, 250.23. Weis tried again for a killer light in round two, but it came up red against Tony Pedregon.


DODGE BOYS (ALMOST) DOMINATE QUALIFYING: For three of four qualifying sessions, Darrell Alderman and the Mopar Parts Avenger entry led qualifying in Pro Stock. Had he maintained it for the entire four sessions, it would have been the first Dodge pole since Memphis 1995. Alderman left the track Friday night as the number one qualifier with a 6.874, 198.55 lap. In Saturday's first session, the Dodge team watched as first Jim Yates (6.872) and Ron Krisher (6.867) claimed the top spot. Paired with Warren Johnson in the last pair of the session, Alderman came up with a 6.862, 199.96 to not only take back the number one spot, but "defeat" Johnson's 6.885, 201.28. For the final session, Alderman was again in the last pair, this time paired up with Krisher. Johnson (6.851) and Richie Stevens (6.861) had bumped Alderman and Krisher down to third and fourth respectively. In a dramatic race that brought cheers to the crowd, everyone watched as Alderman crossed the finish line first with a 6.853, 199.17. The elation was short-lived when Krisher crossed the finish line milliseconds later and recorded a 6.846, 200.56 to drop Alderman to second for Sunday's eliminations. Despite not making the final as he had in Denver, the Mopar Parts team had one of their best showings of the year in qualifying alone.

WJ AND YATES BACK AT IT: From 1995 to 1997, Jim Yates and Warren Johnson battled for the Winston Championship, with Yates winning the latter two years. In round two at Reading, they got to reprise that battle. In a classic match-up, WJ recorded a 6.914, 199.40 to 6.925, 199.05 during a time when both drivers will admit to not being at their prime.


KAWASAKI BATTLE: While the focus of the weekend was on Matt Hines and Angelle Seeling in their battle for the 2000 championship, another battle took place in round one between Blaine Hale and Rob Short: the Battle of Kawasaki Supremacy. Short has been the quickest Kawasaki since the rain-delayed Matco Tools Spring SuperNationals with a 7.310. Hale was right behind at a 7.333. In Reading, Hale was the quickest on Friday with a 7.321, while Short was mired down at a 7.421. In Saturday's opening session, Short improved slightly to a 7.413, 175.96. Two pairs later, Hale was looking to take advantage of possibly the best conditions of the weekend to become the quickest ever. Hale was very careful to shallow stage for optimum elapsed time, unfortunately he rolled backwards out of the beams and did not make a pass. For the final session, Short improved to the quickest ever at 7.275, 179.61. Two pair later, Hale was forced to play second fiddle again at 7.309, 180.24. Then the stars aligned and paired the two up for round one. In the opening pair of Pro Stock Bike eliminations, Hale proved he didn't need to be the quickest to win, when the Texas rider ran a 7.350, 179.04 to turn back Short's 7.410, 173.23.


SURPRISE WINNER IN FINAL AGAIN: While the Indy Top Fuel final has been cursed for years (particularly 1988-1991), the Federal-Mogul Dragster final is becoming that way for favored drivers. In 1997, Ned Ott won easily when favored Jay Payne blew a burst panel on his burnout. Last year, Doug Foley, who had run quicker all day, could not stage his dragster and Mike Kosky singled for the win. This year, it was Jeanie Booz's turn to win lucky. For all intents and purposes, she should not have made it that far. But while she was making her career best runs of 5.529 and 5.556, the quicker injected nitro entries of Dave Hirata and Tony Lebor were making some of their worst of the weekend. Final round opponent Jeff Wilson was one-tenth quicker heading into the final, but Maple Grove charm worked again. Wilson had engine problems, and Booz was able to streak to a very popular and first national event win at 5.666 seconds.


MANZO VS. NEWBERRY, TAKE ??: Division One fans were treated again to a Bob Newberry-Frank Manzo pairing, this time in the quarterfinals. It was the same round they met in 1997, and the results were the same. Newberry shut down to a 7.404, while Manzo streaked to a 5.558, 258.37 lap.

MANZO LOSES FIRST DIVISION ONE FINAL SINCE MAY 1999: Part of final session qualifying Saturday morning was a makeup of the rain-delayed Cecil Country FMDRS event. Manzo had won every single Division One event since the 1999 Maple Grove event, where Paul Gill defeated him. Gill continued his love affair with Maple Grove as the 1999 Keystones winner used a 5.607, 259.41 to defeat Manzo, who shut down with mechanical problems after a perfect .400 light.

FINAL A CLASSIC: Tony Bartone had made the quickest pass ever, a 5.549, 257.73 Saturday morning, but even he knew Manzo would come storming back after having engine problems in the best session of the weekend. Manzo left on Bartone in the final, .461 to .466, then defeated him in performance, 5.586, 257.48 to 5.589, 257.83 in the quickest side-by-side race in Federal-Mogul Funny Car history, The margin of victory was .0098 seconds. Incredible!


SATURDAY MORNING SESSION: While it didn't produce the number one qualifier (Frank Aragona "slowed" from an 8.314 (-.786) to an 8.344 (-.756)), the final session of qualifying under the best conditions of the weekend was a performance-fest. While Aragona's -.756 may have been "Low E.T." of the session, Greg Kozera's 7.373 (-.747) from his D/ED and Steve Ambrose's 7.810 (-.700) in the I/A were incredible. Of course, the most fun run for those that don't quite grasp Competition Eliminator must have been Bob Rossi's 6.721, 204.82 in his A/A Achieva. Rossi was .669 under the index on that lap. Whoever thinks Pro Stock Truck killed Comp Eliminator should go to Division One. It took an incredible -.427 to make the 32-car show.

BUMP QUALIFIER TO FINAL: Stephen Szupka dodged bullets left and right when his C/ED qualified 32nd, and probably didn't have the power to make a CIC-infringing run on a full lap. Knowing this, he was able to drive it to the finish line every pass. Number one qualifier Frank Aragona, Jr. shut-off too early, and his 8.733 (-.367) was passed by Szupka's 7.608 (-.402). Szupka survived the A/A of Walter Zalak when The Beast From the East got loose, after qualifying with a career best 6.844. Engine problems for Jules Schonberger and Frank Affronti helped elevate Szupka to final round status. It was there the clock struck midnight, as he fouled with a painful .491 reaction time.


The 2000 NHRA Keystone Nationals provided highlights from years to come. It was certainly one of the more storied in the history of the event.

Billy Anderson


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