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.
TOP FUEL and FUNNY CAR
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.
PRO STOCK BIKE:
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.
FEDERAL-MOGUL FUNNY CAR:
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
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.
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
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.