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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

The NITRO Natural

©2000 Bill Ott

Dean Skuza fries the hides! Just another ploy by Badco to hook another unsuspecting innocent! Photo by Art Cimilluca
Dean Skuza fries the hides! Just another ploy by Badco to hook an unsuspecting innocent on NITRO!
 Photo by Art Cimilluca

2000 Keystone Nationals
Friday, Sept. 15 2000

Natural… nat/u-ral (nach`er el, nach`rel) - adj. 11 - free from affectation or artificiality; at ease*

Arrived home early this morning from Portland, Maine, about an hour before of the morning traffic AND the lines at the Giant Market. Had to run in and pick up some groceries and items for the cooler on the way to the house. ‘Gonna be a long one today. ‘Tis NITRO season again here in Central Pa., and they'll be burning the stuff all weekend back in the hills of Mohnton. And it looks like the weather is going to be just about perfect this whole weekend. Partly cloudy, highs in the low 70's, low humidity… all the fixins' for some interesting Drag Racing.

Usually, I turn the weekend of the Keystones into some sort of an "Iron Man" Marathon. The main challenge being who can last the longest on the least amount of rest! But this year my buddy Chris will be accompanying me and he won't be available until after 1 P.M., so I'll get a little shut-eye. Then, it's off to Carlisle to pick him up, followed by a straight shot Eastbound on the Turnpike to Exit 21.

Arriving at Chris's place punctually at one o'clock, I'm greeted by his Dad. We stand and B.S. while my partner throws his things in the back of the car. Heading towards the car and the much-anticipated races, my stride is broken when Dad says, " Chris can't go without his Child Safety Seat." Did I mention that Chris is my five-year-old Grandson?

After getting ourselves strapped in ‘correctly', we're off to the races! Last season we attended quite a few local 1/8th mile bracket races together. But this season, between the rains and my schedule, this will be our first race. Time to catch up. The boy just started Kindergarten (I guess they still call it that), and he's made a lot of new friends. I get to hear about all of them, and how Mrs. Burns (the teacher) plays a pretty mean piano.

T-tops off, cruisin' down the Turnpike, I realize what a beautiful day it is. We've had a day or two of rain, but the weather people said all the moisture has moved out of the area. This afternoon's sky is reminiscent of a typical West Texas sky, which I haven't seen for a few years. Chris points to one cloud he says looks like a lion's head, and you know what… it does! After riding along silently for a while I notice my partner has fell asleep. Cool, the quiet's nice too.

I usually make a point of arriving at the track around the break of dawn, to beat the crowds and get a parking spot near the gate. Today I pay one of the locals to park on their property, across the road from the track and immediately behind the starting line. This parking spot is legendary for it's view of the track from the hill… and the awesome sound of the NITRO from down in the valley.

For those who have never been there, the sounds from Maple Grove are something that can only be experienced. The track is situated in a valley surrounded by tree-covered hills on all sides. About a half-mile or so from the track, because of the hills and trees, you can't hear the crowd or announcer. But… you sure can hear the NITRO… and feel the ground shake, followed by an echo that seems to last about ten seconds. Then back to total silence. WOW!!

So that's how my partner was introduced to NITRO.

Hey, we gotta' get closer and check this stuff out!

Natural…nat/u-ral (nach`er el, nach`rel) - Adj. 16 - designating or of a system of classification based on complete structure and characteristics*

Hey, no big lines at the ticket window, so its straight to the pit side seats to watch the rest of Funny Car qualifying. Got seated about mid-track just in time to watch Frank Pedregon and Bruce Sarver put on a perfect side-by-side pass that you only wish you could see on Sunday! Frank ran a 4.93 to Sarver's 5.06. Both good enough for #1 and #2 positions.

Gotta' wear ‘ear protection' to set a good example for the little guy. His Mom would be upset if I brought him home and all he could say was "Huh?' Ever try to get a five year old to keep foreign objects in their ear? Or, to sit still longer than five seconds? Luckily there were quite a few other kids in the area where we were seated. They all seemed to be having a good time.

Dean Skuza came to the line and all were expecting the usual half-track burnout. But a funny thing happened… after the burnout Dean just kept going down track. Sounded like it wouldn't drop back to idle. See ‘ya next round Dean. Next pair, Del Worsham and Scotty Cannon. Another one of those side-by-side matches that would be great on any Sunday. Del ran a 5.00 that put him in the #2 spot. Hey, these CSK guys are way overdue.

The end of the F/C session found Frank P. still #1, with Toliver #2 (4.97) and Epler #3 (4.99). Ron Capps was on fire again in the shut-off area and Force and Toliver putting on a staging duel (burndown) just like they used to do in the old days. Overall, a great session, and condition should only improve as the day wears on. Next up… Top Fuel.

About the time they fire up the first pair of Fuelers, Chris informs me he's hungry. Sorry Pal, gotta' wait ‘til after this session! Pretty good opening frame for Top Fuel. Most impressive… Luigi Novelli's 4.81 and the final pair of Scelzi and Schumacker's side by side 4.55 and 4.61 respectively. Also on this pass Gary set a new track speed record at 321.27. And still one more session to go… under the lights.

Heading back to the car for a late lunch, we stopped by the NHRA tent to pick up some more earplugs… you know, the kind that stay in on their own! And at eight bucks a pair I hope they do! Picked up a toy Funny Car too. Passed by Shoe's Army pit area to say Hello, but everybody looked real busy so we kept going. Hey, that sky's starting to look awful dark! Got back to the car just before the rain started. But no big deal, just a few minutes of drizzle.

After a light lunch of half a sub, some string cheese, half an apple, a few chocolate chip cookies and iced tea, its time to head back to the track. Talk about a change… the temperature must have dropped ten to fifteen degrees since the rain. But we did bring plenty of warm clothing. It CAN get cold here at The Grove after the sun goes down, just before the fog forms (another Maple Grove tradition).

Chris is a big bike fan so we made a pass through the P/S Bike pits for a close look. Got to say hello to Angelle Seeling and Dave Schultz and check out all the bikes. There were two Harley bikes entered, but its ‘gonna take a lot more than that to get me interested in this class. Did you know the Vance and Hines team uses an eighteen-wheeler '53 foot long rig to transport their bike? Must carry a lot of spares. On the bright side, the P/S Trucks weren't competing at this event. They always have in the past.

Back through the NITRO pits just in time to watch Cory Mac climb in the MBNA car for a warm-up. Not knowing how my pal would react to a NITRO burner up close I backed away a few paces in case he wanted to make a quick get-away. I held the boy up about shoulder height while the Fueler was started and watched his face… He dug it!! After a few cracks of the throttle… I think he's hooked! All right!!

After the car is shut off and the fumes and the applause die down, I ask him what he thought of that. He says, "Grand pop, can we stand closer to the next one?" Another convert to the House of the NITRO Gods!!! We spent the next thirty minutes or so surrounded by idling dragsters, NITRO fumes, and noise. It was bitchin'!

Well, all the cars are heading for the staging lanes, so its time for us to go find a seat. Heading back through the staging area I saw my old Larson Barn crony Lenny Cottrell's new "Chicken Choker" alcohol dragster (I still can't bring myself to sat Federal-Mogul Dragster). I had heard the team suffered a pretty serious crash earlier in the season at a Division 1 meet, and I wasn't expecting to see them back in action so soon. Didn't see Lenny or driver Tim Slagle or any of the crew around, just the racecar and push car.

Heading back to the spectator side (cheap) seats we ran into Mike ‘Mashie' Mihalko, who was there taking photos at trackside. He looked cool in that blue vest. We discussed the recent York US 30 Reunion (tragedy) and the upcoming Nostalgia Meet at Atco Dragway. I attended the York Reunion and chose not to write about it. Maybe next year there will be something to write about. I still don't know why so many of the locals chose to ignore the Reunion. Hey, back to the races!

Found some seats on the top row about 100 feet down-track with a great view. They also had great exposure to the cold wind that had picked up since the rain. But, no matter, we were bundled up and were ready to take on whatever ‘ol Mother Nature could throw at us. We got comfortable just as the P/S Bikes were making their Bumble Bee noises. Chris dug ‘em.

Next up, Pro Stock. W.J. ran 6.89 @ 200.11 and was #1 qualifier at the end of the first session, the bump was Robert Patrick's 6.97. All that would change after this session and by the time the smoke had cleared, Darrell Alderman (that's right) was on the pole with a 6.87 in his "Hemi" and John Nobile was on the bump with a 6.94. W.J. was #2 at 6.89 with yet another 200 MPH clocking! Kurt Johnson had the only other car to come even close to 200.

Of other interest during this P/S session, anyone that thinks these straight-liners can't drive, should have seen the superb job Jim Yates did after a 6.93 @ 198 pass. First the chutes didn't open or got caught up in the wheelie bars and then the brakes weren't up to the task. Still traveling at a good pace about 50 feet before the sand trap Yates executed a perfect 180 and slid backwards into the sand, avoiding a lot of damage to the car. Great job, Jim!

Funny Cars!! NITRO under the lights. Another first for the new fan. But first lets make sure he's using the new earplugs. Hey, remember those eight-dollar earplugs? Well, I look over and he's taken them apart!! That's right, but they weren't that hard to put back together. I think this guys ready for his own set of Craftsman tools. Skuza's up first along with Scott Weis and again treats us to a long smoky burnout and gets back to the line this time. Dean then reels off a fine 4.97 for the #3 spot. Way to go Raven!!

Not a bad session at all, with Force laying down a 4.86 @ 312 to embarrass the rest of the pack and the bump being Al Hoffman's 5.32. No one even came close to Force's pass… nothing new here. So far, we have six cars in the fours with two sessions to go.

It's still pretty cold up here in the wind but we're doing fine. Up next… Top Fuel. In the second pairing Larry Dixon ran a 4.63, on of the best passes since the 90% rule. Next up, Andrew Crowin runs a solo 4.61. That was a real pretty pass. Nothing finer than to watch a Fueler make a solo run in the dark, when all goes well. And all went about as well as you could ask on that one! Kenny B. immediately ran another 4.61 in the next pairing.

One more pair before we head for the warmth of the car. AND they saved the best for last. Tony Schumacher in the left lane and Gary Scelzi in the right. Number one and number two… the Big Dogs, Yeah! At the hit of the throttle Scelzi goes up in smoke (not a lot of tire smoke this session) leaving Schumacher all alone on a beautiful 4.535 @ 324.67 pass. The quickest and fastest pass of the season (and on 90%) and also a new track speed record.

Natural…nat/u-ral (nach` er el, nach`rel) - Noun 3 - a thing that is, or promises to be immediately successful*

Back in the car, heater running, I'm feeling pretty good knowing I've got another hooked on NITRO (kinda' like they tell us the tobacco companies do, get ‘em addicted while they're still young) and someone to take to the races again next year. After riding along silently for a while I notice that my partner has fell asleep. Cool, the quiet's nice too. More old B.S. later.


*Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition 1988


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