It hadn't rained in SoCal since a 45-minute drizzle in June; that is
until the NHRA POWERade NHRA tour returned to Pomona for the 38th
World Finals. Two major storm fronts ñ one from the southwest and the
other from the northwest ñ both converged on the California coastline
within a twelve hour period, giving local commuters fits and NHRA
officials some extremely difficult decisions.
Actually, Thursday gave false hope. Except for a brief mist that
delayed things right in the middle of Top Fuel session one, all scheduled
happenings, well, happened.
Pro Stock was first, and Warren and Kurt Johnson were best, 6.797/203
and 6.806/203, respectively. Due to the cold, heavy air, many other cars
performed above and beyond the call of duty. The bump was already J.R.
Three drivers gained super 4.5-second elapsed times -- Darrell Russell,
Larry Dixon (324.98!) and Doug Kalitta, another five recorded 4.6s
-- Cory McClenathan, Rhonda Hartman-Smith, Kenny Bernstein, Doug Herbert
and Jim Head.
In 9th was newbie Mike Strasburg in the Strasburg family
B&J Transmission Special with a career best 4.705/303, a tremendous
run for a team so young.
In Funny Car, the cold track eluded many of the early attempts, before
Bruce Sarver (4.859/308) and Dean Skuza (4.833/302) made it look fairly
easy. Ron Capps (4.873/313) showed well too, at least until the final
pairing staged up.
With the only championship points race still awaiting a conclusion
between teammates John Force and Tony Pedregon, separated by a mere 31
points, it was only fitting they were held until last.
At the hit of their throttles, both Castrol Mustangs moved as one, and
both drivers held their breaths. But quickly, Tony's mount bucked, he
dug his spurs in a couple times but finally gave in and had a 285mph
ringside seat to view his boss run a stunning 4.762/324.05.
I wasn't there for any of it. But as I drove through heavy rain the
following morning, amidst some of the worst traffic problems in Los
Angeles history, I hoped the weather would ease. There is nothing like
cool weather and a great track to add drama to a points battle. And
Fairplex could have dished out just such drama -- at least all the
components were in place.
With cool weather at Pomona, even the daytime sessions would be capable
of record setting performances and their backups. It seemed a possible
scenario for all kinds of points adding and position movement.
The extra ingredient of all that H2O however, was just what
all those "what-ifs?" did not need. In fact,
"what-ifs?" were replaced by a great many
"what-will-they-dos?" as rain continued to fall all through
Friday and Saturday.
The Budweiser Top Fuel Shootout was first to fall -- put off all the
way until February and the Winternationals. After all, it is a non-points
event that had no bearing on the 2002 outcome. My question is this. Since
top qualifier Kenny Bernstein will be fully retired, will he put together
a car for that one event, will his son Brandon be allowed to race in his
stead or will an alternate -- Rhonda Hartman-Smith's #9 -- get in?
Points? When you schedule the big NHRA POWERade championship banquet
for the night after the final race of the season, chances are that the
gamble one day might not pay off.
And, when the roulette wheel happens to be the Kodak Theater, the same
place Hollywood holds its hallowed Oscars, things must be planned far in
advance, and gambling takes on huge ramifications.
So, 5-6 inches of rain in a 48-hour period and a racetrack that could
have been renamed Parker River was not about to dampen the spirits of
planners and racers and fans of professional NHRA dragracing.
I stayed with my sister Shari and her husband Tim in Diamond Bar, less
than five miles from the track. It was still raining there at midnight
Saturday. In fact, we were still watching water levels in a pair of
buckets under unfortunate leaks in a nearly flat roof over their family
room. And though LA meteorologists were saying the worst was behind us, I
was skeptical of a drag race happening.
My fear was certainly shared by a great many of those assembled for
NHRA's final 2002 event. Officials still discussed and planned, and
released an ambitious Sunday schedule. They also released the final
professional qualifying list, which included a little known rule, one
never utilized before.
It seems that a nearly secret edict declared that should a set of
circumstances befall an event, similar to those that presented themselves
at the 2002 AAA World Finals, those currently in the Top 10 in POWERade
points would be "seeded" into the race. Honestly, I have never
heard of the rule and the way others commented, few if any others had
"There were a lot of factors for us to consider," said Graham
Light, NHRA Senior Vice President-Racing Operations, in a prepared press
release. "There are a lot of Sportsman and Professional teams here
who only have one round of qualifying in the books. But at the same time
the finality of the last race of the season came into play so we've
decided to set the fields based on the one session we have while also
applying the rules we have set in place for the Top 10 drivers who haven't
"The rulebook's qualifying procedures clearly states that if
only one qualifying session is run then all of the current drivers in the
top 10 will be assured a spot in the fields. Therefore, Andrew Cowing will
be inserted into the Top Fuel ladder, unfortunately displacing the lowest
qualified driver who is not in the top 10, which is Clay Millican. In
Funny Car, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Scotty Cannon will be inserted in place
of Bob Gilbertson and Steve Neese. George Marnell, Mark Whisnant, and
Allen Johnson will knock Greg Stanfield, V. Gaines, and JR Carr out of the
field in Pro Stock. And in Pro Stock Bike, Steve Johnson will replace
I've always explained to NASCAR fans, familiar with provisional
starts available for all kinds of ex-winners, champions, owners, et als,
that "we" never do such things. Every race is different, and
nobody gets special treatment. If the world or defending champ fails to
qualify, so be it. If a many-time champion, after 300 successful
qualifiers, fails to make a field, oh well.
That is all behind us now, ladies and gentlemen.
As I wandered through the pits sunny Sunday morning, amidst the madding
crowd of race-starved SoCal-ites, there were two concerns on the lips of
drivers and crewchiefs.
The first was the controversy over the way the ladders were arranged.
Those in or on the benefiting end of things were OK with the situation.
Those not, weren't.
The other thing was the track itself. All were of the opinion that if
the ambient temperature stayed in the 70-degree area, all would be fine.
If it went too far above, water would be brought back to the surface
through natural "weepers."
The racers weren't the only ones concerned Sunday morning. The Safety
Safari was having fits trying to pump, suck and blow the famous concrete
and asphalt strip back to some semblance of a racetrack. They requested
some extra time, so officials quickly huddled and changed the schedule
around yet again. They returned to full pre-race festivities, forcing
POWERade media folk into high gear to set up the driver introduction
stage. They made it.
At 11am, with the thermometer reading 66-degrees, Jim Head's blower
banging 5.186/240 defeated a tire-smoldering Mike Strasburg. The race we
skeptics didn't believe would happen was happening.
A few pairs later, Kenny Bernstein watched in horror as his retirement
began three rounds earlier than planned. His Budweiser King spun its tires
into suds before half-track, and Yuichi Oyama picked up considerably to a
On his last ride up the Pomona return road, the multitude gave the King
of Speed a much-deserved standing ovation. His record will stand and his
scepter will now be passed on to his son.
Of course, the 2002 TF world championship battle had already been sewn
up by Larry Dixon. But there were other battles. For example, coming in to
Pomona, Tony Schumacher led Doug Kalitta for third place by 23 points,
while Cory McClenathan was just two points ahead of Darrell Russell fifth.
Cory lucked into a first round win while Darrell lost to erase doubt on
that battle, but the other two added drama to their little war by meeting
in the opening stanza. Schumacher was just 14th after
qualifying and quickly went into tire smoke while Kalitta sped to a
4.629/322 exclamation point.
To close the first round, Scott Weis won a huge upset when Larry Dixon
went into violent tire smoke in the first fifty feet of track. It was not
a fit end to such a tremendous record setting season, and crew chief Dick
LaHaie was fairly certain a mechanical malady had stopped the Miller Lite
In round two, with the temperature just below 70 degrees, Cory Mac
returned to earlier form and his Berryman mount earned a close one over
Rhonda, 4.636/317 to 4.712/313. Next up, Weis holeshot Doug Herbert and
improved to a 4.718/319, only to be nipped by Snap-on power in the lights.
Herbert went on with a better-than-qualifying 4.648/317. In an almost
instant replay, Jim Head moved first but lost by .003 to Andrew Cowin,
4.633/322 to 4.727/301. Each of the three matches had a low
"sixty" winner and a low "seventy" loser, showing that
the teams were pretty trusting of the track.
The final match of the quarter-finals had Kalitta against Oyama, and
there could not have been twelve people in the place that had their hopes
with the Tokyo resident. Considering Doug's recent performance string,
he couldn't lose. Of course, his Mac Tools mount went into instant tire
smoke and Oyama struggled but won nonetheless, his fireballing 4.910/285
far ahead. Kalitta missed moving up one spot by three points ñ 3 points!
This set up a Hollywood-style semi-final match, with Dougzilla
certainly about to conquer Tokyo. But, once again, the Hot Rod Harry's
machine powered away from the starting line as its opponent played
The other semi match was a far better race. McClenathan jumped out to a
big lead (RTs .487 to .524) over young Cowin, then held on as his
Baca-Henkelman powerplant melted behind him. It made power just long
enough for a .01 victory, 4.670/309 to 4.643/316!
Yuichi Oyama became the second Japanese national to reach an NHRA final
round, and though he once again did not have lane choice, he did rely on
Robert Reehl to produce enough horsepower to get him A to B. All of that
did happen. For the 4th round of the day he did not have lane
choice but his 4.739/305 was not his best performance but did seem up to
In the other lane, Cory McClenathan was a little quicker launching, and
his 4.756/302 was just enough to give him the victory, his first at the
World Finals, and though his 27th national win, his first since
The stories were many, but truly, if everyone had gone home after John
Force ran his 4.762/324 qualifier, the outcome would not have changed.
There were still points arguments to shake out, including the top spot
between Force and Tony Pedregon, far from a foregone conclusion at that
point in the weekend. Force camp #3, Gary Densham, wanted third but was
scarcely behind Del Worsham, CSK team driver Johnny Gray led Bruce Sarver
by even less, and Team CSK/Worsham had rolled out its #3 car -- Cory Lee
was ready to help in any way he could. Skoal #1, Ron Capps, was ahead of
Schumacher #2, Scotty Cannon by just a few markers as well. Most of the
points stories would end right up front.
In the third pairing, after Lee trounced Terry Haddock, and Tommy
Johnson Jr. whipped a tire smoldering Dean Skuza, Force moved to round two
over a gallantly scrapping Cannon -- his .453RT and 4.862/315 performance
looking extremely stout.
Worsham lost his match to Ron Capps and was forced to await the outcome
of the very next pairing to how where he'd finish in POWERade points.
And, for just the reasons these teams are put together, Johnny Gray
outpedaled Densham to hand #3 to Del.
Just like his boss, Tony P looked ready to take on whatever was thrown
in his pass. His .446RT and 4.917/314 winner only looked slower (than
Force) on paper ñ he'd gone in deep against Bruce Sarver. The world
title question moved on.
Tim Wilkerson's 4.949/307 took out Frank Pedregon, while Cruz
Pedregon put an end to Whit Bazemore's up and down season with a
With all but the real prize determined, round two settled to a fairly
normal set of circumstances. First up, Gray jumped earliest but was
surpassed in a close race by Wilkerson, 4.943/310 to 4.982/311. TJ Jr.
drove to slightly slower 4.948/314 to defeat a slowing Cruz. Cory was no
match for Force, 4.944/303 to 5.179/270, and Tony P won when Capps shook
unmercifully, his 4.974/287 flaming testimony to the engine carnage he
The semis started strange, with Johnson anxiously double pumping the
throttle. His miraculous "save" gained him a .467RT and a
4.983/312 win over Wilkerson's close 4.921/308!
Then, it was down to it.
When rules committees create points-gaining schemes, they hope that
scenarios such as the FC race of 2002 will come to pass. They dream of two
drivers going right to the wire after 22 events. They smile under their
hats as the combatants beat each other's brains out. This year it was
two teammates, a boss and his underling, two teams under the same
sponsorship umbrella, the boss with a bazillion wins and eleven
championship belts, the employee with a bunch less wins and no belts at
Since the days of Larry Minor and Gary Beck, there have been skeptics
who suggest that teammates don't "race" when the chips are
down. In my humble opinion, I believe Team Force has put those skeptics in
their place, once and for all. I believe that John Force is the most major
of cheerleaders and fans of his own teams, his closest opponents during
2002. I believe that behind closed doors, he prods, nay whips, his teams
to do their absolute best against every opponent, including himself, then
pays them well and even gives them bonuses when they do.
In his own words, he describes the situation as having hired his own
It is no wonder that emotions quieted the usually boisterous Mr. Force
when he rolled out of his Castrol Mustang after beating Tony Pedregon in
the semi-finals of the 38th annual Automobile Club of Southern California
He gave the race every strength he had, going in deep and beating the
often better Tony P off the line (RTs .447 to .471), then romping to a
4.954/315 win over a quicker and closing 4.935/310. In fact, this single
quarter-mile race had more lead changes than most entire Formula One
races. For those not counting, Force now has an even dozen championships
(11 in a row).
But the World Finals wasn't over, and John Force needed to go again.
He tried to keep the interviewers at bay, telling them all that he needed
time to "get up" for the final. Under all that pressure, John's
final reaction was his worst of the day, it was still far superior to
Tommy Johnson's (RTs .463 to .510) and though the Skoal car remained
smokeless, its 4.906/313 was not enough to surpass a 4.867/317.
With the world championship was already in Jeg Coughlin's bag, and
rain sending a few folk home that probably would have made the final
field, it was down to a race. Like the other Professional eliminators,
there were certainly a few top ten folk that had the desire to move up a
When round one began, the temp was 71 degrees, the humidity was 48% and
the PS crew chiefs were smiling. Other than George Marnell's off pace
6.916/199, every other driver was in the 6.8s ñ a low of Kurt Johnson's
6.817 to a high of Darrell Alderman's 6.897. There were a couple
holeshot victories -- including Gene Wilson's great .431RT -- that
tightened those races accordingly.
Jeg started round two with a fine .431RT and a 6.882/200. It was only
second best to Wilson's .409RT and 6.873/201. Mike Edwards fouled
against Greg Anderson's 6.822/203, Kurt Johnson took out Tom Lee,
6.825/202 to 6.846/202 and Warren Johnson drove around arch rival Jim
Yates with a 6.827/203.
For the semis, the temperature was up slightly, but few took notice.
Wilson salvaged a fairly wild season by grabbing another mystical light
(RTs .404 to .454) and a win over WJ, 6.873/201 to 6.881/200. His win was
slightly tainted when it was discovered that Johnson's Pontiac had
slipped out of high gear forcing WJ to hammer it back home.
KJ had it easier because Anderson had a valvetrain failure on his
burnout. More accurately stated, a misadjusted exhaust rocker fell off and
let the pushrod hop out. Johnson blasted on to a lonely 6.842/202.
Neither finalist had reached the podium during 2002. Kurt really needed
the win to maintain his annual streak of at least one per. Gene, who
started the year as a Mercury driver that held the 2001 IHRA championship,
really needed the win to give his last appearance for David Nickens' Dodge
a high note.
Both teams had had difficult seasons throughout.
Nickens went through several drivers and sporadic performances before
hitting a reasonable stride. Even Wilson's teammate, Darrell Alderman,
has had a horrible (for him) season.
The usual Johnson juggernaut was off its feed throughout the season
too, and though there were a few bright moments, they didn't really see
real numbers until very late. The team did end up with the Pomona track
record, WJ's 6.797.
When the clutches flew in the final, KJ showed some of the brilliance
which once was his trademark (RTs .425 to .467) while Wilson eased back on
his concentration. He admitted later that he was somewhat distracted, but
that it didn't matter anyway ñ Johnson pulled away to a stout 6.801/202
to 6.843/201 victory.
Both Warren and Kurt pledged to work for two months on nothing but
horsepower, and that they have allowed others to more than catch up.
Following a season that saw a total of thirteen different national
event winners and seven drivers earn more than 1,000 points, they have
their work cut out for them.
Pro Stock Bike
With just a single blast and a rulebook to set the ladder, and the
POWERade points picture totally out of the scene, it appeared the
two-wheeled contingent would calmly and routinely end their season. It
appeared that way especially because the usual suspects, Shawn Gann,
Angelle Savoie, Matt Hines and Craig Treble were up top and all with high
Of course, few predicted that three-times-WC-in-a-row Angelle Savoie
would double clutch and lose in round one. No one predicted her fellow
distaffer, Karen Stoffer would hit a great 7.26 Thursday only to finish
the run in the sand with a badly bent Suzuki, and a bruised knee and
elbow. And no one predicted that rookie Andrew Hines would pop a perfect
.400RT on big brother Matt in round two. The veteran rode by for the
victory, but not without needing a 7.167 to do it.
Meanwhile, Gann was running a 7.149/192 and a 7.158/190 for best
numbers of the group, only to have a carb fall off his Kawasaki in
the semi, handing the win to Geno Scali.
Hines' 7.186/189 semi victory came over surprising Michael Phillips,
and it was a consistent 7.185/191 that gave him victory number thirty, and
he earned number 3 in the points standings behind Savoie and Treble.
Top Alcohol Dragster
When 18-year-old Morgan Lucas stepped into the seat of Jerry Darien's
hallowed ride back in July, a ride that has taught so many over the years,
it was a virtual promise that within a few months, Forrest and Charlotte
Lucas (owners of Lucas Oil) would have a "Wally" sitting on
their mantel. No one was surprised that that win came at Sonoma, just a
few weeks later. And, nobody was surprised when the youngster won again at
Pomona, a track that has actually favored the powerful injected nitro
machines. The combo led qualifying with a 5.315/261, ahead of Tony Bartone's
similar A/FD entry in the ET department but not in speed (5.384/270). The
pair of cars astounded on virtually every run.
The only seeming falter for Lucas was in round one where the car slowed
to a 5.378/254 but easily defeated northwest hitter Mark Hentges who found
himself badly crossed up and across the centerline. After that, Darien
wrenched the car to 5.320/267, 5.287/266 and a final 5.239/269 (new NHRA
record) for the outstanding victory.
Bartone, a 25-time national event winner, was never under 270mph in his
five Pomona runs. After his qualifier, Tony hit 5.393/270, 5.367/270,
5.317/273 and a final 5.410/272.
The final saw Tony get a slight advantage only to have it all go away
in the first 100 feet, and Morgan Lucas handed his folks another trophy.
Top Alcohol Funny Car
In the Funny Car heavy west, it was strange that only 14 cars made the
Bucky Austin grabbed the qualifying headlines (5.621/254) and truly
looked unbeatable as he has at many races during 2002. A 5.681/255 and a
5.646/256 bye in the first two rounds seemed to secure that thought.
Second qualifier Tate Branch nearly duplicated his Thursday number with
a 5.673/252 in the first round, but his grasp slipped with a 5.74/249 in a
round two victory. Then, the blower blew in the semis and he was gone.
Meanwhile, Lou and Steve Gasparrelli were fine tuning the Prisms
Unlimited Firebird. After a 5.702/251 round one win over Jason Rupert's
5.791/245, the car improved to 5.696/247 over Mert Littlefield and a
5.672/254 when Branch broke.
Expectations of those long sufferers that had waited out the nearly 9pm
Sunday alcohol finals were a holeshot by Steve and a driveby win for
Bucky. It was almost exactly that.
Sure enough, Gasparrelli moved first (RTs .462 to .491) then he sat in
his fast moving machine sure that at any second a black nose with the
words Centennial Battery and Bucky's Muffler would surge ahead. But, once
again, the Firebird had improved and its 5.648/255 held off Austin's
5.639/258.42 (new Pomona speed record) charge. Gasparrelli had won the
race and the right to wear the numeral 2 for 2003.
Unlike the alcohol classes, the remainder of the SoCal AAAuto Club NHRA
Finals were run on Monday, under bright blue skies. Unfortunately, all the
drama that can be dragracing played to empty grandstands.
After qualifying numbers one in two in Competition Eliminator,
it was fitting that Jeff Taylor and Wayne Ramay met in the final. But the
story goes way beyond just that.
For those that keep up, the fact that the Lumberton, SC engine builder
was competing in his C/SMA Cavalier for the last time is nothing new. Jeff
had a new Pro Stock Neon on the grounds tipping his hand to future plans.
The many-time, several different eliminator winner will move up in 2003.
Even the early season faux pas where the engine he and then partner
Arnie Martel developed was deemed illegal has been heavily covered in the
media. Partially covered up was the amount of money invested and
subsequently lost in that project. And, swept under the carpet is the
amount of potential revenue Taylor lost from that, and previous Pro Stock
Truck engine sales.
In fact, the Cavalier actually sported a controversial and powerful
358ci splayed-valve PSTruck engine under its hood at Pomona. Taylor was
certain he had CIC power should he need it.
And though he hasn't been running the full circuit in 2002, Jeff
Taylor managed to jump right in and help decide the WC outcome by whipping
Don Stratton's B/SR in round two. Reigning champ Stratton's loss
handed the POWERade title to South Carolinian Mike Saye, whose G/A Cutlass
had already gone down in round one. The bad part about the win was that
Taylor was forced to run .65 under, dropping the C/SMA index for round
three from 9.11 to 8.96. It was obvious that Jeff Taylor had ventured west
to win the race.
The power was present again in the third because Taylor legged out an
8.391 (-.56) to hold off Brian Browell's D/D.
Meanwhile, Wayne Ramay, whose A/ND has been the most successful since
the Goodguy's class for front-engine dragsters with alcohol-injected
small blocks was adopted by NHRA, did not touch his 7.79 CIC until the
third round. A late leave against Scott Tidwell required him to stay in
the throttle to get around the D/AA Grand Am and a 7.194 (-.596) rang up.
In the semis, Gary Carter left the line .001 early against the
onslaught of Taylor, so the Arizona A/ND was out, and Jeff lifted. Ramay
had a much tougher time with Mike DePalma, starting behind (RTs .525 to
.539) then reeling in the Mopar-powered C/A Lumina, 7.095 (7.70) to 7.509
In the battle of CICs, Taylor was ahead of Ramay, .21 to .19(!) and
nobody was quite sure who had more, leastwise the two competitors.
Following the .494 foul by the Simi Valley dragster driver, and the
subsequent early shut-off by Taylor, no one will ever know.
While I was with IHRA, I experienced many wins by Virginia's Anthony
Bertozzi, even before I learned to pronounce his last name. There were
even double wins. Just about the time I left, he'd added a Super Stock
car and an 8.90 dragster for his gorgeous wife Malinda.
Anthony was one of those guys that wasn't shy about telling me he
could do no mechanical work on his fleet and was just a driver. He worked
days in the family cabinet business then toured to all the IHRA events
with one of those giant trucks and trailers that have now become mandatory
for multi-class Professional Sportsman. His racing adviser and close
friend was (is) Peter Biondo. He was deadly impressive in his ability to
hop from car to car, class-to-class, handicap to heads-up, and
I smiled as I followed his progress during 2002, running multiple
classes and quietly stay close to the top of the NHRA Super Stock points
on his way to his first World title since sticking closer to a fulltime
sanction crossover. The POWERade championship was wrapped up without a
win, hardly Anthony's style. He did have a Super Comp win (Dallas) but
prepped to fly west to the championship banquet without a SS Wally.
Then he got a call from John Coughlin. John offered his own SS/CM
Cavalier to Bertozzi, a car already entered, just because John thought the
world champ should race in the world finals.
It was no surprise to me that Mr. Bertozzi could visit a totally
unfamiliar track, slide into an alien racecar, in his one and only attempt
qualify 5th, hang around in horrendous weather for several days
then go on to win the event.
In the final, he faced another superb example of a talented multi-class
winner, second-generation racer Kyle Seipel. Kyle has a family heritage
for dragracing that includes parents Ted and Georgia who combined have won
enough local and national trophies to choke most living rooms in America.
I've been in their home and the history, going back to the early 60s,
pretty well sums up Sportsman racing in Northern California.
While Bertozzi qualified more than a second under his SS/CM index and
nearly a tenth under the class record, Seipel's SS/AM 89 Camaro started
its journey from 41st. Strangely, Bertozzi's C-ride actually
quicker than Seipel's A-entry. In fact, all of raceday found the Camaro
dialed slower than the Cavalier.
Anthony had a couple scares, the worst a double foul in the semi-final
against fellow south easterner, Ronnie Courtney. Seipel was the recipient
of yet a third foul start, recorded by twice Stock WC Kevin Helms.
.551) and with similar dials (8.90 and 8.94), Anthony simply drove
alongside and took the light, 8.918/152 to 8.939/147.
New Yorker Dan Fletcher is most assuredly a legend. His string of SS
victories (two WCs) has gained him sponsorships and a reputation to envy.
After such a record, it was not too surprising that he would have another
69 Camaro, previously his street driver, into a Stock Eliminator machine.
Summit went along with the project to build a full-on 375hp 396 B/SA to
give Fletcher the advantage of being among the quickest and fastest in
But, although he continued to win with the SS version, the new car did
not seem to wish to respond. In his own simple words, he
"sucked" at the divisional level. As the season progressed, the
B/SA entry improved as Dan discovered just what it wanted, and during the
final six weeks of 2002, he won an unprecedented 27 of 28 rounds, earning
him three national event titles and a runner-up!
Now included in that list is the finals where he drove well enough to
win, on whichever end of the track was necessary. Neither he nor his mount
was a dominating factor, just good enough each round, and better when it
Take the final for example.
Opponent Jim Penta, like Fletcher, a long way from his Rhode Island
home, was somewhat slower than usual in reacting (RTs .523 to .561) then
was tentative at the stripe. His 10.976 (10.95) was not enough to hold off
an eased up 10.726 (10.68).
It was a weekend made for Mr. Fletcher.
The biggest smiles around the track on Monday were on the face of
Ashley Force's dad. In case you didn't know, he's won a few rounds
in his career, and he was a proud father watching young Ashley reach round
The second biggest smile was on the face of SC winner Kyle Rizzolli,
son of Jim. The 19-year-old Californian had been denied a win in his only
previous national event final due to an untimely water leak. This time,
with everything sealed properly, and a nearly perfect .402RT, he grabbed
His final round came over Ohioan, David Connolly, who in the previous
three rounds took out the aforementioned Miss Force, Phoenix winner Ed
Olpin Jr., and Idaho's Dick VanderMeer (who had the best race package).
Rizzolli's wins came over Kain Gallagher, Geoff Hughes and Jim Hughes (Jim
was crowned WC).
The final reaction (RTs .402 to .413) was quite necessary, because Mr.
Connolly ran a right-on 8.908, but Rizzolli's 8.917 was good enough for
a true win of .002.
The old television line that "there are a thousand stories in the
naked city" could easily have been describing SG at the finals.
Everyone suffered from the loss of time trials and baseline-setting
qualifying runs, some more than others. Everyone sat in the cold damp rain
on standby should the race ever get underway.
Two men agonized slightly more than the rest, Todd Stewart and Tom
Stalba. Stewart was contemplatively preparing his 2000 Corvette roadster,
while Stalba stared at the completely unknown 66 Chevelle owned by Mark
Parente. The New Jersey racer had done well all season including one
national and two divisional event wins, but a cross-country trek was just
not in his budget. When Parente offered the use his musclecar, a decent
racecar but not one that had won many rounds, Stalba took the offer and
On Monday, Stalba reached round five. Stewart made it to the final and
won the WC by 20 points.
Another major story was that of Kenny Yeoman, driving an ex-Gecker King
Kong. Already a proven winner, Yeoman and his dad, Kenny Sr., stacked
extra power into the Daytona, in the form of a Ray Barton-built 528 wedge.
At Pomona, an oiling problem showed up that galled push rods and forced
a minor change in engine tuning ñ more lash. That seemed to Band-Aid the
problem early so Kenny continued on through six rounds.
In the final, after literally hot lapping to beat the Pomona City
curfew, the Mopar with its minor problem was red hot. Yeoman stated later
that had he been asked to run immediately, he would have refused, given up
the Wally, and headed back for Las Vegas with a damaged albeit not
destroyed powerplant. Instead, Todd Stewart waved his right to run the
final and waited a few minutes.
That bit of sportsmanship should be a story to all on from what a true
champion is made. Stewart could have said, "I wanna run now" and
been fully justified. Instead, he waited to race and lost the gamble.
Like virtually every other of his races all day, Kenny Yeoman recorded
a decent light (RTs .437 to .433) then held his foot on the floor and let
his car and electronic gear do their thing. His consistent mid-150mph
speeds were a major part of his win, and the final was no different,
9.908/154 to 9.896/144.
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