in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of August 25, 1999
Wednesday already and time to catch up on what's happened since the last update... and look ahead to another busy weekend of racing. Plus, it's waaay past time to let everyone know what's really been happening at Northern Thunder lately and in the future. Yes, contrary to what most people have been thinking, there is a future for us. So, where do we want to go today? Let's start with a wrap-up of last weekend's racing activities, in North America and Europe and then we'll look ahead to this coming week's attractions.The Nitro Olympics An annual event staged on the main straight of the Formula One track at Hockenheim, Germany, this year's "Olympics" featured a "Top Fuel Challenge" with a difference. Two of the quickest cars in Europe; one driven by the event's promoter, Rico Anthes, and the other by Great Britain's reigning FIA Top Fuel World Champion... (of Europe), Barry Sheavills; versus two visiting American drivers in borrowed cars. Former teenage "drag queen" Dannielle Deporter (of Luxor Casino and Paul Smith infamy), driving the Alan Jackson/Knut Soderquist car, and sometime IHRA Top Dragster driver, Clay Millican (who wheeled the one-event wonder, Chicago White Sox-sponsored car at last year's inaugural Route 66 Nationals).
The event was run in a uniquely European "Cannonball" fashion, with each driver making four preliminary runs and then the two drivers with the quickest aggregate (total) ET's were matched in the final. Consistency, not outright quickness, was the key factor. Dannielle Deporter turned low ET of the meet in her first run with a 5.067, but was sidelined for the balance of the event by a very bad top-end crash. Fortunately, she emerged unscathed, but the Knut Soderquist-owned car was a write off. (Read the full report and a follow-up interview on the crash in the NHRA Article Archive. To see which cars met in the final and who ultimately prevailed, you'll have to check out the Nitro Olympics event results.
An interesting sidelight was the 10-car Top Methanol (political correctness has struck again) field, with some very quick and consistent runs by several of the cars. Dragsters and Funny Cars were mixed for this event, unlike the regular FIA championship races where they have been in separate classes since the start of this season. Again, to see who won, you'll have to check out the event results.Is the grass always greener ?.... The mention of two American Top Fuel racers competing in Europe leads us directly to the "greener pastures?" department, and an old and very well-known friend from these parts: Mr. "240" Gordie Bonin. This season has seen Gordie competing in the FIA (European) Top Fuel Championships, with an ex-Joe Amato car, owned by Rune Fjeld. Last season, this car was driven to the first four-second run in Great Britain by Barry Sheavills. Bonin's doing pretty well this season, with a healthy lead already in the short (five race) season, which culminates at the Santa Pod Raceway "World Finals" in three weeks. The "fields" have been more than a little on the thin side though; two cars at each of the first two events, building up all the way to five cars at the third event. A possible contributor to this situation is the competing Top Fuel Tour Sweden which has tied up the four quickest Scandinavian cars in a series with less travel and (presumably) a better ratio of purse money to expenses.
Bonin, Deporter and Millican, however, are just the tip of the iceberg in what is rapidly becoming an exodus of racers from their home countries in search of those proverbial "greener pastures". Since the start of this year, Australia has seen their number one Top Fuel and Funny Car depart for the high-dollar, high-pressure world of NHRA racing. Young (barely 20 years old) Andrew Cowin, son of Funny Car and Top Fuel great Graeme Cowin (Australia's first four-second fuel racer), has made sporadic appearances on the NHRA circuit and with some sponsorship help from K&N Filters and Autometer, has qualified at several events and even took out Larry Dixon at Phoenix early in the year.
Peter Russo has recently joined the fray, with his first US appearance at the recent Autolite Nationals in Sonoma, California. Some early magneto troubles left Peter and his team with only one shot to make the field, and despite a very creditable half-track time, fell short of the (always) tough bubble. His current plans are to rejoin the tour for the final three events of the season and lay the groundwork for a stronger assault next year.
We can't forget two other expatriate Aussies already competing in the fuel ranks, namely David Grubnic (currently driving John Mitchell's "Montana Express") and Robert Schwab, who has been working towards his fuel funny car license in his "Thunder from Down Under" car. Both racers have been living and racing in the US for a number of years now; Grubnic with the "Geronimo" team as a crew chief and driver, after receiving his Top Fuel license in the McGee Brothers "Quad-Cam" car. (Another pair of Aussies, by the way). Schwab spent several years campaigning in the California Injected Funny Car Association before making the big leap to the fuel ranks this year.
The next Aussie to arrive in the US will be Steve Harker, owner and driver of the quickest and fastest alcohol funny downunder, at 5.72 -- 254. He's already purchased a new US-built car and engine and plans to run the last few events on the NHRA tour later this year. The team will be based and hosted in Atlanta, Georgia, at the shop of yet another Aussie, Peter Osterio of "RaceData" computer software fame. Did I mention that Osterio also runs a Top Alcohol Funny Car?
So who else is planning to desert the home country for "fame and fortune" in America? Well, for most of the just finished season, Melbourne's Charlie and Darren DiFilippo have indicated their desire to move to the US, citing a lack of opportunities to race in Australia. With the current "desertion" rate, their complaints may well become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Is the grass really greener in that bigger (NHRA) pasture??... only time will tell.
PS: At the recent Konica Winternationals, yet another successful Aussie Top Alcohol racer indicated that he was definitely planning to ship his car back to the US west coast and compete there next year. If so, that means there could be more room for a traveller in the other direction to qualify for race meetings downunder in 2000. (I'll give you a hint: the car is from the north and it's very loud, almost like .....)
Hard to keep up with all the location/association changes without a scorecard, eh? Trust me, there will be more... and soon. Stay tuned for all the latest news on the international drag racing scene here at Northern Thunder.Colonel's Truck Accessories Nationals The "say what?" nationals, formerly known as the Visionaire Nationals (that one sure didn't last long), the Champion Auto Stores Nationals and, originally, the Northstar Nationals. You know the event, the one up north in Brainerd, Minnesota. God knows who next year's title sponsor will be, but I'm sure NHRA will find somebody to take the title off their hands. Anyways, the usual suspects were in evidence in the Top Fuel field... and speaking of suspects: The second round "match-up" between Scott and Doug Kalitta takes the cake as the "dive of the year". Without a shred of decency or respect for the spectators or the other racers, Scott shutoff (without a visible problem) after the burnout and let cousin Doug take an easy single into the semi-finals. Why? Doug is fighting for the Winston (last time around for them possibly?) Championship, while Scott is just having a bit of fun on weekends when he's not too busy running an airline.
Some form of justice prevailed in the next round when Doug lost to a suddenly resurgent Eddie Hill. Kalitta's move kept him in the thick of the points chase (tied for third with Gary Scelzi), but lost him a great deal of respect with fellow racers, fans and the media. Yeah, I know, two car teams are all the rage these days (Force and Pedregon; Johnson and Johnson - at one time; etc.) but when the outcome of a race is a foregone conclusion: that's not competition, that's staged entertainment ! Yes, the racers have an obligation to be entertainers, but they are racers first and showmen second. An NHRA national event is supposed to be competition; not a match race. Let's hope this will be the last instance of this behaviour this season, but somehow I fear not.
With the Top Fuel points standings tighter than they've been for quite a few years, after 15 of 22 events, with the top seven racers spread less than 50 points apart, the strategy and gamesmanship may play an important role before the year is out. Let's hope the championship is won fairly and without any "asterisk" beside the winner's name. PS: The Top Alcohol (yeah, okay, Federal-something or other) Dragster (yeah, I know, they still have A/Fuel cars too) field was another weak one. Thirteen cars entered, three bye runs in the first round, but at least two blown alky cars matched up in the final. To see who did what and who won, you'll have to check out the event results.
Looking ahead to this coming weekend, my calendar shows major drag races happening in four locations: close to home at Mission Raceway Park, across the border at Renegade Raceways (in Yakima, Washington), Norwalk Raceway Park in Norwalk, Ohio and across the "pond" at Avon Park Raceway in Great Britain.Avon Park Raceway is hosting the fourth round of their "Super Series 99", which will be the final round of the MSA British Top Alcohol Championships. The alcohol series is (unlike the split classes in FIA events), a mix of dragsters and funny cars, and is not limited solely to British racers. Current points leader Rob Turner, a British T/AD driver, is trailed by another British dragster and a Dutch Funny Car in the points, with two Swedish funny cars, two Swiss funny cars and a dragster and several other British dragsters also in the top ten. Quite an interesting mix and with the promised return of English veteran Lindsay Deuchar, there should be some serious fireworks at Avon Park this weekend. An added bonus (or some might say, the feature attraction), will be a Top Fuel match race between last week's Nitro Olympics winner, Rico Anthes of Germany, and Great Britain's reigning FIA European Top Fuel Champion, Barry Sheavills. IHRA World Nationals Next event on this weekend's agenda is the Mopar Parts World Nationals at Norwalk Raceway Park, flagship of the IHRA circuit and the biggest race on their 1999 calendar. Last year's event was the largest and most successful in IHRA history, and with Mopar Parts title sponsorship, can only be bigger and better this time around. Although they don't have a nitro Funny Car class in IHRA, the number of blown eliminators on offer is simply mind boggling. Top Fuel, Top Alcohol Funny Car, Pro Mod, Top Dragster, Super Eliminator... More blown cars at one event than anything NHRA can offer, by far. For the results, almost as they happen, surf on over to Summit Racing's Drag Race Central.
My personal interest in this race will be the continuing success story of local Richmond, British Columbia Pro Mod racer Glen May , as he continues to chase the "big dawgs" in the IHRA championship. Currently sitting fifth in the points standings, Glen has already surpassed all of his pre-season goals and has become a major contender on the circuit. This event will possibly be the national event debut of his new Ford Ranger pickup truck. Despite the aerodynamic inefficencies inherent in a truck (but that point is becoming more arguable as time goes on), the new chassis (with the latest rage: "swing-arm" rear suspension) should be able to improve on the already very stout numbers Glen has been turning this year. (More about his "dream season" further down the page).Mission Raceway So, what's been happening at the local (Mission, British Columbia) facility lately? Anything "newsworthy"? Well.... yes and no. Yes, something's happening, but there's no news being released about it, official or otherwise. The facts are that Track Manager Aubrey Holmes has resigned and no replacement has yet been named. Opinions as to why he departed are, shall we say, "varied" and the real story may never be told. In the past, I've been only too anxious to wade into this sort of bad news story and attempt to put my own "spin" on it... usually with disastrous results (and consequences), so like Larry Pfister has done, I'll leave the editorial(s) to other parties and stay away from the politics of the situation.
The good news is that Mission is running their final large scale event of the season this weekend: the annual "Pro Mod Madness" show, featuring racers from the West Coast Pro Mod Association. The ads promoting the show in the local newspapers capture the essence of these cars with the following copy:
'Doorslammers' as they stab and steer their way down
the quarter mile at over 200 MPH!
Powered by 700 cubic inch hemi engines producing more than
2000 horsepower ... these cars are OUTRAGEOUS!
PRO - MOD - THEY'RE BACK!
Sounds pretty exciting, eh? And the copy is accompanied by a picture of Trevor Lowe's '57 Chevy doing a burnout, just to show the fans what they can expect. My only quibble is: 700 cubic inch hemis ??? Uh guys, maybe you could check the tech cards once in a while and see just how big (or small) those motors really are. Sure, there are 700 inch motors out there, but they're not hemis and they're not blown. (Small point, but truth in advertising is a big topic these days, and drag racing needs all the credibility it can muster in the current environment).
Work schedule permitting, I will be out there on Saturday at least and will try to bring you some report on the action by Sunday night. My main reason for attending will to be watch my crew chief Tom Mohan try to dial-in Jay Syvertsen's Mopac Auto Supply-sponsored turbocharged small-block Chevy '68 Nova. The all-new combination debuted on Ashcroft's Eagle Motorplex new track surface last weekend and despite experiencing some minor fuel system bugs, Tom and Jay expect the car to be running well this weekend (At least they won't have an ultra-critical bunch of bikers "scrutinizing" their act).Western Sydney Motorplex Turning our direction to the south.... a long way south and west in fact, all the way to Australia and the continuing story of the push for the new Western Sydney Motorplex. For all the news on how this proposal has evolved from the "ashes" of Eastern Creek Raceway, click on the drawing of the motorplex. The latest report from downunder shows the proposal has moved all the way to the Premier's Department (the state government of New South Wales) and if he says yes to the idea, then the land required will become available to RPS Promotions for construction of the new facility. This story has been slowly brewing for nearly a year now, and despite the best efforts of some obstructionist parties and certain government departments, the proposal has gained some serious support in political and business circles.
So why is this story important? Currently, the national drag racing scene in Australia is somewhat disjointed, with the largest city in the country currently without a championship drag strip. This lack of a track in Sydney has knocked a large hole in the national championship series and made it very difficult for Aussie racers to pursue serious national sponsors. Combined with the upcoming Sydney 2000 Olympics, the situation promises to get even worse before it gets better... unless, that is, this new track gets off the ground. My personal stake in this story is my desire to compete in the Australian Top Alcohol series and with only a five race schedule for next season, the need for another major league track is dire indeed. We'll continue to bring you the latest developments in this story as they happen.TFX block problems? The picture on the left pretty much sums it up - at least from the viewpoint of the EPHA Top Alcohol Funny Car team from Oregon. Their almost-new TFX-96 block split in half during a run - with a "conservative" tune-up at a race in Seattle recently. They'd purchased two new TFX blocks at the start of this season and hadn't experienced any problems until this incident of total destruction. According to the story they've posted on their website, the response from the TFX manufacturer (Rodeck) was less than satisfactory.
So, am I concerned about the future of my own (still brand-new) TFX-96 block? Yes, and no. I've always believed in the integrity of John Rodeck and his company and while the block looks rather light in places, I'm sure it will be capable of handling the horsepower I'm capable of producing. However, the picture of this split block will always be somewhere in the back of my mind every time we fire up the engine. I guess time will tell, won't it? At this point, I've heard of no other reports of unexplained catastrophic block failures, but the latest buzz from the "big boys" is that the new Brad Anderson block will be the "soup de jour" in the nitro/alcohol ranks by next season.A/Fuel: The controversy continues The story that just refuses to die. Earlier this year, in March, NHRA caught almost everyone by complete surprise, announcing the total elimination of the injected nitro option for the year 2000. At the same time, they announced some sweeping changes to the equipment specifications for the remaining blown alcohol dragsters. The association was not prepared for the firestorm of reaction that immediately engulfed it and within several months was backtracking furiously, announcing that the A/Fuel cars were back in the picture for next season. Coincident with that news, they announced further changes for the blown alcohol dragsters and funny cars for next season. The latest rules revisions have drastically narrowed the lattitude for innovative combinations and have moved closer to the "one size fits all" specs currently in force for the Top Fuel dragsters and nitro Funny Cars.
So am I going to go into my usual whine about those big, bad injected nitro "wolves"? NO. I'll state it again: I LIKE the injected cars; they sound great, smell great, put on a good show and put some really big numbers up on the scoreboards. However, they are not remotely in the same league as even the best blown alcohol cars and, as such, should not be racing in the same class. Sorry NHRA, but your latest attempt at "parity" is doomed to failure. Even if they further restrict the injected cars, to the point where they will barely get down the track, the proposed rules for 2000 are unfair to everyone. By the way, none of the rules revisions already advertised are firm until after the Rules Committee meetings at the US Nationals in two weeks. Don't hold your breath waiting for any major changes to come out of that gathering though.
So how would you handle this situation, Mr. Know-It-All? The only, and I mean only fair solution is to split the Top Alcohol dragster class in two. Two sixteen-car fields at national events? Not necessarily, at least in the beginning. The current car counts on the NHRA circuit are low, really low at some events and a full field has become something of a rarity. That can partly be attributed to the current rules situation, partly due to the totally insufficient purses being offered. NHRA claims that without the participation (sponsorship) of Federal-Mogul, they wouldn't be able to even offer the weak payouts now on offer, and certainly couldn't afford to double up the purses by splitting the class. You couldn't go out looking for another sponsor to support the injected nitro class, could you NHRA?
In the past few years, more than adequate funding has been found to promote the Pro Stock Truck and Pro Stock Bike classes. Why is there such a difficulty in finding another sponsor, or heaven forbid, diverting some of the money being wasted on the pickup truck class to a class of cars that spectators are interested in watching. Yes, I know the bottom line is that dragsters are not nearly as "sponsorable" as something originating from Detroit or Tokyo. Yes, I know the fan surveys always (seem to) rate the blown alcohol dragsters way down the popularity list. That couldn't have anything to do with the way you promote the races and promote the classes that can bring the largest sponsorship packages to the association, could it? But isn't there more money to be earned by selling more tickets to spectators, by promoting a class of fast, loud, exciting race cars?
I don't hold out much hope of this situation changing drastically for the better in the short term. For the long term, possibly sense will prevail, but my crystal ball shows a cloudy future, at best, for both the blown and injected dragsters. By the way, the latest rules revision has brought the NHRA "combination" very close to what they've been running in Australia for the last few years. In fact, with only a minor (top blower pulley) change, my car would be Year 2000 compliant for NHRA racing. Of course I'm already totally commited to racing in Australia on a permanent basis and there's no way I'd bring the car back to the current unstable situation in North America. To those racers still running an NHRA-legal car... good luck and best wishes.
To read all the stories, rules revisions, re-revisions, etc., visit our Die A/Fuel Scum page. To all those injected nitro racers... my apologies for that epithet, but the slogan has just embedded itself in my brain since I saw it on the blower bag of a Whipple-charged car at Indy last year. No offense meant, guys, OK?Glen May: "Dream Season" The continuing success story of our local hero (Richmond, BC's) Glen May is still unfolding. Unannounced and unheralded, Glen and crew appeared at the IHRA Winter Nationals in Darlington, South Carolina in early March. Qualifying inconspicuously in the 12th position, Glen fought his way through to the semi-finals at the rescheduled event (rained out until early May). Two weeks after his IHRA debut at Darlington, Glen really shocked the troops at Bradenton, Florida's "Amalie Nationals" when he qualified third and went all the way to the finals. Pretty good start to the season, eh? With the initial success, Glen decided to pursue the IHRA circuit for the entire season (funds permitting) and at this point, sits fifth in the Pro Mod points standings.
The "Cranberry Connection" team hasn't been conservative and standing pat, and in fact, will soon debut their all-new Ford Ranger pickup truck. Possibly as early as this weekend at the World Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio. Glen's best performance numbers this year have been a very stout 6.33 at 218 mph and the potential of the new "car" should be even greater. For the story and the statistics on his "Dream Season", click on the picture of the car (at the top of the preceding paragraph). To follow his progress this weekend at Norwalk, check out Summit Racing's Drag Race Central for almost-instant results.Suzie Wells (1951-1999) Last item for today's "What's New" update is one that I would much rather not have to deal with at all. Not that I'm shy about reporting bad news, but this is the worst news that I can possibly imagine. For those not familiar with the name Suzie Wells; she was a Top Alcohol Dragster racer from Salt Lake City, Utah. She'd been running NHRA Division Five events and the occasional national event for several years and earlier this season, stepped up to contending status. Her number five qualifying position at the Mile-High Nationals, in July, indicated the potential existed to compete with the "big boys" in the class.
Then, last Saturday night, at Rocky Mountain Raceway, in West Valley City, Utah, the unthinkable happened. Suzie crashed... heavily... and despite the best efforts of the track safety crew, paramedics and the air-evacuation flight to a nearby hospital, Suzie succumbed to her injuries later that night. The 48-year-old mother of two, is survived by her husband and young children. My sincerest condolences go out to the family, crew and friends of Suzie Wells.
Writing that last piece has pretty much taken the wind out of my sails for today, so the balance of the "What's New" items.... none anywhere near the gravity of the preceding paragraphs, can surely wait for another day. For the last few days I've been thinking about Suzie's accident, thinking about what can happen when 2500 horsepower starts working against you and mentally going over every aspect of my own car, trying to think whether anything can be done a little better, stronger, safer... Maybe all the racers out there in cyberspace should spend at least a few minutes going through the same exercise.