in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of February 5, 2000
Uh, Bob, don't you mean start your engines? Yes and no. Despite all the hype and hullabaloo over the NHRA's new (and improved?) "Nitro-LITE" rules for 2000, the asphalt at the LA County Fairgrounds is receiving liberal amounts of lubrication already. Halfway through the third day of qualifying at Pomona, the oildowns are still happening.
And who received the honour(?) of making the first donation to the "Oildown Research (Slush) Fund" . . . none other than Rhonda Hartman-Smith. It didn't take long either . . . during the first session of Top Fuel qualifying. At last count the "donations" to the fund totalled over $5000 (at $500 a pop) and we've still got more than 24 hours of qualifying and racing left at the Winternationals. And the stakes get higher tomorrow, with a fine and loss of points for oildowns during eliminations.
My immediate observations of what's happening down there are these: Yes, the cars are running a bit slower; however, (Joe Amato's) 4.64 and (Tony Schumacher's) 322 mph are not exactly slow, are they? John "The Unstoppable" Force has already run 4.89 at well over 310 mph too, so the floppers aren't being hindered too much either.
The biggest story, in my mind, so far is who isn't there. Comparing last year's Pomona qualifying list with this year's sees the following racers not in attendance: Eddie Hill, Jim Head, Mike Dunn, Randy Parks, Terry Mullins, and Andrew Cowin to name the major missing players. To counterbalance that situation, a few new faces have stepped in to bring the Top Fuel field up to the 20 trying to qualify this weekend.
Making a big splash in her first competition appearance in TF is Melanie Troxel, the former injected nitro terror -- who can forget those 5.40's at over 260 mph - four times in a row! -- last year at Mission Raceway? Despite losing her major sponsor (In-n-Out Burgers) before the season even started, she ran 4.71 at over 311 mph earlier today, and with one qualifying session remaining, is sitting comfortably in the #7 position on the ladder. Another new (to NHRA) face is Bruce Litton, making his first west coast appearance a good one, with a strong 4.75 for the #11 spot.
First-year driver Joe Hartley, taking over the seat in his father Alan's car, is just on the outside so far, with a best of 5.019. He's only had his license for two weeks and on the final licensing pass, turned a strong 4.80 at more than 300 mph. Unfortunately, a tire failure ruined the day for him as it turned the car over and into the wall in the shutdown area. But they've come back strong at Pomona and may still make the field, which at the moment, has a bubble of only 4.99. Another seldom seen in California racer in the show, is Renton, Washington's Ron Smith, who on his first, and so far, only, qualifying attempt, clocked a respectable 5.04. For a team that only races three or four times a year, not a bad start.
So what's happening in the "Top Alcohol" dragster show? Well, at first it appeared there wouldn't even be a bubble, as only 14 cars made a qualifying pass on Thursday. The field grew to a grand total of 18 by the close of proceedings yesterday and eventually "bumped" at 5.87. Like their big brothers in Top Fuel, the biggest story so far is who isn't there. An awful lot of cars have simply stayed home and only two cars from east of the Rockies have ventured to Pomona this weekend.
One of those "easterners" is from a long waaaaay east. Like Northants, United Kingdom, specfically. Rob Turner, in his still-almost-new Bob Meyer car, that debuted at the '99 season-ending NHRA AAA Finals, has landed in the #14 spot, with a nearly career best 5.86 at a very early shutoff 219 mph. Sticking with the internationals for a minute, we find that over in the alky flopper field two European cars have also showed up. Sweden's Leif Andreasson qualified in the #8 spot with a very strong 5.775 at 246, while Holland's Alex Joon just missed out with a 5.950 at 246 mph. Looks like a little more clutch would have done the trick for (A)Lex, as he just missed cracking the 5.95 bubble.
So what effect did the off-season rules changes for the alcohol cars have? If you look at Rick Santos' results: NONE. Remember that the overdrive for a PSI-blown car dropped from 115% to 92% and then look at his numbers: 5.35 - 262. Looks like it slowed down any? No, I don't see it either. Of course the next quickest blown car, and the #2 qualifier, Mark Hentges, of Federal Way, Washington is a loooonnnggg way back at 5.50. Come to think of it, that's just about as quick as he's ever run too. Even Olympia, Washington's Dale Carlson is right there, in the #6 position, with a 5.56 at 254.
So I'm sitting here wondering how in the heck these guys can run this quick and fast with 20% less overdrive? Just how much has the boost pressure dropped? Doesn't look like very much. Maybe my (weak dog) ANDRA overdrive limit of 87% isn't looking so bad after all . . .
So what about the "parity" in the field? For the first round of eliminations, we had eight injected and eight blown cars, with the nitro cars spread fairly evenly throughout the program. After the first round, we still have an even mix, with four of each persuasion advancing to tomorrow's second round. The big news from today's action was Santos slowing down: all the way to only 5.41. Other highlights: Dale Carlson picking up to a near career best 5.49 at over 258 mph. Mark Hentges cutting the worst light of his life (.660) and still winning over an injected car. (Of course when your opponent runs a 20.911, you should be able to overcome a holeshot!).
Tomorrow should be interesting, for a variety of reasons. I'll be very interested to see just how the oildown saga continues for the fuel cars; how the new Goodyear tire holds up -- there was more than one report of catastrophic failures during the pre-season testing sessions; and whether the blown alky cars can triumph over their "horsepower in a drum" brothers in (the soon to be back to) "Top Alcohol Dragster" eliminations.
Say what? Federal-Mogul is giving the title back to NHRA? You didn't hear it from me, but that's the word. Something to do with marketing and return on investment and issues like that. But remember: You didn't hear it from me, right? As for the future of the Federal-Mogul Drag Racing Series (aka: Divisional points meets) sponsorship . . . your guess is as good as mine, or better.
PS: Got a good laugh out of Larry Pfister's Navigation Page comments about myself and Bill "Grapevine" Evans yesterday. Seems as if I've been "sucking up" to a local race track to gain privileges, like them posting a link to my site on their website. God knows why they did it, but I certainly didn't ask. And I'm pretty sure Bill didn't either. As for me waging war with my new Optura digital camera . . . they say that a picture is worth a thousand words . . . Hey MRP, now that you're linked to me: Howzabout a press pass?