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The latest update as of May 5, 2001

This could be considered a form of cheating, but it is the latest news from the world of drag racing, so here's the Saturday report from the Division Six points meet at Mission Raceway.

7:50 AM  What's that noise? What's that bright light shining through the window? What day is it? Ohmygod, I've slept through the alarm and I'm already late. There's still a bunch of unfinished business from yesterday's abbreviated first day of the BC Nationals to attend to on the computer, then it's going to take an hour and a bit to drive out to Mission. Plus, the mandatory pot of coffee before I hit the road.

9:30 AM  The weather forecast looks pretty much as advertised, with the sun shining, the wind blowing and the clouds and rain of yesterday heading inland, past the drag strip and into the interior of the province.

11:00 AM  Luckily, the rumoured "make-up" qualifying session for the Federal-Mogul cars hasn't materialized and I really haven't missed any of the action... aside from some awesome runs by the SS/AA cars that have shown up in droves, all in search of new national records and personal bests. If you want to find out what they did, go to Horsepower Heaven for all the details, pictures and videos. Now back to the "real" drag racing.

The major buzz in the pits this morning is the atmospheric conditions. Not the possibility of rain, but the altitude readings. Latest numbers are -400 feet, up from the incredible -800 feet recorded two hours ago. Still, we're looking at air that most of these racers have never encountered. Fuel system adjustments are the order of the day.

I haven't got much time to go around the pits before the first session begins, but manage to drop in on Mike Johnson before the cars head for the staging lanes. Mike politely reminds me that he's from Shelton, Washington, not Olympia, as I always refer to. (His former driver, Dale Carlson, is from Olympia, and that's where the confusion stemmed from). Mike's pretty happy with the way things are going this year, as new pilot Brian Hough has settled into the car very well, there's been minimal parts attrition, and the car has run solid low 5.40's at over 260 mph everywhere they've raced.

Mike takes the time to answer some of my questions about the Pro Sportsman Racers Association that he's involved with. It's the brainchild of Will Hanna, a PR guy from Oklahoma who promotes several of the top running alcohol cars in that part of the country. Mike, Will and Jerry Darien managed to arrange a meeting with NHRA President Tom Compton during the Winternationals, and they were able to get two hours of Compton's time during the race. No small feat, to be sure.

They came away from that meeting impressed with Compton's candor, appreciative of his situation, and fully cognizant of the arduous task in front of them. The goals of this association will be the promotion of the Federal-Mogul classes (dragster and funny car) to a higher echelon than they currently occupy, an increase in the purses at national and divisional events and an overall strategy for their future direction in the sport.

The biggest job right now for the principals involved is to gather all the names, addresses, and contact details from the racers and start polling them on the structure of the organization, elect the officers required to run the group and start meeting to discuss the issues that need to be addressed. "It's not going to happen overnight and there's a lot of work ahead of us before we'll even come close to achieving our goals," is Mike's summation of things.

Our conversation is cut short by the call to the lanes for the Federal-Mogul cars for the first of two qualifying sessions today. There's barely enough time for me to grab another cup of coffee before we're ready to rock and roll.

NOON  Let the party begin. The staging lanes are full of Federal-Mogul Dragsters, all anxious to do their part in what could be a history-making session of qualifying. The all-time quickest bump spot for a FMDRS event is 5.606 (Firebird Raceway, last fall) and we've got 13 cars ready to take their best shots at the track. The traction is obviously here, as earlier today, some new national records were set in Super Stock and Stock eliminator. The air is right, the track is cool -- almost too cool, actually -- and if the crew chiefs can put enough fuel in the engines, and enough clutch to keep from shaking.... the results could be outstanding. To check out the details from this session, go to our Results page.

1:00 PM  The first round of qualifying is over and everyone's hard at work in the pits, getting ready for the second, and final, session at 4:00 PM. My first stop is at the Bill Edwards camp, as they've just set a new career best by nearly two tenths of a second and more than ten mph. As expected, the mood in their pit area is one of jubilation. There's no frustration at running only .006 seconds short of a five, as they feel there's lots more performance available once they get the new combination dialed in.

Bill Sr. informs me that exactly one week ago the newly Whipple-charged engine was fired up for the first time. He relates that he "didn't think it would get out of it's own way" after that first warmup. Their main concern at the moment is a search for a larger fuel pump, to replace the veteran Hilborn -4 that's on the car at the moment. "If we have to run in conditions like this, we need a lot more pump." Best news so far is that despite a couple of fuzzy plugs, nothing was hurt on their first pass of the season.

Next door in the Edgecombe camp, the mood is decidely more down-market. Their first attempt ended with a dead sprag in the Lenco and much frustration for a team that expected a high 5.40 timeslip. Crew chief Al Edgecombe: "Two runs on a $500 part; drag racing sucks." Driver Paul Jones: "What about the warranty?" Don't ask.... Thirty minutes later a new "helicopter" (bulletproof) sprag is installed, the tranny's buttoned up and they're ready for the second shot at qualifying.

Since parking the B-1 combination, and buying an entire new Brad Anderson engine, the new Santos chassis car has picked up nearly two tenths and ten mph. So how much of that is in the engine and how much in the car? "The only reason we switched engines this year is because of the new minimum weight rules. We had a killer 427 cid B-1 ready to go, but we'd have been giving away a bunch of cubes to run it. We might just put it in for some of the poorer tracks we run at; this BAE deal has got a lot of power."

On the other side of the pit road is the Bob Haffner rig, with everyone feeling pretty satisfied with their best pass in a couple of years. Not that they haven't been running well, but last season saw a rootes blower on the car, and the previous season saw the car run only a few times. Bob's now back to the Whipple blower and is trying to duplicate the combination that produced 5.60's over in England last year when he tuned the Jarmo Roivas TA/D to new F.I.A. and Santa Pod track records.

Bob beckons me into his office to see some very interesting data on the computer. On the way in, he mentions that the 5.87 - 242.19 run came at the cost of six rod bearings and a blower belt, but he wants to show me why. The data screen clearly shows the engine rpm dropping down to 4500 for nearly two tenths of a second in the middle of the run. Why? "My foot slipped off the throttle. With the pits so wet and muddy after yesterday's rain, my boots must have been a little slippery".

After his foot slipped, he banged the throttle down again, zinging the motor to 10,000+ rpm, which caused the aforementioned damage. If he can keep his foot down all the way on the next lap, the e.t. should be darn close to those hoped-for 5.60's. He's not making any changes in the tuneup, other than to nozzle up a few hot cylinders and nozzle down a few cold ones, but everything else seems right.

As I leave Bob's pit, I notice a familiar face in the Steve Federlin pits. Mike Robeck, who used to tune Jay Payne's "Thunder Slug" dragster is now working for Steve and trying to get the "Impatience" car out of it's 5.50 rut. Their first out 5.71 at 250.00 wasn't exactly what they were looking for, but their combination, which differs from almost everyone else's, is going to take a little more work to figure out.

Now it's time to see how the low qualifier, and current hot number in the dragster ranks, Mark Hentges, is making out. His speed of "only" 251 mph, coupled with a new career best e.t. of 5.383, is a little worrying. They couldn't have hurt another engine, could they? "No, it was just the intake manifold studs breaking again and taking out the o-ring". Isn't that three runs in a row you've done that? "Yeah, it's starting to worry us, and the worst of it is that the computer's died. The battery looks like it's toast, and we can't service it here, so we don't have any data to give us a clue".

What about the smoke in the lights? "Just a valve cover gasket coming undone". Looks like there's the potential for an even quicker pass in the next session for the Airtime Aviation crew. With all those nasty injected nitro cars in the pits, he may need it to stay on top of the field.

As I wander through the pits, making notes and counting faces, it strikes me that several cars I'd expected to see here aren't in attendance. On the dragster side of the ledger, the Brad & Rick Henkleman team from San Jose didn't appear. They did say that they planned to make one of the two Mission races this year; guess they'll be here next month. Regular attendee Gary Anderson from Anaheim also isn't here, but with the way he's been running lately, that's not surprising. Mitch Myers, who was planning to be here last week for licensing passes, still hasn't made an appearance. Maybe next time.

The Funny Car pits are especially thin, with only eight cars, which includes two local runners. Big hitter John Hyland, from Springfield, Oregon, didn't show and the word is that his operation is parked. Neither of the Canadian prairie cars, Kevin Therres from Saskatchewan and John Evanchuk from Alberta are here; neither are the Forrest LeBlanc and John Knox cars from Washington state. And where is Dan McGlone from Oregon? What's going on? Nobody seems to have any definitive answers. This is quite a reversal from the past few seasons, where the dragster ranks have been thin and the flopper fields overflowing.

So we've got a total of 13 dragsters, which would have been 14 if Mission's Dudley Clease hadn't defected to Top Comp. Only three of the cars are injected on nitro, but those three are some of the heaviest hitters in the class. All are capable of 5.30 -- or better -- times and could prove to be real trouble for the blown alky brigade. In fact, all three are well qualified, with Gregg Lawrence the slowest at "only" 5.48.

In the funny car pits, there's a few teams with problems to sort out after the first session. The Bateman & Reynolds crew are doing normal maintenance on the car, i.e., trying to figure out what to try next with their clutch. The first pass for them yielded nothing but aggravation, as the heavy tire shake caused a wire (they didn't say which one) to break and shut the motor off.

The BCAA-sponsored car of Rod Clough and Dave Dickerson is definitely hurt after their career best run of 6.15 - 229.24. The fuel inlet line came loose, started sucking air and leaned out the engine for the second half of the run. The result: a blackened crank. Ouch! It's not a major problem, as they've got a complete spare engine, but it's not a great way to start the season. It looks like they'll be skipping the second qualifying session and taking their time switching motors.

Duane Shields and crew are relaxed and ready for their next lap by the time I get to their pit area. The blower belt broke very early on their first run, and they're feeling a little bit of pressure knowing they've only got one shot to get in the field, but there was no other damage to deal with and they're quite confident that they'll be able to lay down a competitive number this afternoon.

3:00 PM  I've been invited to a barbecue in the spectator side parking lot, and since my breakfast consisted of a pot of coffee and a few cigarettes, my stomach's telling me "let's eat!". It's a bit of a hike, but Tom (crew chief Mohan) and Dimitri (Andreas Restaurant owner) have promised the best ribs, chicken and steaks in town for lunch. They're not wrong, as I've hardly had a chance to sit down before a plate of ribs is thrust in my face. "Ready for the half chicken?" "Ready for the 10-ounce New York?" "What do you want on the baked potato?" This is getting serious.....

Time flies while we're eating, until I realize that the track has gotten awfully quiet. Oh, oh, what's the time? Yes, I'd better be making tracks to the starting line for the final session. I really can't afford to miss this final qualifying session as there should be some major drama, with two of the heavy hitters not yet qualified, and the possiblity of even quicker runs, now that everyone's had a chance to see what the track can take.

4:15 PM  The silence was somewhat of a false alarm, as the Stock eliminator cars will be the first ones down the freshly scraped surface. But it's not long until the dragsters, and then the funny cars, take to the track. Again, for the run details, go to the Results page.

6:00 PM  Nobody's in a hurry now, as qualifying is over and the first round of eliminations is 18 hours away, but there's still lots of thrashing going on. A couple of cars hurt some pieces in the last session, and we've just got to check out who's hurt what. First, and worst, is Bob Haffner, who's looking more than a little depressed and not even bothering to tear down the engine. Consensus is that the crank is broken and his weekend is over. Another engine is half-built (at home), but there's not much point in worrying about it as he's ended up in the first alternate spot.

Another dragster team with a dead player is Kim Parker's "Mercedes Shoppe" entry. The engine emitted a very loud BANG on the starting line in the first session today and wouldn't turn over in the pits afterwards. There's no holes in the block and the burst panels didn't come out, so the thinking is that there's a very dead crank - and other assorted pieces - in that engine also. The team has turned all their attention to husband Randy's funny car, as he's qualified very nicely into the # 3 position, with a very solid 5.81 timeslip.

Mark Hentges' second run ended even earlier than his first, as the manifold studs broke again and took off the blower belt this time at the 1200 foot mark. His speed was way down (at 233 mph), but the e.t. increments were on par with his earlier lap. There's real concern about the blower manifold now and as I arrive in his pit, the crew is busy swapping in the old manifold. With the quickness and tightness of this field, Mark's going to need a 1320 foot engine tomorrow.

Despite not getting past the 300 foot mark under power on either of his two runs, Leo Grocock is still smiling. "At least we didn't hurt anything". His second pass ended quickly when a mag wire shorted out on the rev limiter, causing the engine to emit a series of snaps, crackles and pops until he shut off. "Even if we'd dropped back to Top Comp, like Dudley did, we still wouldn't have qualified." Next time, Leo, next time.

Speaking of Dudley "Did Right". Congratulations to him and the Boston Pizza team for being low qualifier in the Top Comp field, with a career best 6.40. Looks like it was a smart move for Dudley, but he's got some work to do tonight, as "someone" forgot they had the Calgary (4000 foot or so altitude) tuneup in the car. No damage, but the plugs looked very second-hand after that pass.

Almost across the road from Dudley's pit, is that of the Edgecombe team. I'm reluctant to go bother them right now, as they had more problems in the last qualifying session and didn't make the show. It turns out that another sprag broke as soon as Paul launched the car, and his 244 mph speed was all in vain, as he was off the throttle completely for nearly two seconds just off the starting line. "Man, this is really starting to bug me; two sprags in two runs; I don't know what's happening" is the comment from Al Edgecombe. "Maybe we'll have to put the B-1 back in for the race at Sacramento (in two weeks time)."

The Bill Edwards team is still very happy with their first pass of the day and explained their failure to stage the car in the second session with a succint "We ran out of air. The bottle was empty..." Gee, and I thought that sort of thing only happened to me. "It's probably just as well, as we really need to have a bigger fuel pump on the car," says Bill Sr. They may be back at Mission for some testing before the next points meet, and will definitely be attending on June 22-24. A five-second pass is probably in the cards for their next trip down the track.

In case you're wondering why there's nothing to report on the Santos, Bernstein, Austin teams, it's partly because I don't spend a lot of time hanging around their pits, and partly because it always seems to be "business as usual" in their camps. No mad thrashing, just normal, almost boring, maintenance with no urgency, just calm, cool professionalism. Not that the rest of the racers are in any way less professional in their approach, but there's just not the same level of excitement in the air.

7:00 PM  They're still running the first rounds of eliminations for some of the door cars, but I've got all the pictures and news that my brain can handle for one day and it's time to head home and get to work on the computer. I'm parked very near the barbecue (from earlier today), and know that the steak I couldn't eat is still on it, but I'm so stuffed I feel like I could explode. There's probably enough food in my system to keep me going for the next week, so I pass on dinner, and head for the highway.

1:00 AM  At this point, I can hardly keep my eyes open any longer. Since the alarm is already set for 7:30, I'd better start looking for the bedroom if I'm going to make it to Mission for eliminations tomorrow... actually, later today. Tune in again for all the news from Sunday's race day. It should be worth the visit.

Black Bar
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