Championship Drag Racing

Mac Tools U.S. Nationals
Indianapolis, IN
(August 29-September 3)

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with the National DRAGSTER staff

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Monday, September 05, 2005

Thanks for coming

Well, the 51st edition of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals is history, and having attended the last 22 straight, I can clearly say this one ranks way up in my top five. It had a little bit of everything. It was a good, safe race, for starters. Tony Pedregon’s starting-line snafu notwithstanding, damage to man and machine was definitely at a minimum.

The upsets began in qualifying when people like former Indy champ Cruz Pedregon failed to make the cut in Funny car and went right through to the final round where Larry Dixon ended Tony Schumacher’s bid for a fourth straight Indy Top Fuel crown. Matt Smith scored his first career win at the biggest event and possible and Del Worsham, who had won a total of three rounds in nine previous Skoal Showdown events not only won three in one day to win $100,000 Sunday, but then tacked on four more to win today to walk out of Indianapolis Raceway Park more than $225,000 richer.

The Sportsman finals were awesome, with Peter Biondo and Brad Plourd both cutting perfect .000 lights en route to victory; at Indy, you’d better bring you’re “A” game, that’s for sure.

We’ve enjoyed this blogging experience and provided readers with some way-inside info that you won’t be reading anywhere else, in print or online. It far exceeded my wildest hopes. I’m proud of my staff. There’s a lot of great reading here. If this is your first visit, take the time to scroll through the ton of items here. It’s really good stuff.

Be sure to look for more extended coverage in this week’s National DRAGSTER, with tons more photos, inside information, and stats aplenty.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Just Phil B. to Phil B.

While waiting for a cleanup in the semifinals of Funny Car, Chuck Worsham exercised his lane-choice option to switch lanes before son Del fired up to race Whit Bazemore. I spied Worsham teammate Phil Burkart – with whom my kinship extends beyond the similarities in our names – leaning on the fence taking in the action after a not so bad weekend that included qualifying on the bubble and then upsetting John Force in the first round. I sidled up to Phil and asked him if he thought that the last-minute lane choice, while obviously favorable to the car, would affect Del’s concentration at all.

“Once the engine fires up, everything goes away. You’re in your own world, just you and your routine. Sometimes in qualifying I don’t even know who’s in the other lane,” he said, repeating a mantra I’ve often heard and even experienced in my very short career as a driver.

But the story only got better from there.

“Here’s a funny story,” he offered. “A couple of years ago at Phoenix I had eaten something that didn’t agree with me. I was strapped into the car and we were probably two pairs back from running, and I was feeling really lousy, and the longer I sat there the worse I felt. It got to the point where I was sweating and ready to throw up in my helmet and thinking, ‘I gotta get outta here; I can’t do it. I can’t run,’ but what could I do? We were the next pair by then. The motor fired up and it was like someone pulled a switch and I just flatlined that feeling and I was fine. Fifteen minutes later in the pits, when the adrenaline wore off, I was sick again and was sick the rest of the day.”

Monday, September 05, 2005

If you're here, then who's working on your car?!

Having fun doesn’t usually require a lot of work, but it can if you’re Jay Payne. Payne came into this weekend short-handed on his Top Alcohol Funny Car crew, and his time can be limited as he drives father-in-law Brad Anderson’s Valvoline Pro Mod. Payne called in Gary Tackett to join JR Clark on the crew for the weekend, and the two were able to get the TAFC turned around for the semifinals while Jay was out winning in the second round of Pro Mod.

“I won four rounds at Indy!” Jay exclaimed as he went back to the staging lanes for the TAFC semi’s.

Payne lost a close one to Frank Manzo, 5.58 to 5.60, but his Pro Mod hopes are still alive as heheads into the final round and can still score his first Indy win. By the way, his wife, Shelly, who was involved in a nasty Pro Mod crash earlier this year, is still healing but is active in the pits.

Also of note, Gene Snow had an interesting race in the semifinals of Top Alcohol Dragster. “The Snowman”, who won Indy twice in 1966-’67, could not get his car into reverse after the burnout. His crew was able to push the car back along with help from others, including points leader Steve Federlin, who was hoping Snow could take out championship hopeful Steve Torrence. Jim and Kyle Rizzoli jumped behind and in front of the car, respectively, to help guide Snow was into place. Torrence waited patiently on the starting line and defeated Snow, 5.32 to 5.45. Though Snow lost, he had a great weekend with his A/Fueler. This was a great example of racers helping racers.

Monday, September 05, 2005


Cruz Pedregon, who won the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals three times in four years in the early 1990s (1992, ’94, and ’95) was a surprise non-qualifier at Indy, his 5.01 in his Advance Auto Parts Monte Carlo falling shy of the 4.85 bump, but the former world champ hung around with wife Sharon to cheer on brothers Tony and Frank from the media room in the Parks Tower.

I sidled up to the Cruzer between rounds – and between cheering Frank’s wonderful progress – and asked him what went wrong with his weekend.

“We just got behind the eight-ball early, and that’s something that you can’t do here,” he explained. “We missed out on running well during the night sessions, and it’s hard to make those up in the day sessions. On the first run, a bolt in the bottom idler pulley broke and sheared the keyway and advanced the timing, which shut the engine off, and it kind of went downhill from there. I also made an error, losing track of where I was Saturday night and got out of the groove.

“We came into that last session and we knew that the track could hold a 4.89 and we needed to go 4.84, so we didn’t have much choice. We also had to put a new blower on – had to – and that made a little more boost, which is probably what caused it to kick the tires loose.

“I think I’m taking this pretty well. This is tough, but it’s not near as bad as it seems. We feel good about the rest of the season, about running mine and Tony’s cars more as a team than we have from a tuning aspect. It will be better for us in the long run.”

Monday, September 05, 2005

Doing it his way

Bob Panella’s Pro Stock career only spans three races, and he’s already been through the roller coaster ride that is the NHRA’s most competitive class. He began racing his Pro Stocker with Monte Bailey’s partnership in Seattle, where he raised eyebrows by advancing to the semifinals. Here in Indy, however, his results were less favorable as he ended up outside the field by just .007-second.

“The motor we started the weekend with wasn’t good,” said Panella. “I’m not sure why, because it was fine before we shipped it to the track. When we put our other motor in, we had already run the good sessions.”

Panella’s plans changed from running Chicago to doing some testing and waiting until the Las Vegas event to run again. Though he is lower budgeted than most of his competitors, he benefits from running his own engine program. Panella has raced with motors from his own engine shop since his Comp eliminator days, and he and shop foreman Joe Wheeler are planning to make some more power before returning to NHRA action.

“I’m used to racing to win championships, whether on the national level with the Pro Stock Truck or at the divisional level with our Comp car,” Panella explained. “This car can probably qualify 11th or 12th at most places as it is, which is pretty good, but it’s hard to justify taking a bunch of time off of work unless I can win. We’ll try to have some more power when we go to Vegas.”

Monday, September 05, 2005

Say cheese!

Our hardworking ND photographers are too busy to blog this weekend, so I thought I’d do it for them. You’ve all seen them out there on the starting line, in the pits, at the top end – everywhere there’s action at a national event. It’s their responsibility to document everything that happens at the races, so they’re on the job from the start of qualifying until the last jubilant driver leaves the winner’s circle on Sunday (or in Indy’s case, Monday) night.

ND Photo Editor Teresa Long leads the team of Assistant Photo Editor Jerry Foss, Senior Staff Photographer Marc Gewertz, Senior Photographer Richard Brady, and Staff Photographer Richard Wong. There’s a reason Marc’s last name looks familiar; he’s my husband, and, to answer your next question, yes, we met while working at NHRA.

A typical weekly issue of National DRAGSTER contains hundreds of pictures, so at any given national event, this team shoots thousands of images. Seriously. Thousands. And they don’t shoot only for ND. Literally every picture you see from NHRA, whether it’s in an event program, a ticket brochure, a billboard on the highway, and just about anywhere else, came through the lens of these unbelievably dedicated folks. Here at the U.S. Nationals, their task is especially daunting because so many special events take place.

“Richard, where are you? Good. I need somebody over at the Army pit for a cake cutting, then you have to be back here stat for the semifinals of Super Stock. Marc is in the staging lanes getting driver shots. After that, he’s taking a ladder into the Pro pits to get a good crowd shot from above. Jerry and Richard B. are on the track right now, then they’re going to split up and shoot parachutes at the top end and team reactions on the starting line. I’m going over to shoot that feature on Force.”

That’s my impression of Teresa on the phone, creating a plan of attack as she and her guys fan out. They’re lucky to all get along with one another as well as they do, because they’re under a lot of pressure. For them, there’s no worse feeling than having someone come into their office the morning after a race to ask for a picture that they somehow didn’t get. But you know what? That’s such a rare occurrence that I don’t remember the last time it happened.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Upsets aplenty

There were plenty of upsets in the first round of all four professional classes today and Pro Stock Motorcycle had more than its fair share of them. Both of the Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidsons are gone and so is former Indy winner Antron Brown and Houston winner Karen Stoffer.

Current points leader Hines fouled by five-thousandths against Joe DeSantis and his Vance & Hines teammate, Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle winner GT Tonglet, lost his chance for the $10,000 double up bonus when his bike broke against rookie Matt Guidera.

Heading into round two, there are four Suzukis remaining and four S&S powered Buell V-twins. Ironically, the four Suzukis are all on the top half of the ladder and the four twins are on the bottom half, assuring a twin vs. four final round.

Interestingly enough, the only rider left in the field that has won Indy before is Angelle Sampey, who has a pair of Mac Tools U.S. Nationals victories on her resume.

Monday, September 05, 2005

One wish come true

The ultimate wish come true for any racer here in Indy would be to be in the winner’s circle at the end of the today, but one of Steve Torrence’s mini wishes became a reality during the second round of Top Alcohol Dragster eliminations. Following his amazing first-round victory yesterday when he set low e.t. of the weekend thus far at 5.241, I spoke with Torrence for some time about the run, his thoughts on Indy, and his incredible season to date. Part of the conversation was the points chase, which is shaping up to be quite a fight to the finish with a handful of racers still legitimately in the hunt. Torrence is one of those racers, and though his primary focus is on his team and what he has to do, he did have one eye on Steve Federlin, who currently leads the national points chase. “When we got the ladder [after first round], we were happy to see Steve had Gene [Snow, the No. 1 qualifier] next round,” said Torrence. “It’s not that I don’t want Steve to do well, but we need him to go out. Right now, he is out there improving on races, and we’re claiming races fully. Any hiccup his team makes will benefit us.” That “hiccup” came in round two when Snow defeated Federlin. Torrence ran a 5.294 to win his pairing over Bill Reichert. He will face Snow in the semi’s.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Look out, it's Arnie Martel!

Cruising through the pits yesterday I came across former Division 1 Comp and Super Stock ace Arnie Martel. Actually, he nearly steamrolled me with his golf cart but that’s another story for another time.

Anyway, Arnie has been inactive for the past couple of years while he tends to personal and business matters around his home in Tewksbury, Mass.

Arnie told me that he’s in Indianapolis to finalize his plans for 2006 and those plans include a return to the sport.

"I'm coming back and I'm coming back in a big, big way," said Martel. "I'll be making an announcement very soon."

He wouldn’t provide any additional details but if you'ver ever met Arnie, you understand that every thing he does is first class. So, is it Pro Stock? A multi-car Comp or Super Stock effort? Perhaps another Pro class? Let the speculation begin.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Getting started

Well, the biggest raceday of the year is officially underway and it got off with what is, for me, is the perfect way to start any drag race, with the last strains of the national anthem merged perfectly with the whine of starter motors from the first pair of Top Fuelers. When it gets timed perfectly like that, it gives me chills.

Being part of the media allows us access to the starting line during pre-race activities and it’s one of my favorite times at the drags. The crew chiefs are all out checking out the track, the drivers are mingling with one another before or after their on-stage interviews, and there’s a buzz in the air. During the course of a race weekend, it’s impossible to hit all of the pit areas to even just say “hey” to the crew guys, owners, and drivers who have become our second families, so sometimes the pre-race milling is like a bi-weekly family reunion. I wish the fans could experience it , too – well, our NHRA VIP of the Race gets to – but that would be a mob scene. (By the way, congrats to our Indy VIP, Gerald Vaughn and his nephew Chad, whose name was drawn this morning at the NHRA Membership Hospitality Center presented by Chicago Pneumatic. They got to stand on the starting line for the first pair of Top Fuel and also received ticket upgrades to the Top Eliminator Club. Vaughn has been an NHRA member for more that 30 years. (The next VIP of the Race will be selected at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals.)

I hung out in the photo area for the balance of the first round of Top Fuel and was mildly surprised to look to my left and see Whit Bazemore watching the action.

“Spectating?” I asked, knowing that before he became a nitro hero he was a photographer and a fan like the rest of us and probably digs Top Fuel at Indy just like us.

Nope; turns out Whit was intently studying the Christmas Tree, trying to see if he could get into a rhythm with the AutoStart program that lights the Tree (once Chief Starter Rick Stewart flips the “go” switch after both cars are staged, the Tree is activated by timer set to fire the bulbs at a random interval). Baze said he thought the timer was running a bit slower than in qualifying, which he says is common for raceday, but that he’d never use this information as a gauge to anticipate the Tree.

“The difference in the starts is so minute that you can barely tell, but I like to get every advantage I can,” he said.

As each pair of dragsters staged, I could see Whit cocking his right foot, heel resting on the Indiana turf before slamming his throttle foot down when the ambers flashed. How did his advance intel pan out? He went deep and cut a .048 light to the .083 by teammate Ron Capps and walked away with a 4.92 to 4.90 holeshot win.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Stanfield shines with low budget Cavalier

Lost in the shuffle of Greg Anderson’s 6.689 that has put him almost .04-second ahead of the rest of the Pro Stock field and the influx of the aerodynamically superior Pontiac GTO and Chevy Cobalt bodies has been the stellar efforts of independent campaigner Greg Stanfield and his seemingly aerodynamic-obsolete Chevy Cavalier. Stanfield made yet another impressive showing in Sunday morning’s first qualifying session by clocking a 6.735 to move him from eighth to fifth place, trailing only the amply-funded teams of Anderson, Warren Johnson, Kurt Johnson, and Jason Line.

Said Stanfield, “It does make us wonder now and then what we could do if we had a bigger budget to work with. We’ve gotten some help from PiranaZ with the assistance of Mark Whisnant, and team owner Bart Price is doing all he can. Our goal is just to hang in there for the rest of the season, and then the plans are for Mark to join us with a regrouped program so that we can compete as a two-car team next year.”

Making Stanfield’s efforts all the more impressive is the fact that the team has a totally in-house engine program that encompasses everything from research and development to engine assembly and tuning. Although Stanfield, a multi-national event winner in the past in both Sportsman and Pro Stock Truck competition, has yet to win his first major race in Pro Stock, he did record his first final-round appearance two races ago in Brainerd, and still thinks he has a shot to reach the winner’s circle before the end of the year. “We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish with limited resources so far, and also very motivated by the fact that it appears like we’re heading in the right direction,” he said.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

"The Burner" and the rant

While roaming the pits for the nth time this weekend, I got a chance to talk to Top Alcohol Funny Car driver Jeff Burnett. Burnett, like the other TAFC drivers in eliminations, was killing time as TAFCs were scheduled to run at 9:30 am but were pushed back to 5:30 pm to keep the t.v. schedule on track.

Australia-born Jeff Burnett made the TAFC show at his home race with a 5.799 at 247 mph. “The Burner” often finds himself racing against his customers as he manufactures and sells injectors (pictured), spill plates, and other carbon fiber components that pertain to drag racing. The injectors are popular due to the strong-yet-lightweight carbon fiber structure and the design which aims to maximize air intake. The use of carbon fiber is increasingly prevalent in drag racing, as tuners aim to reduce weight without sacrificing the integrity of their parts. Burnett, one of the true “nice guys” of the racing community, operates Composite Specialties out of Browsburg, Indiana. He hopes to have the same success he did at the Division 3 event earlier this season, where he runnered-up at his home track.

On another note, Indy is one of my favorite races for viewing qualifying in the fuel classes. You can always count on many capable non-touring teams stocking up to do battle at the Big Go. Without taking anything away from Tony Schumacher's stellar two runs of 4.459 seconds, for me, it doesn’t get any better than seeing guys like Frank Pedregon step up to a 4.73 in Funny Car or Joe Hartley run a career best 4.62 in Top Fuel. There are usually surprise qualifiers and surprise nonqualifiers at this event. The phrase "pulling out all the stops" might seem cliche, but it is accurately describes many of these team's efforts to race on Labor Day,. Following the top dogs of the sport is exciting, and qualifying sessions are enhanced greatly by the Dale Creasy Jr.s, Grant Downings, Paul Lees, and Tim Cullinans of the racing world.

More to come.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Tony bounces back

I promised yesterday that I’d keep you posted on Tony Pedregon’s situation following his scary starting-line incident during the first of yesterday’s two qualifying sessions (see yesterday’s blog). Well, Tony and his Q Racing crew made it back for last night’s final session. Though Tony, using a brand-new chassis, shut off at half-track, the fact that he was able to make the run after what happened earlier in the day is testament to his dedication and determination and that of his team.

“I was really concerned about my crew chief, Dickie Venables, after the incident,” said Tony. “And I’m real happy that Cody Pendergrass is in good shape as well. They both worked on the car in preparing for [last night’s] qualifying run. We’re really fortunate it turned out the way it did because it could have been much worse.

“It says a lot about this team and the type of depth we have,” Tony added. “I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get it down the track on that run, but it’s a new chassis and we had never run it before. There are a lot of adjustments we have to make before we head into the Skoal Showdown.”

Earlier today, Pedregon lost to Del Worsham in round one of the Skoal Showdown and currently is qualified 15th with one session remaining.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Home, sweet second home

Anyone who travels with the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series probably often feels like they have a second home in hotel rooms across the country. Those of us on the ND staff are no exception, but this weekend our second (or possibly third?) home is at the track in the form of a motorhome that we use to work on stories for the Daily DRAGSTER that is handed out at the track each day. Putting together the daily issues is a pretty big job that requires a full staff of writers, and as such finding a space for all of us can be a challenge. That’s where the motorhome comes in. Each year, the ND sales staff works with our wonderful advertisers to secure an “office” for us at the track. This year, Comp competitor Jacklyn Gebhardt, who fields a C/Econo dragster, stepped up to the plate. Gebhardt and her fabulous staff from Gebhardt Trailer Sales brought out one of their United Specialties motorhomes, which I and the other writers (including Brad Littlefield, who is pictured below diligently working) have been using throughout the weekend. After our designated classes have run, we all venture to the motorhome, which is located in the manufacturers area. There, we put together the race results stories that will appear in the next day’s paper.

The process doesn’t quite end there. When the story is complete, we venture to the Indianapolis Raceway Park press room, hook up to the wireless internet, and send the stories back to the ND office in Glendora, Calif. There, they are edited and then layed out in Quark Xpress so they can be sent to the printer. It’s a pretty smooth process most of the time.

As for the motorhome, it may not be your typical office but then again, Indy isn’t your typical race, right?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Ashley on his mind

While addressing the media last night after lowering the track record to 4.726, the thoughts of No. 1 Funny Car qualifier John Force turned to his daughter Ashley. The younger Force, who drives Jerry Darien and Ken Meadows’ A/Fuel Dragster, scored her first national event win here last year as a rookie. But going into yesterday’s final qualifying session, Ashley wasn’t qualified. Fortunately for her, and especially for her dad, she made the show.

“The only thing worse than not qualifying is your kid not qualifying,” said John. “She doesn’t understand what happens out here. She just thinks, ‘I can win Indy again.’ But she might not win again for 20 years; you just don’t know. She’s out here discussing clothes with her mother and what her helmet is going to be painted like next year, and I said, ‘You’re not in the show!’ “

Ashley, who qualified No. 16, lost to Gene Snow in round one.

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