CLERMONT, Ind. --
Wed, 13 Sep 2006, 10:19 AM
Notes from Jim Luikens' Reporter's Notebook
by Jim Luikens
Photo copyright 2006 Auto Imagery, Inc.
at the Mac Tools US Nationals
The oldest, largest, most prestigious and just plain coolest event on the NHRA national event tour is the US Nationals. For
the past 46 years it has been held at Indianapolis Raceway Park just outside of Indianapolis. Much like the fall Charlotte Cup race
on the NASCAR Nextel Tour, Indy has become THE place for the drag racing set to debut new cars, announce new sponsors and even
introduce new or returning Pro drivers. Early-arriving racers were among the first to glimpse the new track signage as O'Reilly Auto
Parts has purchased the track naming rights since last year's event. The venerable facility is now known as O'Reilly Raceway Park at
Indianapolis, or ORP for short. Let's take a look at some of the happenings from the Big Go at the Big O.
Two of the biggest events of the long weekend were held before Pro qualifying even began. On Wednesday night JR Todd
and his team owner, Dexter Tuttle
, organized a charity bowling tournament. JR proved that he can do more than drive as he
bowled the high game of the evening at 248. More than $10,000 was raised for DRAW and, as they like to say, a good time was had by
all. On Friday Don Schumacher
Racing opened their spectacular racing shop for tours, a car show and an autograph session that
featured all 10 of DSR's drivers. This time more than $14,000 was raised for their designated charity, Riley Children's Hospital of
Friday night what had been heralded as a "Bernstein Family Announcement" turned out to be the revelation that "King Kenny"
will be returning to the driver's seat in 2007. After arriving in the media center with his Budweiser windbreaker tightly zipped
unzipped it to reveal the Monster Energy Drink polo shirt that he was wearing underneath. Kenny says that he
will be returning in a funny car because he doesn't want to compete against his son or give rise to any questions about team
tactics. He hopes to build a new, larger shop in nearby Brownburg that will house both teams. Kenny added that no crew chief or body
style has been decided yet but he wanted to get the announcement out before rumors minimized the news impact for his sponsor.
Incidentally, the growth of major racing shops that are located in Brownsburg have earned it the nickname of Nitro Alley, a play on
the Gasoline Alley complex that houses a number of Indy Car teams and vendors in Speedway, Indiana.
On Saturday, Tom Hammonds
revealed that he is returning to Pro Stock next year driving a Rick Jones
Chevrolet Cobalt. Tom is building a new shop in Crestview, Florida and plans to test extensively at nearby Emerald Coast Dragway
before joining the Powerade tour in 2007. Eric Luzinski
, from Traverse City, Michigan, will be relocating to Florida soon to
serve as Tom's crew chief. Eric was the crew chief of record for all three of Tom's previous Pro Stock final round appearances. In
another Pro Stock announcement it was revealed that Jeg Coughlin, Jr.
will return to professional competition later this
season behind the wheel of a second Chevrolet Cobalt for the Victor Cagnazzi
Bob Panella, Jr.
Another staple of the US Nationals is commemorative paint schemes and we had some great ones debut this weekend. Bob
returned to the Powerade tour here in a Stratus that carried the red, white and blue paint scheme made famous by
the Sox and Martin Racing Team. The car was a tribute to legendary team driver Ronnie Sox
who passed away earlier this year.
Ronnie's widow, Diane Sox
, and his long time racing partner, Buddy Martin
, were on hand for the car's unveiling.
Unfortunately, Bob was not able to crack the Pro Stock bump spot, ending up outside the field when three days of qualifying were
Larry Morgan's car showed up carrying the red, white and blue color scheme of the Rod Shop, one of the all-time great
(in my opinion) paint schemes. Although the colors were arranged differently on different Rod Shop team cars, this particular layout
was most famous for its use on the Rod Shop Pro Stock team cars of Butch Leal from 1985 through 1991. Larry Morgan fared
better than Bob Panella, Jr. because he qualified but his race day was short-lived as he lost to Greg Stanfield in the first
Speaking of Butch Leal he showed at Indy this year for the first time in 15 years. Accompanying Butch was his daughter, Lori, who
was born in California on August 30, 1964 while Butch was "Back East" winning Indy in his Ford Thunderbolt. Lori had never been to
Indy and insisted that this was all she wanted for a birthday present from her father. Lori said that the trip exceeded every
expectation that she had. According to Lori her favorite part of the trip, besides having quality time with her father without any
spouses or siblings present, was seeing the respect and enthusiasm that the fans showed her father after all these years.
The special paint schemes weren't restricted just to Pro Stockers. Both John Force and Robert Hight carried
special schemes on their Mustangs as well. John's was for his 25th appearance at Indy while Robert's commemorated the AAA Road to
the Future (Rookie of the Year) award that he won last year. Bob Gilbertson, AKA Bobby G., debuted a special paint scheme for
Autolite Iridium Spark Plugs that incorporated the legendary Jungle Jim into the graphics while Morgan Lucas carried a salute
to the Indianapolis' new Lucas Oil Stadium and both Kalitta cars (Doug and Scott) carried a special Chip Foose paint
All summer Raymond Commisso
has been a star of the Monday testing that follows IHRA national events. Even as the team
was working towards qualifying for their first national event they had no trouble running well on Monday. Last weekend they
qualified for their first ever IHRA national event at Norwalk, Ohio. When the race was delayed until Monday because of rain Raymond,
retaining his Monday form, recorded the low et of every round and won the race. His breakthrough win triggered an invitation to
compete at the US Nationals, where he promptly qualified number one in his first NHRA start ever. Once again his Monday form held up
as Raymond went to his first NHRA final round as a rookie.
All of the action was not limited to the track this weekend. Allison Dixon, wife of Larry Dixon, Jr., gave
birth to the couple's third child. Darien Lukas, an 8 pound, 10 ounce son, joins brother Donovan and sister Alanna as the couple's
With an event of this size I had no trouble locating several shirts that were contenders for my t-shirt of the weekend. The
winning entry said, "In Drag Racing, Chute Happens".
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