MOHNTON, Pa. -- The news from the "Grove" started coming well before the first cars hit the track. On Tuesday Whit Bazemore announced that he would be leaving Chuck Etchells' team at the conclusion of the current season. The following day Etchells named Tommy Johnson Jr as his driver for 2001. Etchells also noted that there would be further announcements regarding the team as some personnel issues were addressed. Those issues do not involve crew chief Terry Manzer who joined the team at mid season and will be back next year. Current speculation has Etchells returning to the wheel to drive a second team car.
The downside to the Kendall/Matco team's weekend was a DNQ by Bazemore, his first since joining the team in 1999. After smoking the tires on his first three attempts Bazemore appeared to be on his way to a spot in the show when the car nosed over with fuel spewing from the pipes.
As to Bazemore's future, the currently hot rumour has him re-uniting with Tim and Kim Richards at the wheel of the upcoming Funny Car entry from the Schumacher team. That car will reportedly have major backing from Matco Tools which, if true, will have Dean Skuza searching for a sponsor for next year.
In other pre race news Mopar and the NHRA jointly announced that beginning with the 2001 Winternationals the only Daimler Chrysler engine eligible for NHRA/Winston competition would be the Hemi unit currently being used by the factory backed teams of David Nickens and Larry Morgan. Exactly where this leaves the Amoco team of Allen and Roy Johnson is open to conjecture as that operation is still using the wedge configuration powerplant and the ruling ratifies only the block and head package used by the factory teams, listing the specific part numbers.
The current rules allow for this scenario by noting that aftermarket heads are permitted if designed and cast with OEM approval and are subsequently approved by the NHRA. There appears to be something in the way of politics involved here as in the case of the GM teams the older parts generally trickled down to the less well funded teams without being declared obsolete and thus illegal.
In on track news, albeit from another track, the NY Yankees backed team of Darrell Gwynn began testing at Moroso Motorsports Park this week. After initial laps at that facility the second test session will take place at Gainesville Raceway next week as a prelude to a debut at the O'Rielly Fallnats at Dallas. The main thrust of this week’s test was to get the team back into race mode after a 10 month layoff. Drive Mike Dunn at least made some laps at Bristol while subbing for Joe Amato but the rest of the re-assembled team needed some familiarization.
While Dunn is returning to the fuel wars the current pit scuttlebut has Cory McClenathan looking for a ride next year as Joe Gibbs is evidently winding up his T/F operation to concentrate on his Winston Cup teams. Some of the MBNA crew are evidently headed for the Schumacher camp and the Melanie Troxel driven car.
Cory qualified here for the 175 straight time but lost in round one of eliminations when he smoked the tires against Bob Vandergriff Jr.
In more news of possible team changes Kenny Bernstein has evidently been talking to crew chief candidates as the Bud King operation has struggled in 2000.
Don Lampus is also in the market for a new crew chief but his need is a little more immediate as Mike McLaughlin left the ExpressAutoParts.com team following Friday night's second round of qualifying. McLaughlin reportedly left with some key components and the team was unable to contest Saturday’s qualifying sessions resulting in Lampus' first DNQ of the year. Even so he managed to retain his #10 position in the points standing and intends to be back in action at Topeka.
Alan Johnson came very close to recording his first double victory here as Bruce Sarver took his first ever NHRA victory in the e-moola.com Pontiac while Gary Scelzi lost to Joe Amato by just .007 seconds. That run marked the second week in a row that Scelzi has been nipped by just .007 in a final as Doug Kalitta won by the same margin at Englishtown.
Sarver's team struggled on race day, throwing the clutch out of the car in the second round and then again in the semi. For the final Kurt Elliott installed one of the units from the Winston dragster and although it was a little different from the regular package Elliott and crew chief Richard Hogan dialed it in well enough for the win.
Bob Vandergriff put up yet another good showing here as he made it to the semi before losing a close tussle to Amato. Once again the underfunded Vandergriff's car had a different look as George Tamasi supported his efforts here and the refrigerator white paint job was replaced with Tamasi's trademark black with gold TAS lettering. Tamasi has long been a sportsman racer and supporter and this marked his first venture into the pro ranks.
Scotty Cannon was racing "hurt" here after suffering a herniated disc in his back during post race testing at Englishtown following last weekend's event there. Wearing a lower back brace and in obvious pain Cannon was forced to let his crew assume some of his regular car preparation duties but toughed it out and once again advanced as far as the semis.
Look for Cannon to be in the news again soon as he tries his hand at top fuel competition at the IHRA event in Shreveport, LA.
Larry Morgan's uncharacteristically late light against Rickie Smith in round two was not due to inattention on Morgan’s part but rather to Morgan's unfamiliarity with his new Don Ness Avenger. Morgan's foot slipped off the throttle pedal and the .800 light was the end result. During the third qualifying session Morgan recorded a 199.97 mph trap speed, the best ever for the new generation hemi motor.
Andrew Cowin was also up there in the speed ranks recording a career best 317.87 mph while qualifying fifth with a 4.610, the K&N/Autometer team’s best lap on 90% nitro.
Also carding big numbers was Tony Schumacher who bumped initial qualifying session leader Gary Scelzi down to second on Friday evening with a 4.535 at 324.67. The run was the best yet under the restricted fuel percentage ruling and was just .008 slower than Schumacher’s career best.
Schumacher's teammate Melanie Troxel was the victim of a freak incident in the second round when the front wheels on the Exide dragster "flopped" as she was backing up from her burnout. As the front end of the car slewed to the left the rear end crossed the centerline and the chutes inadvertently deployed to give Doug Herbert a free trip to the semi finals.
The cool and overcast conditions during qualifying (when it was not actually raining) resulted in some serious numbers from all categories. As well as the quick elapsed times from the fuel cars with four dragsters in the 4.5 zone and John Force heading the floppers with a track record 4.836 the pro stock cars and bikes were also fast. It took a record quick 7.405 (by Reggie Showers) to make the cut in pro stock bike while the cars were not too far off with a 6.915 bump by Scott Geoffrion as Ron Krisher was at the sharp end of the field with a 6.846 at 200.56. Warren Johnson ran over 200 mph on all four qualifying attempts.
Angelle Seeling was the quickest of the bikes at 7.156 for a track record while Antron Brown was the fastest at 190.51 to set the track speed mark. John Smith had a creeer best 7.190 on Dave Schultz’ Sunoco Suzuki while Dan Baisley did the same with a 7.667/169.10 on his ever quicker Harley Davidson.
Tony Bartone was atop the Federal Mogul Funny Car field with a sub national record 5.549 while Dave Hirata headed the FM/dragsters with a 5.372 but failed to back up his 270.86 speed to claim the national mark.
Although John Force lost in round one of eliminations to Tommy Johnson Jr he increased his points lead over Jerry Toliver from 222 to 226 as the Castrol Mustang headed the qualifying order. Toliver qualified sixth, running three 4.9 second laps but he too lost in round one as Force’s teammate Tony Pedregon did his job.
Dickie Venables, the co-crew chief for Pedregon, was doing some
aerodynamic evaluation here with a video camera mounted under the back of
the Syntec Mustang and wool tufts taped to the lower rear portions of the
body. Although wind tunnel testing is usually the means by which the
bodies are evaluated there are some dynamics involved in the run than can
not be simulated, tire rotation and subsequent turbulence being the
principal one in this case. Rather than beaming the images to ESPN the run
data was purely for the Castrol team’s consumption.