ENNIS, Texas -- When rain cancelled all three qualifying sessions on Friday the NHRA had to make a tough call. More inclement weather was forecast and the option of rescheduling to Saturday with eliminations on Sunday was determined to be too risky. For the first time in NHRA history the fields were seeded on the basis of points standings. With only 15 T/F entries on hand that gave Gary Scelzi a bye run to clinch his third Winston championship in four years, but in the other professional categories some potential players went home early.
In Funny Car the top five in points all advanced past round one, but higher seeded Whit Bazemore and Dean Skuza both came out on the wrong end of clashes with Frank Pedregon and Del Worsham respectively. Jerry Toliver's runner up finish also moved him past Ron Capps and back into second in the points chase although his lead is a tenuous four points.
It was not only the poor weather that cast a pall on the proceedings here, but the news that long time "voice of drag racing" Steve Evans had died of a heart attack on Wednesday. The 58 year old Evans had been in Las Vegas for the World of Outlaws finale and when he did not show up at the track there authorities went to his hotel room. Evans had been involved in the sport in many capacities starting as a teenager. He had worked for the NHRA as editor of National Dragster as well as announcing at and managing several facilities. He is probably best know however for his work with TNN, the network which pioneered consistent and timely coverage of the sport.
Interestingly, despite the fact that there was no actual on track qualifying, the NHRA awarded qualifying points in the professional categories. That move allowed Larry Dixon to gain a further 7 points over the inactive Tony Schumacher to lead the battle for second place in the points by just 13 markers as the tour heads for the final stop at Pomona where Schumacher again plans to make an attempt to return to competition.
The cancellation of qualifying was beneficial to at least one driver as Doug Herbert was battling Don Lampus for the final spot in the Big Bud Shootout to be run at Pomona. Herbert only needed to qualify in the top half of the field to deny Lampus a shot at the special event, but with Wayne Dupuy calling the shots the ExperessAutoParts.com entry has been stout lately and the possibility existed that Lampus would throw a wrench in the works.
Although Cory McClenathan's only other victory this season came at the non points Winston Showdown he has now won twice in 6 days and is just four points in arrears of Kenny Bernstein who is 6th in the standings going into Pomona. The chances of either driver displacing 5th placed Doug Kalitta are slim, but at least McClenathan has rebounded from his disastrous 1999 season which saw him win but twice and place 9th in the final points standings, his worst finish since his first season in T/F.
As to where Cory and his MBNA backing will land in 2001, the ball was still in the air this weekend. FNN hears that MBNA offered John Force a three year contract to run a dragster with their logo and McClenathan at the wheel, but Force was willing only to sign Cory to a one year deal.
Andrew Cowin and the K&N/Autometer backed T/F team passed on the event here, attending the SEMA show instead. Team owner Graeme Cowin told FNN that the stunning performance turned in by McClenathan at Houston was more than enough to convince him to order a duplicate car for the team's 2001 campaign. For anyone interested in a previous generation McKinney chassis, Cowin now has a brand new unit that was the team's spare on the market. As an aside for those bemoaning the cost of going racing consider that Cowin is using Australian dollars to buy the new unit and the current exchange rate means that he only gets 50 cents for each $A.
After his stunning return to the tour last weekend Mike Dunn upped the ante even further here with a best of the season 4.529 at 320.58 mph in round two of eliminations. Unfortunately Dunn's 0.528 light was shaded by McClenathan's 0.463 and a marginally slower 4.558 at 322.04 mph got the MBNA dragster to the line about half a car length ahead of the NY Yankees hitter. Both numbers were remarkable in light of the fact that with Friday's qualifying sessions rained out this was only the second trip down the track for either car this weekend.
Melanie Troxel's elapsed times might not have been up there with the boys but her speeds were the best numbers since the implementation of the 90% rule. Not that the e. t.'s were bad at 4.657, 4.636 and 4.605 before tire smoke intervened in the final round, but with 322.27, 325.37 and 326.08 clockings the Exide dragster is currently the fastest fueller on the planet.
Jim Yates will be busy in the few days before qualifying begins at Pomona as his Splitfire/Peak Pontiac spun out in round one of eliminations and took the front clip off on the wall. Actually it is Jerry Bickel and his crew that will bear the brunt of the work as they also begin building new Grand Am and Cavalier Pro Stocks for the GM runners.
The first of the new Grand Ams made its public debut in Las Vegas earlier in the week when Mark Pawuk unveiled his Summit backed ride at the SEMA show. The car that was revealed there is actually the GM Racing prototype that was assembled by Jerry Haas for the final signoff by the NHRA tech department, but Pawuk will take delivery of his own car soon in preparation for an intensive winter test program.
Pawuk's sometime teammate Greg Anderson was back at the wheel here in Dallas as he had enough points to qualify for the show while George Marnell did not. Anderson has been helping with Marnell's Pontiac since the second Summit entry was parked and it was natural move to put him in the car for the event.
On Monday Dean Skuza revealed his plans for the future at the SEMA show. Former associate backer Mopar Parts is assuming the role as primary supporter of Skuza's Dodge R/T funny car after five seasons in the lesser role. Rumours persist that Don Skuza will add a second car to the roster, but at least the team's main effort is back on a solid footing following the departure of former lead sponsor Matco Tools.
Brandon Bernstein will finally be going racing in 2001. He will not, as many expected, be driving a second top fuel entry for his dad but rather will begin his "apprenticeship" at the wheel of the Darrien and Meadows injected nitro burner in Federal Mogul competition. The injected cars are regarded as a better training ground for potential T/F shoes due to the fact that the driver leaves the start line from an idle with a centrifugal clutch rather than revving the motor and "dropping" the clutch as is the case with the blown alcohol cars.
Rickie Smith was faced with a dilemma when the race here was rescheduled
as his daughter was to be married on Saturday afternoon. The concurrent
rescheduling of what had become the final race of the IHRA season also had
an influence on his decision to skip this event with his Kenny Koretsky
owned Camaro. Ever the racer, Smith went to the IHRA event at Rockingham
with his Pro Mod ride, leaving the track after Saturday’s early qualifying
run to attend the 3 pm wedding ceremony. Part way through the final session
Smith was bumped from the show but he made it back to the track in time to
get back into the field which was the quickest in IHRA history with all
qualifiiers in the 6.3's or better.