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Sun, 7 Sep 2003, 03:01 PM

McAmis Settles the Indy Debt by Taking the Top Spot
By Bobby Bennett Jr.

CLERMONT, Ind. -- A little over a decade ago, Tim McAmis helped Rickie Smith out at Indy. On this weekend he called in the favor by snagging the top qualifying spot away during the final qualifying session at the NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

Just one year after winning the first-ever Pro Modified World Championship in 1991, the Hawk Point, Mo.-based chassis builder drove a second Pro Stocker for Smith's STP-sponsored team. During the final day of qualifying for the seventh stop on the ten-race AMS Pro Modified Challenge tour, McAmis established the Sanders Brothers Corvette as the quickest car of each session.

In the end, his 6.223, 224.36 was the quickest pass of the weekend.

"We knew we had to make good runs every time we went down the track," explained McAmis. "I really wanted to snatch that money out of Rickie Smith's pocket. Fred got it first and then I took it away from him."

The impressive thing about McAmis' feat is that he didn't even make a lap in Friday's qualification because he was short on help. But, it didn't really matter because Smith had a stranglehold on the show. As the second day of the rescheduled event began, Smith impressed the Pro Modified fans with a 6.258, 223.88 during the first session on Saturday. While it did not improve his qualifying status, it set the stage for consistency in less than admirable conditions.

McAmis made his first run of the weekend on Saturday with the quickest lap of the session with a 6.238, 225.79. That shot elevated him into the top half of the field.

Fred Hahn was second before the rainout and preserved his spot by improving with a 6.224, 221.42 in Jim Oddy's Summit-sponsored Corvette. He didn't make a run on Friday and in his first shot at the track shook the tires and aborted.

Smith returned for the final session, but failed to improve and slipped to the third spot.

Von Smith stepped up with a miniscule improvement and claimed the fourth spot with a 6.228, 228.04.

Nearly .04 separated the bottom of the top half and the leaders of the second. New Yorker Mike Stawicki settled into the fifth spot with a 6.260, 226.70.

New York Mortgage Banker Mike Ashley was the sixth seeded entry with his InfiNet-sponsored Willys. The Pro Modified pioneer laid down a 6.265, 224.73.

Chip King overcame a season chock full of headaches to put his wind-tunnel tested Hemi Avenger into the show with a 6.266, 226.96.

Thomas Patterson rounded out the program, but it wasn't an easy proposition. The Houston, Texas-based driver had problems with the idle of the engine prior to his first Saturday qualifying attempt. The distraction didn't bother him in the least as the St. Louis AMS Pro Modified Challenge finalist leapt into the seventh spot with a 6.282. The run eventually got bumped but Patterson stormed back with a 6.278, 224.70.


Under Pressure - Thomas Patterson admitted that he never got nervous headed into the next to last session unqualified - even when the throttle cable fell off of the car prior to the burnout. Patterson's crewchief Brandon Pesz calmly walked over and applied a zip tie. Patterson ripped off a 6.282, 223.21 to land in the seventh spot in the field. It wasn't without a price though as the engine nipped a piston in the lights. The team had changed motors headed into the second day returning to their tried and true 6.20s motor. Could another engine change transpire in the near future? The team showed up at Indy with a new Hemi and could be testing next week in Houston.

Breaking it down - Mike Ashley had an impressive track record with his 1941 Willys headed into St. Louis. He had completed the 2002 season second in the points and never lost in the first round for nearly a year. Once the team fell short of making the show the team decided to go through everything on the car. The end result has been a car that performs more consistently and can produce impressive laps in the heat of the day.

The Aussie Way of Things - Aussie Pro Modified driver Troy Critchley had an accident in testing and suffered some serious damage prior to Indy. The Corvette, which is the former car of Shannon Jenkins, damaged the front rear clip and the left rear quarter. Critchley diagnosed the problem to an oil leak that got under the tires. He admits that the team has been plagued with the "stupid stuff syndrome" and that's what caused his AMS-sponsored car to shut off about 60-foot into the qualifying attempt. The problem was a shorted out kill switch. However, with the testing miscues and today's problem, Critchley wasn't taking any chances. Critchley asked his crew, "Is there anything that you guys might need to tighten?" A crewmember responded, "Let me torque the wheels." For the record, nothing fell off in his final run.

So that's what it was - Bill Hill continues to work the bugs out of his new 1953 Corvette, but there are some things that can be avoided. When the car launched hard and got bad out of shape, Hill automatically assumed that it was clutch. But, then he watched the video. Hill noticed the NHRA official wiping up something on the track and upon further investigation found a brake line loose and leaking fluid. The fluid had gotten under the tires. The Budweiser-sponsored Hill seemed embarrassed with the situation and offered one comment, "Don't tell anyone that's how we found it."

Valuable Lesson - Von Smith on the differences between shaking and smoking the tires in a Funny Car and a Pro Modified, "The reactions are quicker in a doorslammer, but shaking the tires don't hurt as bad."

Two out of three ain't bad - Tim McAmis scored the pole position after sitting out the first day of the rescheduled event. McAmis posted the quickest elapsed time in both Saturday runs. Just to think, he hadn't planned on running the final session past the eighth mile. McAmis wasn't the only driver to miss Friday and do well on Saturday. Points leader Fred Hahn landed in the second spot after missing the first day.

Just how close were they? - Only .008 separated the top four qualified entries in the field. The second half had a .018 deficit.

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