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Sat, 2 Oct 1999, 03:18 PM

TOPEKA - Top Fuel Qualifying Notes, Session #3
By Ed Dykes

Like Last Night, Only Different

TOPEKA, Kan. - Notes from round 3 qualifying in Top Fuel at the 11th annual Advance Auto Parts Nationals listing lane, driver name, elapsed time/top speed this round, position in order following run, best prior elapsed time/speed, and position in order prior to run:
Left Lane: David Grubnic Runs 4.766/270.16, Now #12; Best prior run: 4.876/274.39, Was #14
Right Lane: Tony Schumacher Runs 10.913/71.36, Now #5; Best prior run: 4.623/319.14, Was #5

Here we go with Top Fuel on a real cold track, it will be interesting if they can negotiate this asphalt. Schumacher launches into a big wheelstand and finally lifts about the 200-foot mark, while Grubnic's engine starts eating itself up just about half track. By the time he crossed the finish line he was shedding parts and oil at a pretty impressive rate. So the Safari heads out for the cleanup, and we're on hold for what looks to be a brief time.

Left Lane: Allen Hartley Runs 9.653/88.66, Now #20; Best prior run: 10.590/78.24, Was #20
Right Lane: Eddie Hill Runs 4.520/323.74, Now #1; Best prior run: 4.552/316.82, Was #3

The Nuclear Banana moves back to the head of the pack with a career-best lap for Hill. Especially impressive is the speed, as the Pennzoil machine is not known for running spectacular speed numbers, but that one is good enough for top speed of the meet so far. Hartley was smoking the tires by the 300' mark.

Left Lane: Jim Head Runs 4.697/314.39, Now #11; Best prior run: 4.766/301.13, Was #11
Right Lane: Paul Romine Runs 4.939/221.67, Now #15; Best prior run: 5.442/171.84, Was #16

Like Hill's, Head's CSK dragster is not known for speed but look at this one, a big jump from his 301mph run yesterday. Romine continues to have problems, the engine expiring at half track and leaving a trail of oil and debris from the 800' mark all the way to the finish line. So all the Safety Safari trucks, tractors, and sweepers rendezvous in the right lane, while everybody else stands huddled with their hands stuffed in their pockets, in a futile attempt to stay warm.

Left Lane: Scott Kalitta Runs 10.178/73.47, Now #17; Best prior run: 5.193/185.64, Was #16
Right Lane: Bob Vandergriff Runs 4.797/289.01, Now #13; Best prior run: 8.827/85.90, Was #19

Kalitta earns more tire smoke, and gets to watch Vandergriff stay on the throttle long enough to bump him from the field. Vandergriff's effort was more impressive if you understand that the car was trailing a huge green and yellow fireball from about the 300' mark all the way thru the finish. But Bob, who just received word that Jerzees will not be back as a sponsor next year, knew that he wasn't qualified and apparently was determined to stay on the throttle regardless... and this time it pays off.

Left Lane: Mike Smith Runs 4.749/309.20, Now #12; Best prior run: 6.703/126.13, Was #19
Right Lane: Randy Parks Runs 4.759/307.72, Now #13; Best prior run: 4.820/279.15, Was #14

Mike Smith takes the car Cristen Powell ran last year (it's still in the Reebok colors, sans decals) and moves it into the show, bumping Romine. Meanwhile, Parks improves enough to move ahead of Grubnic and take over fourteenth.

Left Lane: Doug Herbert Runs 4.641/318.99, Now #7; Best prior run: 4.679/315.05, Was #8
Right Lane: Cory McClenathan Runs 4.732/316.82, Now #12; Best prior run: 5.828/142.06, Was #19

By the 100' mark the MBNA car was smoking and shaking the tires and a lesser driver would have thrown in the towel, but Cory Mac knew he wasn't qualified and with this weather there's no guarantee that the afternoon qualifying session will take place. So these guys are going for broke, and Cory Mac pedals the car, and settles it down enough to complete the run and move into the show. That bumps Gibson, by the way.

Left Lane: Mike Dunn Runs 10.002/78.67, Now #8; Best prior run: 4.672/310.27, Was #8
Right Lane: Doug Kalitta Runs 12.037/87.61, Now #6; Best prior run: 4.638/310.41, Was #6

With both these teams solidly in the show, they could afford to experiment here, and that's likely what happened, the end result being tire smoke in both lanes.

Left Lane: Kenny Bernstein Runs 4.605/314.31, Now #4; Best prior run: 4.569/312.71, Was #4
Right Lane: Andrew Cowin Runs 11.040/75.99, Now #10; Best prior run: 4.692/307.23, Was #10

The Aussie car was very aggressive off the line, as it was yesterday, but today they found the limits of traction as the car was up in smoke by the 400' mark. No help for the Bud King team, but they proved they can adapt to these changing weather conditions, no small feat.

Left Lane: Joe Amato Runs 4.774/0.00, Now #3; Best prior run: 4.538/322.11, Was #3
Right Lane: Gary Scelzi Runs 4.749/239.95, Now #2; Best prior run: 4.524/304.46, Was #2

As we guessed last night, Gary got his bell rung pretty good from the engine explosion, either from the concussion itself or from whatever caused a pretty good dent in the titanium shield that mounts between the back of his roll cage and the front of the engine. There was enough damage that Alan Johnson elected to bring out the chassis that they won the Championship with last year. Today, this run looked all to much like the one last night, except this time the top end engine explosion broke the chassis and Scelzi was just along for the ride. The car rolled over on its side and nosed into the wall, but the chassis tubing folded and absorbed much of the impact. With the car basically in two sections, the rear with the remains of the engine dragging the front section, it slid to a stop, thankfully without tumbling. The Safety Safari was right there and Scelzi was out of the car quickly.

After a quick session in the ambulance he was on the Winston Vision screen, reassuring the fans and his family. It was truly a gruesome crash, and he was fortunate that he escaped virtually unscathed. The engine reportedly split itself in half horizontally, the top end with the cylinder heads, blower, etc. completely separated from the bottom half of the engine block. A piece of the car went over and stopped the timers in Amato's lane, giving the Tenneco dragster a 552.14 mph speed.

That's the last of the diggers in round three, so with one more round on the schedule it's Eddie Hill back on top and Bob Vandergriff hanging onto the bump.

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