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Sat, 30 Oct 1999, 07:13 PM

HOUSTON - Top Fuel Qualifying Notes, Final Session
By Larry Sullivan

Lots of Changes

BAYTOWN, Texas - Notes from final, round 4 qualifying in Top Fuel at the 3rd annual Matco Tools SuperNationals presented by Racing Champions 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 4.860/288.95, Now #17; Best prior run: 5.206/231.32, Was #19
Right Lane: Allen Hartley Runs 4.870/290.38, Now #18; Best prior run: 8.820/91.10, Was #21

5:10 PM The bump as we open the final session is Bruce Litton's 4.760. These two threw everything at it, Grubnic's car trailing a spray of fluid from around 800 feet onward, but both came up short. The Safety Safari immediately went to work on the cleanup while Bob Frey and wrestler Stevie Ray of the WCW "Harlem Heat" tag team put on a wrestling exhibition. Well, Ray wrestled. Frey tried to stay alive. Since one of Ray's arms outweighs Frey's entire body, it was a huge mismatch.

Left Lane: Steve Smith Runs 6.196/144.07, Now #21; Best prior run: 5.139/290.44, Was #20
Right Lane: Kenny Bernstein Runs 4.636/307.65, Now #9; Best prior run: 5.282/181.76, Was #21

As Louie the Lizard said, "This could be big." Bernstein needed to qualify to ensure a spot in the Bud Shootout. So he went right down the groove with a conservative tuneup and got in - not in the top half, but in the field. He could still get bumped from the Shootout field, it will be close. Smith lost traction near half track, leaving a small patch of oil at that point.

Left Lane: Joe Amato Runs 4.598/314.39, Now #6; Best prior run: 5.007/260.26, Was #20
Right Lane: Scott Kalitta Runs 4.736/287.78, Now #17; Best prior run: 4.753/240.94, Was #16

Now the attention turned to Amato, who was trying to keep his hopes for a sixth Top Fuel title alive. The Safety Safari gave the left lane a very careful cleanup, then the two cars fired and rolled through the water, Amato trying to bump Kalitta out, and Kalitta trying to improve enough to give the honor to someone else. The result was dramatic, Amato getting into the top half of the field with a dramatic engine explosion in the lights and Kalitta coming up short, bumped from the field.

As Amato's car went through the finish line, the engine exploded in a big ball of flame, the rear tires enshrouded in flames as Amato fought to bring the car to a stop. The car kissed the left wall, lightly, the only apparent damage to the front wing, then made a lazy loop back to the right, the rear sliding around in a half-circle without touching anything. By the time the car stopped the fire was basically out because there was not much left to burn. From the video replays, it looks like the car is repairable, but the crew will be working overtime to repair the chassis damage and replace everything in the engine bay and clutch management system for tomorrow's eliminations.

Left Lane: Bruce Litton Runs 4.807/294.82, Now #18; Best prior run: 4.760/288.70, Was #18
Right Lane: Doug Herbert Runs 4.748/296.44, Now #16; Best prior run: 4.698/308.71, Was #16

These two had the opportunity to give us the quickest bump time ever for a sixteen-car Top Fuel field, Herbert's second-round elapsed time just 0.001 seconds shy of the 4.967 quickest-ever bump time. But both come up short, Herbert's car spitting sparklers on the top end.

Left Lane: Jim Head Runs 4.736/291.38, Now #13; Best prior run: 4.663/312.78, Was #13
Right Lane: Doug Foxworth Runs 9.036/89.46, Now #15; Best prior run: 4.681/307.58, Was #15

Now that the sixteen-car field is set, the question yet to be resolved is first-round pairings and Bud Shootout points. These two don't change anything, Foxworth spinning the tires and fishtailing on the launch before shutting it off, while Head, like Herbert, was spitting sparklers.

Left Lane: Doug Kalitta Runs 4.766/272.50, Now #10; Best prior run: 4.621/301.67, Was #9
Right Lane: Tony Schumacher Runs 4.605/323.27, Now #8; Best prior run: 4.637/321.96, Was #11

These two cars have been very consistent during qualifying, Kalitta with a 4.65 average ET and Schumacher a 4.64. Kalitta fell off that pace a bit here, the header flames going out well before the finish line, while Schumacher tweaked it up a bit and moved into the top half of the field.

Left Lane: Cory McClenathan Runs 4.616/299.00, Now #7; Best prior run: 4.604/323.27, Was #7
Right Lane: Larry Dixon Runs 4.623/311.77, Now #3; Best prior run: 4.572/312.50, Was #3

Two pretty good raceday tuneups here, no changes in the ladder.

Left Lane: Gary Scelzi Runs 4.593/312.06, Now #4; Best prior run: 4.592/320.58, Was #4
Right Lane: Mike Dunn Runs 4.591/315.12, Now #1; Best prior run: 4.561/319.60, Was #1

A very nice side-by-side exhibition here, neither driver improving but both showing great raceday tuneups. Dunn got to the finish line ahead by about five feet.

Left Lane: Bob Vandergriff Runs 6.314/128.70, Now #2; Best prior run: 4.563/316.01, Was #2

Vandergriff shut it off at half track, the problem not visible from here.

That's it, Dunn is on the pole, racing Doug Herbert in the first round Sunday, and both realistic championship contenders are in the field, so the title chase continues.

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