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Sat, 2 Sep 2000, 01:44 PM

Friday Pit Notes from the U.S. Nationals
By Keith Burgan

CLERMONT, Ind. -- Shirley Muldowney may not have raced with the NHRA in some years, but the Indy fans sure welcomed her back to the U.S. Nationals. For most of Friday there was a long line at the pits waiting for autographs. Even though a lot of the pre race publicity regarding her return was via the web site which is aimed at a teenage audience the majority of those in line were obviously those who remembered when Muldowney's pink cars were a threat at any event on the tour.

During the initial qualifying session Shirley was seeded early in the order due to her absence from the NHRA tour but Rahn Tobler called it right and a 4.77 at 307 mph brought a roar of approval from the near capacity crowd in the bleachers.

Muldowney made that run in the second oldest car in the T/F line-up as her '96 Swindahl chassis is pre-dated only by Bill Miller’s Tim Gibson driven '91 Don Long unit. Muldowney’s chassis is one of the last units constructed by the fabled Swindahl before cancer claimed him.

The NHRA proceedure which seeds the initial round of qualifying in reverse order of points standings meant that Tommy Johnson was also one of the first cars to the line as fuel qualifying commenced. The initial pairings had produced tire smoke on a track which had been baked by the sun all day. Andy Nering made the right call however and the Hoffman Pontiac sped to a stout 4.963 at 301 mph.

Although that lap boded well for the floppers the rest of the session produced more tire smoke than big numbers and T.J. held on to the top spot as John Force fell just short with a 4.976 in the final pairing of the group.

Once again Jerry Toliver struggled despite turning in the quickest lap run last week's Raybestos backed test session here. Toliver's car was sporting the latest of the new generation Firebird bodies to hit the track following Gary Densham's debut of the revised shell at Brainerd two weeks ago. The new Pontiac has the deck area lowered to match the configuration of the Mustang bodies while the roof and sill contours have also been revised.

The parachute pack mounting area is now a bolt on component and that feature has allowed Jim Dunn to duplicate the low and outboard chute mount configuration pioneered by John Force on the latest Mooneyes entry. That car also sports a new color scheme with silver accents on a primarily yellow shell.

Steve Smith's "Hillbilly on Nitro" dragster returned to the top fuel wars here sporting backing from the "Million $ Drag Race" as well as Bill Taylor's Slide Valve Engines. Also helping to fill the 22 car line-up of hopefuls were Bruce Litton, Chris "The Greek" Karamesines and Paul Romine. Litton ran a number of early season races as a tune-up for his IHRA campaign and he and fellow Indianapolis resident Romine are currently battling for the season title on Bill Bader's circuit.

There should have been at least one more T/F entry here but a rainout and rescheduling of IHRA's Stanton, Michigan event conspired against that happening. 18 year old J.R. Todd who drives the second car out of the Litton stable had intended to compete here but when the Stanton race was rescheduled to the Brainerd weekend various factors intervened. Todd needed to make a pair of runs under NHRA scantion to qualify for his license but the Stanton event was followed by the test session here and with just one day to prepare the car the logistics got complicated. To further hex the plan the IHRA Norwalk event began qualifying top fuel on Thursday for Saturday eliminations. With a final round appearance already in his first season Todd elected to concentrate on the IHRA event and spectate here.

The NHRA's recent publication of rules pproposals for the 2001 season and beyonfd has evidently prompted considerable response on the part of some contestans, namely the nostalgia junior fuel contingent but the NHRA's Graham Light told FNN that the tech department was still seeking further input from the Federal Mogul Dragster and Funny Car contingent. Light stressed that input by a larger number of competitors would ensure that the views of the majority would be given due consideration rather than relying on a small but vocal group.

It looked to all and sundry that Dale Creasy Jr had finally cracked the four second barrier during the initial qualifying session when the Mad Magazine Pontiac lit up the scoreboards with a 4.97 lap, but a review by tower staff of the incremental times indicated that something other than Peanut's car had stopped the final set of timers at the end of the quarter mile. There was no speed recorded for the run and the progressive times showed a 4.441 at the 1000 foot clocks. In the preceeding pairing Tommmy Johnson Jr had traversed the last 320 feet in .738 seconds while clocking a 301 mph trap speed and a quick bit of math with Creasy’s times indicated that he would have needed to cover that distance in just .538 seconds to validated the 4.97 time. Not only did that ruling negate the four second time, but it also left Creasy unqualified with only runs in the heat of the day to follow.

Rumours lately have indicated that there was an impending change of sponsorship for Frank Pedregon’s Checker/ Schuck’s/ Kragen Pontiac. When FNN checked with crew cheif Dave Fletcher he said that the story was partly true in that for selected events the Texaco/Havoline presence on the car would be increased. The oil company has a marketing partnership with the parts store chain and additional promotional opportunities are part of the reason for the deal which will also spawn a number of new collectible items.

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