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Sun, 3 Sep 2000, 03:52 PM

FastNews Saturday Pit Notes
By Keith Burgan

CLERMONT, Ind. -- The hot and humid weather here allowed Tommy Johnson Jr. to hang on to his top qualifying shot when both John Force and Ron Capps fell just a few thousandths short in the third session. Johnson actually sat out the session which saw considerable change in the order from the second session. Both Del Worsham and Jerry Toliver moved into the show while the order was shuffled considerably. Bruce Sarver was in 8th place when the session began but as the day closed he was barely hanging on with a 16th best 5.169.

Del Worsham carded a 5.077 to move into the show but it came with a cost as the left rear tire of the Checker/ Schuck’s/ Kragen Pontiac exploded in the lights. The flailing tire tore a huge hole in the roof and quarter panel, effectively destroying the body. Although the Worshams had a spare shell it is a standard unit and under the conditions prevalent here this weekend the team felt that a high downforce body would be needed. Over the past few weeks the Worshams had been negotiating the purchase of Jerry Toliver’s "generic" black WWF body but that cause was accelerated by the incident.

With Toliver having taken delivery of a new "Rock" shell this weekend the WWF team were ready to deal and within an hour of the incident the body was in the Worsham pits surrounded by a large group of volunteers (a dozen when we counted) who quickly removed the WWF graphics. John Chindemi of Magical Markers then stepped in with his mobile sign shop and by 2 am the car was fully decalled with the requsite sponsor logos. Chindemi had actually been in the process of leaving the event and heading home to Pennsylvania to celebrate his birthday with his family but upon hearinng of the Worsham's plight he delayed his departure and went to work.

While that was happening team fabricator Grant Downing was repairing the damaged rear body mount tree and at 9:30 Sunday morning the complete unit was towed to tech for re-certification.

Soon after Del’s episode the C/S/K team was dealt another blow when Frank Pedregon's car suffered a total engine block failure early in his third qualifying attempt. The block split vertically through the cam bore with the detached right half pounding the right hand frame rail outboard a considerable distance. The ensuing fire was quickly extinquished with little damage to the body but crew chief Dave Fletcher elected to sit out Sunday’s sessions while the team regrouped. Scott Wible who worked with Fletcher on Joe Gibbs funny car came in to repair the frame and as the first session commenced he was well on the way to replacing the damaged tubing.

Although 22 T/F cars have made qualifying attempts here this weekend there should have been 23 cars in the line-up. Ralph White was entered and his rig arrived at the track prior to the commencement of qualifying, but the proliferation of hospitality units and multiple trailer teams in the pits meant that the Bobby Lagana Jr driven car which is well down the pecking order was going to be pitted in the gravel. White decline the chance to buy plywood and carpet to create a workable pit area and was a spectator for the weekend.

Tony Schumacher's Army sponsorship deal came together so close to this event that the team uniforms were delivered only the afternoon before the official press announcement of the deal here on Friday. When the team tested here with Melanie Troxel last week the trailer was in plain black as was the Hummer that the team is using as a tow unit. The rumours that Jimmy Prock would be tuning the Troxel car next year were confirmed by team owner Don Schumacher but the suggestion that Tim Richards would be re-united with Joe Amato was denied by both parties. The latest scuttlebutt in the pits has Richards replacing Larry Frazier in Doug Herbert’s camp.

The malaise that has effected competitor numbers in the Federal Mogul F/C and Dragster ranks was evident here with just 16 Funny Cars and a mere 20 dragsters on hand . In the past it was not unusual to see enough cars here to run a 32 car show but when qualifying for the "Big Go" takes only a single official attempt the NHRA’s efforts to restructure these categories and reduce costs is obviously a good move.

Larry Dixon’s Miller Lite car is sporting a new color scheme here with yellow bordered white scallops on the nose and a new style logo. That look will stay but the Olympic scheme on Kenny Bernstein's Bud King dragster is a one off for this weekend only.

Following the Brainerd event the Allen Hartley team was put on notice to step up their program after a number of track oiling incidents that were deemed to be related to substandard preparation of the car. The team was here with new hire Mike Smith who will assume the crew chief role and Smith told FNN that although it would have been possible to run the car at the event he was more concerned with getting the program in order on all fronts. Smith plans to test here following the race and during the event was working towards getting everyting in order for that test.

Casey Suzuki showed up here with the CP Trucking/Nitro Fish team although rather than being the "diver", servicing the bottom end of the motor he is now in charge of the clutch. Suzuki started his career with Jerry Toliver but this year has worked on the cars driven by Bruce Sarver, Melanie Troxel and Gary Clapshaw before re-uniting with Wayne Dupuy who tunes the Cristen Powell driven Camaro/Pontiac. All this switching teams had earned the nickname "suitcase", but here some of his former teammates labellled him the "nitro mercenary".

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