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Sat, 27 Oct 2001, 02:40 PM

Friday Pit Notes from LVMS
By Keith Burgan

LAS VEGAS -- Bill Blomgren's Geronimo Camaro was back on the tour here with a former Chuck Etchells body replacing the one that the team toasted at their last outing. With veteran tuner Donnie Couch calling the shots Phil Burkhart opened with a 5.29 and then carded a 5.19 in the second session despite knocking the blower off. The black body carries Nitro Fish decals as Bob Fisher retools his involvement in the sport by renewing his relationship with Burkhart.

The Werner Enterprises backed T/F entry wheeled by Clay Millican and tuned by Mike Kloeber was running a unique new blower drive belt package today. The Goodyear manufactured belt features a herringbone style tooth pattern and appears to be a possible answer to the belt tossing problems that have been a major problem for the fuel cars this year. The team first ran the new belt last weekend at the IHRA event in Shreveport, LA and Kloeber told FNN that despite running the engine at 8800 rpm for much of the run the belt stayed intact even when the clutch welded.

Kloeber also noted that the fact that Werner's trucking business is a major Goodyear customer was a major influence on Goodyear's involvement in the project to adapt the belt from its primary industrial use to the race application. In fact it was an industrial application that first exposed Kloeber to the belt as the Reynard wind tunnel uses the belt to drive the moving ground plane. Using the somewhat conservative industrial criteria the belt is rated at 500 horsepower capacity so it should survive the brief, but intense use to drive the blowers.

The Lehman/Millican entry was part of the biggest line up of Top Fuel cars this season as 22 cars made qualifying attempts today. That number should grow to 24 on Saturday as a pair of cars that are on the grounds did not make runs today. Don Lampus was committed to attend a long time friend's wedding and was in route to Las Vegas tonight while Rob Passey came to the line twice in Don Mattinson's former MGM Grand car but towed away both times without firing a shot. The first attempt for the backed entry was aborted when the air bottle for the timers was found to have bled off all its pressure.

Lampus' absence and the fact that Johnny Gray returned home to New Mexico when his father took ill left Wayne Dupuy and co-crew chief Chris Cunninghan at a loose end today with two cars to tune but no drivers. That situation also helped ease the load on Chris Nichol who is crewing for Lampus and was also racing his own Super Comp entry. Nichol worked on the fuel dragster until late afternoon and then jumped into his own race car only to lose in the opening round of eliminations.

Following his number one qualifying 4.748 shot Whit Bazemore commented on the significance of the run noting that the corrected altitude level here was in the vicinity of 3000 feet. An added factor is the total absence of trees compared with the site of the previous big number producing event at the Maple Grove facility which is nestled in a valley with plenty of oxygen producing greenery surrounding the track.

Bazemore also engaged in a staging battle with Force and was once again the last car into the second beam. Bazemore's justification for waiting Force out was that the 11-time champ (in Whit's opinion) takes too long to bring on the second light if he is last to stage. Bazemore also commented that his car runs better when it is hot as was thus not worried about waiting out Force.

Jim Dunn's Funny Car will be carrying the K & N logo in 2002 as the veteran racer will again have Al Hoffman in the seat. A disappointed Graeme Cowin, who brought the Riverside, California based company into the sport told FNN that he had proposed a greater involvement for the company (with the consequent greater returns) with his team for next year after running a part time program for the past two seasons. In light of the fact that Andrew Cowin has been consistently qualifying well despite the team's limited schedule while the Dunn/Hoffman entry has missed the cut at a number of events this year the decision by K & N seems a little irrational.

Dean Skuza's Dodge appeared here today with a Spiderman themed paint job. Skuza smoked the tires in round one, but came back in tonight's session with a 4.855 to end up fifth on the final list for the day. Look for this team to debut a new Dodge Stratus two door body at next year's season opening Winternationals. The new shell is being developed by Jack Roush who also did the current Mustang shell for John Force.

Following his roller coaster wheelstanding pass at Dallas Tommy Johnson Jr is in a new car here. T.J.'s new ride was originally intended to be Ron Capps' initial car in 2002, but was pressed into service early after the Dallas episode.

Wyatt Radke made his Top Fuel debut here in the former Bobby Baldwin car that was purchased by Rick Michael following Baldwin's untimely death in late September. Michael is the owner of Western Rock, the company that was Baldwin's primary sponsor this year. The car is now painted red and yellow to match the company's fleet of trucks and will continue to be tuned by Radke's brother Scott. Radke last drove a T/F entry in 1997 and completed his license renewal runs last weekend with the primarily part time crew subsequently put in some serious hours servicing the car for this weekend. After Radke made the show with his first session 4.818 (a career best) the team sat out tonight's session.

Local racer Gary Clapshaw also passed on tonight's session after carding a 4.689 on his first attempt. The Spirit of Las Vegas is back in its original color scheme after being decaled in plain black for its last outing at Indy with Don Garlits at the wheel although the Matco Tools decals remain.

The tower here looked like an unemployed driver's lounge this afternoon with Jim Epler, Melanie Troxel, Cory McClenathan and Scott Kalitta in attendance. All of the dragster drivers got some mike time as they explained their current situation to the fans, but Epler spent his time thinking about raising backing to get back on the track next year after the demise of the Etchells operation.

Although recent rumors have linked McClenathan with the Amato operation as either a replacement for, or teammate to current shoe Darrell Russell, Cory told FNN that he currently does not have anything concrete to assure his return to the track. Likewise Kalitta is looking to make a comeback after several seasons on the sideline and has Bob Lawson researching possible deals. Retirement has not been all bad for Scott who after selling his business has been living on a tropical island in the Caribbean. Troxel spent most of the session providing color commentary so she is at least partially gainfully employed here.

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