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Mon, 29 Oct 2001, 03:31 PM

Sunday Pit Notes from LVMS
By Keith Burgan

LAS VEGAS -- Larry Dixon's Winston title aspirations took a hit here when the Miller Lite dragster smoked the tires against Don Lampus in round two. The Dick LaHaie tuned entry dropped a cylinder early in the run and even on seven holes would probably have still been capable of a low 4.60 elapsed time that would have won the contest. The problem came when the dead hole lit up again with the increased power being just a little too much for the tires to handle in light of the fact that the car was a little behind its normal acceleration curve.

Luckily Darrell Russell's final round victory over the Bud King provided a measure of damage control and the Don Prudhomme owned team is headed to Pomona with a plan. LaHaie intends to reset the Top Fuel elapsed time record there if at all possible and is trying to figure out a way to take Bernstein out of the action early. If LaHaie and Dixon do get the record and win the race they can survive a semi final finish by the Bud car, otherwise they need to have Bernstein gone after the second round.

Although the Funny Car title chase was over last weekend in Texas the combatants are still at each other's throats. As previously noted Whit Bazemore and John Force engaged in a staging duel during Friday evening's qualifying session and repeated the process early on Saturday. The second burndown lasted 41 seconds before Force relented and lit the second light. Things began to get a little ugly when an incident following that run prompted the NHRA to fine Force’s team $1000 for "unsportsman like conduct" as the crews collected their cars at the top end.

The rumors circulating the pits had a Force crew member either swinging at or taking a poke at Bazemore with a body pole and the official NHRA release did not elaborate so FNN did a little detective work. It seems that Robert Hight, who in addition to being a long time Force crew member is also John's son in law, always plucks the body support pole off the tow vehicle, usually before the truck stops rolling. In this case he performed his normal routine, swinging around with the pole to head for the car and inadvertently nudging Bazemore in the process due to the close proximity of the two cars.

Obviously all of the fringe happenings and the fact that the Matco Tools Pontiac out of the Schumacher stable is currently the hottest ride on the tour is weighing on the Force camp and that was reinforced by the bizarre first round incident that took Force out the action early today. The Castrol GTX Mustang was paired with rookie Bob Bode and everything went according to plan until Force put the second stage light on. An obviously hyped up Bode left on that light and remarkably Force followed suit before the auto start system had time to activate the tree. Confusion reigned on the start line, especially when the win light came on in Bode's lane, but in the tower a quick review of the relevant rules produced the determination that there was no winner with both cars being disqualified.

Predictably Force was soon in the tower arguing with Graham Light and anyone else who would listen, but the officials stuck to their guns. Jeff Foster who oversees the timing system did review footage from all four cameras that captured the incident and by frame by framing the images determined that Force cleared the beams just hundredths of a second before the yellows were due to flash, but the fact remained that neither car took the light and the double DQ stood. Later in the afternoon Force returned to the tower to apologize to the officials (and anyone else) that he had verbally assaulted, but most had expected no less of the volatile driver.

For the second consecutive race Tom Hammonds was saddled with bridesmaid status in Pro Stock as Mark Pawuk used a holeshot to hold him off by just .003 or about 10 inches. Hammonds' prior round reaction times had been in the .450 range, but in the final he fell off to a .486 while Pawuk produced a clutch .444 light, his best of the day.

Hammonds is definitely a win waiting to happen as his new Jerry Bickel Cavalier and Krisher power have given him and crew chief Donnie Gardner the tools they need to become contenders every weekend. After an aborted initial attempt Hammonds was in the quick group in every subsequent session here and may have been at the top of the list if Gardner had the advantage of a good first run to tune for Friday evening's session which provided the best conditions of the weekend.

David Rampy made it to the final round of Competition Eliminator here before falling to Bo Butner. Rampy headed qualifying in his Mopar powered B/AA while Butner came from third place with has D/AA Firebird. Don't expect to see the Alabama based driver's Bantam at Pomona however as Rampy told FNN that he is heading to Florida to bracket race and make some money.

Carl Robinson of Weld Wheels was busy in the pits on Saturday evening helping the Virginia based Top Fuel team of Scott Weis. Although Weis had qualified 13th with a 4.673 the team was having problems keeping air in the front tires. Even though Weis was using a competitor's product Robinson worked hard at sealing the leaks in the wheels so that they could be used as spares while also outfitting the car with a set of Weld Racing's new five spoke units. Despite operating out of a tag trailer towed by a motorhome and having an extremely limited stock of parts the Weis operation continues to mix it up with the big guys and will be at Pomona in two weeks.

Look for some changes in the Pro Stock pits next year with rumors circulating here having Mike Edwards (currently fourth in points) and Larry Morgan losing their respective Chevrolet and Mopar backing. Rickie (Suitcase) Smith will also be looking for a ride as Jim Yates plans to return to a single car package.

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Mar 19- GAINESVILLE - Sunday Video
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