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Tue, 12 Nov 2002, 02:15 PM

38th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals Notes
Courtesy of Keith Burgan

POMONA, Calif. -- When both Friday and Saturday’s qualifying sessions were rained out the pro fields were determined in part by season points. In each category at least one driver made the show based on his top 10 points standing. Andrew Cowin displaced IHRA champion Clay Millican in T/F while Tommy Johnson Jr and Scotty Cannon bumped Stephen Neese and Bob Gilbertson in F/C. Pro stock saw George Marnell, Mark Whisnant and Allen Johnson filling the final three spots as they displaced Greg Stanfield, V. Gaines and J.R. Carr while Steve Johnson made it into pro stock bike at the expense of Redell Harris.

Kenny Bernstein's career as a driver ended early here and as at Las Vegas his defeat came at the hands of an underdog. In his penultimate race Bernstein fell to Shirley Muldowney's career best effort and here Yuichi Oyama ran a second best of the round 4.676 to take an easy win when Bernstein smoked the tires early.

In "silly season" news Wes Cerney is moving to the Schumacher camp as crew chief of the Army entry. Current tuner for the car, Dan Olson will remain with the team in an R & D mode while overseeing the tuning of all three entries. Contrary to popular rumor the second of Don Schumacher’s funny cars will continue to carry backing from Oakley as departing driver Scotty Cannon’s Pro Mod deal is a separate package. For some time Gary Scelzi has evidently been the number one choice to steer the Oakley car and this afternoon Scelzi was wearing an Oakley cap as he watched first round action from the start line here.

Late today after the semi final rounds of the pro categories had been run it became official as the ESPN cameras were in the Schumacher pits with Scelzi sitting in the Oakley car. In concert with this action was a rumor that Cannon would continue to be involved with the Schumacher operation. One story line had Oakley's Jim Jannard purchasing what had been Cannon's 2002 ride complete with trailer and another had Schumacher simply adding a third flopper for Cannon. Don Schumacher declined to comment but was involved in several high level meetings and telephone conversations late in the day. Also on the probable but not confirmed list is a switch to Dodge bodies.

Rumors have also been circulating this weekend about a possible alliance between Alan Johnson and Jerry Toliver but that story has been ongoing since the U.S. Nationals and appears no closer to resolution.

More 2003 packages have gelled in the past two weeks with Rob Flynn and Dave Fletcher, formerly cohorts at Worsham's CSK team pairing up again to run Cruz Pedregon's Advance Auto Parts operation which will be based in the Indianapolis area. The team will share shop space with Antron Brown's PSB team which will be moving into a new shop being constructed adjacent to Don Prudhomme's facility in the new year. That will make the east side of Brownsburg a hot bed of drag race activity as Prudhomme is planning to expand his currently 20,000 sq. ft shop and John Force is looking at building a new midwest base right across the street.

Having been dumped by Doug Herbert, Johnny West appears to be headed to the Henkleman/Baca camp to replace the departing Cerney. Here Baca made the cut in the team's second entry which carried primary signage from Prolong and Waterloo.

Tim Wilkerson will be running the full tour in 2003 with increased backing from Levi, Ray and Shoup but he may be looking for a crew chief as current lead tuner Fred Mandoline in unsure that he wants to spend 23 weekends on the road. He told FNN that this years 15 event schedule for the team was about as much racing as he wanted to do and that he was mulling over the ramifications of running the full NHRA Powerade season.

Darrell Russell's Joe Amato owned digger was sporting a set of new American Racing front wheels here. The new multi spoke units on the Bilstein entry have a black chrome finish and will be joined by a matching set of rear wheels in the near future. With the demise of Centerline as a supplier Weld have had the market to themselves as a supplier of rollers for the fuel cars.

Weld also have some competition in the pro stock ranks as BBS released their new pro stock front and rear rollers at the SEMA show in Las Vegas earlier in the week with Warren Johnson being the first to sign up for a set.

Look for some changes in pro stock bodies in the new year and not just the debut of the new Dodge Stratus that was officially announced at the SEMA show. Evidently one chassis builder has been taking some liberties with the contour of the cars he has been constructing for some teams. The original intent of the move to carbon fiber shells for the pro stockers was to stop the aero enhancing modifications with the edict that the bodies were to be run as they cam out of the mold and mounted to meet a standardized set of dimensions. As described to FNN by Warren Johnson this is not the case and moves are underway by the NHRA to even things up again. The current Neons are evidently not a problem as they are very slick as they come, with W.J again providing the pertinent comment as he noted that they were designed by the same person that created claymation character Gumby, i.e. no sharp corners.

Still on the subject of Warren Johnson, he noted that his recent engine development program is starting to show dividends with the latest iteration making as much power on its initial pulls on the dyno as the currently fully developed race engine. For the record the current power level is in the vicinity of 1340 horsepower.

During Friday's rain induced hiatus in on track activity chassis builder Murf McKinney was spotted in the Skoal pit as he, Ron Capps and Ed McCulloch determined the configuration of an additional structure that will be added to Don Prudhomme’s funny cars in an effort to protect Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr in the case of a repeat of Capps’ Dallas engine explosion.

Don Ness is currently working on a new Escort ZX-2 pro stocker for Hurley Blakney’s team. Evidently a pair of cars are on order and it is highly likely that engine supplier Bob Panella Jr will be at the wheel of the second car at some stage.

Evidently the proliferation of Chevy Cavaliers in pro stock has prompted a reaction from GM Racing and in 2003 both Greg Anderson and Mike Edwards will make the switch to Pontiac Grand Ams with Anderson already having a car on order from Jerry Bickel.

Most spectators at the event probably missed it but Larry Morgan’s Neon sported Mopar’s 2003 color scheme here. Due to a commitment to display the car at the SEMA show Morgan missed the single qualifying session on Thursday and was on the DNQ list. Those who took the time to walk back into the pits would have seen the new paint which features blue and black on a white base accompanied by barbed wire graphics on both the Neon and Morgan's semi.

During his stint at the Las Vegas Convention Center Morgan was present at the unveiling of Shaun Carlson’s new front wheel drive Pro FWD Summit Sport Compact Series contender. Morgan was so impressed by the quality of construction of the car, especially the standard of the wiring that he immediately began pressuring Carlson to make himself available to wire his forthcoming Stratus. For his part, Carlson’s new status as a member of the Mopar team had him on the start line here today to watch Gene Wilson defeat new crowned national champ Jeg Coughlin.

During the rain delay Paul Romine was spotted cruising the pits in his Nitronic Research 5 Second Club jacket. With the demise of his Carquest/Doug Herbert package Romine will drive John Mitchell's Montana Express entry for the full 2003 NHRA tour. Former Mitchell shoe Dave Grubnic will stay with the team on the crew side of the operation while steering Bill Miller's BME car at selected events. Aussie Dave’s 2003 ride for Miller will be the long awaited Don Long car that will replace the team's current 1991 Long unit.

The shortened qualifying procedure here ensured that a couple of pro stock team's records stayed intact. Ron Krisher ended the season as the only driver to qualify at ever race and would have been in via the top 10 ruling no matter what happened while a sub standard pass in that session ensured that John Nobile’s status as the only driver to attend all of the races and not qualify once stayed intact.

Darrell Gwynn's NY Yankees dragster carried O'Reilly Auto Parts decals on race day here and when questioned Jerry Gwynn would only say that something may be in the works for next season.

Frank "Ace" Manzo was cruising the pits here as a spectator. Manzo told FNN that he had recently sold his championship winning Kendall GT-1 Dodge TA/FC. Manzo noted that he had retained a pair of bullets from his inventory but was unsure of his plans for 2003.

Also unsure of his status for next year is David Nickens who lost his factory Dodge backing. Nickens commented that although he had several irons in the fire nothing was close to being signed. In the same situation is Brad Jeter who drove the Motown Missile at Las Vegas and also attempted to qualify the car here. Jeter was last spotted by FNN in discussion with Steve Schmidt, whose car he drove on several occasions this year.

Roland Leong returned to the fuel wars here this weekend as he teamed up with Aussie Peter Russo. With limited to no track time available in his homeland Russo and wife Helen have based their funnycar here on the west coast and commuted from down under to run the car at selected events. Leong's plan was to have Russo make a 330 foot shot in the initial session and that effectively sealed the team’s fate when that became to sole qualifying shot.

Doug Herbert will be running what for many fans will be the ultimate promotion in 2003. A decal on the front of the car previews Harbert's "Win this car" contest in which a fan will take home a complete running top fuel car at the end of the next season. For those who want to play is the place to go for information.

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Apr 22- HOUSTON - Sunday Wrap Up
Apr 22- HOUSTON - Summary of Eliminations in Top Fuel
Apr 22- HOUSTON - Summary of Eliminations in Funny Car
Apr 22- HOUSTON - Summary of Eliminations in Pro Stock
Apr 22- HOUSTON - Summary of Eliminations in Pro Modified

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