Chicago - Reporter's Notebook

Notes from Jim Luikens' Reporter's Notebook at the 4th Annual Carquest Auto Parts Nationals

No fact better illustrates the atmospheric conditions that existed at Joliet better than this one: All of the 16 qualifiers in Pro Stock ran better than the track record and all 16 recorded their all-time personal best elapsed time. The weekend began warm but a cold front moved through late Friday with the accompanying rain washing out most of the Friday night round of qualifying. When Saturday dawned clear bright, and 20 degrees cooler than the day before, the race was on its way to record territory.

Greg Anderson
Greg Anderson ended up the number one qualifier in Pro Stock after the two titanic rounds of qualifying on Saturday. His final numbers were 6.661 seconds at 207.21 miles-per-hour. A round earlier he had recorded a 207.75 speed alongside number two qualifier Dave Connolly’s 207.30 run. Connolly also had a time slip with a “66” on it as he recorded a 6.667 elapsed time that earned him second place on the final qualifying scorecard.

The size of all of the Pro fields were impressive here. No less than 26 Top Fuelers, 24 Funny Cars and 34 Pro Stockers attempted to qualify for their respective 16 car starting fields. Equally impressive were the alcohol fields as 27 Top Alcohol Dragsters and 23 Top Alcohol Funny Cars attempted to qualify for their 16 car fields.

Two-time Top Fuel World Champion Larry Dixon suffered through a thoroughly forgettable weekend at this event. His best elapsed time, after the three qualifying sessions (Friday’s night session was rained out), was 7.283 seconds, which was only good enough for the 25th position in the final standings.

Clay Millican was here driving a Peter Lehman entry sponsored by Werner Enterprises, his IHRA sponsor. Clay’s NHRA fueler is normally sponsored by 104 Octane Boost but this race was not part of the 10 race NHRA package that 104 had committed to. Chicago resident Lehman wanted to run his hometown race so he brought his car here with Werner livery.

The Stevens Family Top Fueler, that is normally driven by Rick Cooper on the IHRA circuit, attempted to qualify here in Top Fuel. Tim Gibson was driving the car here in what will be its only NHRA appearance this year. After planning only a check out run for Friday’s day session the team was severely handicapped when the night session was lost to rain. Saturday’s two sessions were lost to a broken fuel line and, then, front suspension damage during the burnout in the second session. A best elapsed time of 10.553 seconds is not at all indicative of this car’s capabilities as it is in the top 10 in IHRA points.

Cory McClenathan
Cory McClenathan ended up number one after Top Fuel qualifying was completed with a best elapsed time of 4.490 seconds with Doug Kalitta just a hair behind at 4.496 seconds. An untimely .108 red light by Cory in the first round cut short a promising day.

Another impressive performance was turned in by hometown Top Fuel driver T. J. Zizzo. He ended up 11th on the qualifying sheet with a 4.622 best. On race day he improved to 4.605 seconds in the first round but that was not enough to beat Brandon Bernstein’s 4.526-second run in the other lane.

Funny Car Eliminator also shared in the statistical heroics. John Force was the pole sitter with a 4.697 second elapsed time at 332.75 miles-per-hour. On race day he improved to 4.665 seconds at 333.58 mph during his first round win over Tony Bartone. Runs of 330.96 in the second round and 329.83 in the semi-final advanced him to the final where he faced Del Worsham.

Whit Bazemore
Whit Bazemore debuted a new Rat Fink-themed Dodge Stratus here. Two consecutive fires during the first two qualifying sessions rendered it unable to be repaired for the final session so Whit’s familiar Matco Tools body graced the car for the final qualifying session. Sunday saw the return of the repaired Rat Fink body where it lost a very close first round race to Gary Densham. Densham’s 4.756 held off Bazemore’s 4.754 and was typical of the very close races that were the order of the day in all of the Pro classes. The Rat Fink body now goes upstairs in the trailer as a back-up body for Bazemore.

Phil Burkart, Jr. was running the special Havoline body that he also ran last week at the Dallas event. Team sponsor CSK had agreed to let associate-sponsor Havoline run a specific-themed body at two races this year that were not in CSK markets. Neither Dallas or Chicago have CSK stores, and since these races are back-to-back, the decision was made to run the special body at Texas and here.

Jerry Toliver’s Toyota Funny Car featured special signage for the new DVD, The Best of Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog. After an upset win over Gary Scelzi in the first round, Jerry remarked over the public address system that every dog has his day and that maybe this would be his. A defeat by Del Worsham in the next round ended Jerry’s day two rounds from victory.

Vinnie Arcadi
New York’s Vinnie Arcadi was here with his Camaro Funny Car. His best time of 5.013 fell short of making the field but he electrified the crowd during qualifying on Saturday when he actually had all four wheels off the ground for a short time during his run. Vinnie was competing here because his sponsor, Delta Sonic Car Washes, has several locations in the Chicago area. He was assisted at this event by tuner Jay Lewis and IHRA star Bobby Lagana, Jr.

Speaking of Bobby Lagana, he plans to pull double duty next weekend at the rained out Norwalk and Reading events. His plan is to qualify the NHRA Top Fueler of Darren Bauder at Reading on Friday before returning to Norwalk for Saturday where he will drive his family's Twilight Zone IHRA Top Fueler. If all goes according to plan he will then to Reading for Sunday’s NHRA eliminations.

Bill Reichert
Bill Reichert entered the weekend leading the Top Alcohol Dragster points. His semi-final place finish only enhanced his points total since he had an earlier first round loss to throw away. Sportsman points are a hard thing to figure this time of year since there is a nearly inexhaustible number of ways to figure points when you consider the races yet to be claimed and the poorer finishes that can be thrown away by the various racers still in contention for the World Championship. Having said all that Reichert certainly appears to be in the driver’s seat with just a few races remaining in the T/AD title chase.