Edmonton - Reporter's Notebook

Notes from Jim Luikens' Reporter's Notebook at the 4th Annual IHRA Rocky Mountain Nationals

Water, Water Everywhere
This is the second year that IHRA has traveled to Canada's High Prairie region to put on a national event. Last year's Rocky Mountain Nationals at Edmonton's Budweiser Motorsports Park were conducted under hot and dry skies but not so this year. Occasional rain on Friday resulted in a cumulative delay of nearly three hours. Torrential rains on Saturday resulted in not even a single car going down the track and the eventual calling of the racing day at 2:00, some five and a half hours before the scheduled Night of Fire. Intermittent showers on Sunday delayed the action several times before it was finally completed at O Dark Thirty. Perhaps a better name for the event would have been the Rainy Mountain Nationals.

Friday's weather troubles resulted in the only scheduled Top Fuel qualifying session of the day being moved from the evening Pro Session to the afternoon Pro Session when race officials were concerned that weather might interrupt the evening session. The move caught many teams unprepared and several were forced to miss the session when their driver was not on the grounds. Saturday's complete rain-out left the Fuelers with only one session in the books for the event. According to the IHRA rule book, each pro driver is guaranteed at least two qualifying sessions. To make up for the missed sessions a last-ditch Top Fuel qualifying session was scheduled for Sunday morning.

Millican's Roll Cage Shield
For nearly two years Clay Millican has run titanium shields behind his driver's compartment as the result of being hit in the shoulder by a departing upper supercharger pulley. After last week's tragedy at the NHRA race in St. Louis, crew chief Mike Kloeber had new, double-layer upper wraparound shields constructed for both sides of the roll cage to augment the existing shields by chassis builder Brad Hadman. Clay's car was the only one here with the new-style parts installed. These parts foreshadow what is going to be required by the NHRA beginning with their next event in Denver. Clay has four events remaining on his NHRA schedule this year, the next of which is Memphis. While any win is a good win, a "home town" win at Memphis would be the ideal place for Clay's first ever NHRA win.

Of the 13 Top Fuelers that attempted to qualify here, 12 were of the supercharged variety. Ed Verenka was the lone injected Top Fuel entry but, as been the case for the injected fuelers at every event so far this year, his 6.92 second elapsed time fell far short of making the field. Clay Millican's assistant crew chief, Lance Larsen, offered his opinion here that, given the current strength of the IHRA fields, it is obvious that the injected cars need to be given something to be competitive and that he is not opposed to giving them enough relief so that they at least have a sporting chance at qualifying.

Dave Fedorowich never made it past the Christmas tree on his only qualifying attempt so he is not found in the final qualifying results since he never made a full pass. Dave was driving the Alberta Clipper Top Fueler here for owner Kevin Boyer. Kevin hopes to eventually license in his car but for now he plans to keep his day job, which is racing a Top Fuel Harley on the Canadian Motorcycle Drag Racing Association circuit.

Johnny Rocca Interviews Terry Capp
Some of the biggest news of the weekend revolved around Edmonton resident Terry Capp, who made his return to drag racing here at the wheel of "The Royal Canadian" Top Fueler. Capp, the 1980 US Nationals Top Fuel eliminator, is a local accountant who got the bug to return to racing at last year's Rocky Mountain Nationals. Long time drag racing supporter Ron Hodgson, also a Edmonton resident, serves as the team manager for a group of 31 supporters who put together the funding that put Capp back on the track. The team has leased a race car, transporter, pit equipment and crew members from Bob Vandergriff. Rob Flynn serves as the crew chief for both drivers and the plan is to compete at alternating events. A problem arises for the 50th Anniversary US Nationals, where both drivers would like to compete. Capp, a past winner, is officially invited and plans to attend but he would also like to be a participant. He did nothing but increase expectations here when he ran 4.75 seconds at 319.37 miles-per-hour in his first round win over fellow Canadian Todd Paton. He then won his second round match with Tim Cullinan which put him into the finals against IHRA's "Mr. Everything," Clay Millican, who won his 34th IHRA National Event.

Bobby Lagana, Jr. was a surprise non-qualifier in Top Fuel. For this race he had a new-to-him billet engine block and Racepak computer. Wanting to make sure that everything was working OK, Bobby only made a half track run on Friday. When Saturday's rains washed out both sessions it left him with just one last shot on Sunday morning to make the field. Unfortunately his car malfunctioned on the burnout and he went to the starting line with one wet and one dry rear tire. A 7.361 second run made him a first round spectator. Bobby was helped at this event by Canadian Fuel Funny Car racers Rick Duchene and Rick Statt. Duchene, who lives nearby, opened his home and race shop to the Lagana team for nearly an entire week as they prepared for this event.

Rick Cooper was the other surprise non-qualifier in Top Fuel. The Stevens Family Fueler was fifth in points entering the weekend and they arrived here with a new co-crew chief, Mike McLaughlin. Mike, who has formerly worked with Don Lampus and Danny Dunn among others, will be a permanent hire if his synergy with the team is good. The team missed Friday's session when a magneto malfunction prevented their car from starting. They too suffered from Saturday's lost sessions and were left with, effectively, one last shot to qualify on Sunday morning. Running in the left lane, the car got loose at the 330 foot mark and ended up tossing its blower belt when the engine lost its load and the RPM rose too quickly.

Von Smith and Pat Moore were the most notable of the non-qualifiers in Pro Modified. Both suffered from problems during Friday's two qualifying sessions. When rain washed out both Saturday sessions in their entirety their field was set and they were both on the outside looking in.

Harold Martin
Pro Mod competitor Mike Janis was second in points entering the weekend. However, for the second year in a row, he chose to skip the long tow from upstate New York to Edmonton. When the event's dust had cleared he had fallen all the way to seventh place in the points. To add insult to injury, Harold Martin, who was the only person leading him going into the event, went all the way to his first ever win. This allowed Harold to open up a 118 point lead over Janis.

For the second year in a row Calgary's Rick DiStefano made it to the Pro Modified final round. After being the runner-up to Quain Stott last year in his only final ever, he was the runner-up again this year when his blower belt failed after he had grabbed an .08 second lead at the tree.

Mark Thomas had won all four of the 2004 IHRA National Events contested to date. After he won his first round pairing, a passerby suggested that he needed only three more wins to keep his 2004 record intact. "Great" replied Mark, who had already had quite enough of a very wet racing weekend. "We'll run 'em back to back and repack the chutes in the staging lanes." Mark's racing day ended in the semi-final round when he was defeated by Terry McMillen, who went on to a runner-up finish.

Rob Atchison came into the event in second place in the Funny Car points, but failed to make up any ground when he, too, went out in the semi-final round.

Ronnie Midyette was a strong third in Pro Funny Car points entering the weekend but he was surprising no-show at the Rocky Mountain Nationals. He fell all the way to fifth, 282 points behind Thomas.

Business Was Brisk at
Mike Baker's Car Wash
A couple of the Pro Stock teams doubled up to make the long tow out to Edmonton. Frank Gugliotta's car rode out in the Elijah Morton transporter and Ron Miller's Cavalier hitched a ride with Chuck DeMory. When DeMory and Miller found themselves paired against each other in the first round, it was humorously suggested that Miller choose his actions carefully if he ever wanted his car returned to the USA. Throwing caution to the wind he defeated DeMory 6.62 to 6.69 in a close race.

Elijah Morton won Pro Stock at Grand Bend, the last event prior to Edmonton. His race day didn't last near as long here when he was timed out while trying to stage in the second round. The team serviced their transmission prior to the start of this event and a new sprag, that had only been installed as part of preventative maintenance, failed.

The extremely wet conditions of the weekend turned the pits into a quagmire, to put it mildly. By Sunday morning IHRA Tech Director Mike Baker and his staff were power washing the mud off of every race car before it was allowed to enter the staging lanes.

A large field of 48 Jr. Dragsters participated here. Nearly 50% (22 of 48) of the drivers were female. IHRA permits Jr. Funny Cars to race in Jr. Dragster and three of the 48 entries were Jr. Funny Cars.
"Under Pressure"

The exhibition vehicles were a different group than we normally see at IHRA events. The "Smokin' Gun" multi-turbo Diesel Semi Tractor of Calgary's Gord Cooper was impressive with its quad rear wheel burnouts. Also on hand was the "Full Tilt Boogie" 1937 Chevrolet Truck Wheel Stander of Kerry Watron and the "Under Pressure" Jet Ambulance. The ambulance was of the mobile emergency room style and it was constructed from a 4700 Series International Truck. Its power plant was previously installed in a F-4 "Phantom" jet. The "Urban Legend" Dodge Monster Truck was also giving rides in the muddy field to the left of the track.