Grand Bend - Reporter's Notebook

Notes from Jim Luikens’ Reporter’s Notebook at the 5th Annual Mopar Canadian Nationals:

The IHRA Injected Top Fueler experiment appears to be over, at least for now. After 4 injected cars appeared at San Antonio the number dropped to three at Rockingham and then only one at Virginia. None have ever qualified or, realistically, even come close. Here at Grand Bend only one injected car, Bob Leverich, was in the pits but it never made a run. The level of Top Fuel competition has significantly changed since the rules were announced for the injected cars. The injected cars feel that they cannot compete under their current rules and the increased level of competition and they have chosen to demonstrate their opinion by staying home. IHRA officials have indicated a willingness to review the situation after the Milan event next month. Don't expect to see any front-line injected cars at the intervening events between now and then.

The closest Bob Leverich came to making a run was during the Saturday afternoon qualifying session when his car broke on the burnout. As a result he is not credited with a qualifying attempt and does not appear as one of the thirteen cars that attempted to qualify for the eight-car Top Fuel starting field. The 67-year-old Leverich lives about an hour away in Michigan and this could be considered a “test session” for his team. The car was still in NHRA trim and had received none of the upgrades that IHRA allows the Injected Top Fuelers.

Another car that was in the pits but never made a run was that of Jack Ostrander. For the second straight race the team focused 100% of their efforts on the Louie Allison-driven team car. Despite their best efforts the Ostrander team continued their 0 for 2004 Tour as once again Louie fell short of making the tough eight car field. Neither of Ostrander team cars has qualified at any IHRA event this year despite attending every one.

Saturday’s afternoon session was an expensive round for the Top Fuel competitors. Among the casualties were Rick Cooper who dropped an intake valve that killed an engine and Bobby Lagana, Jr. who kicked two rods out with similar results. Rick was able to replace his engine for the night session but Bobby Lagana was out of parts. When Bobby’s 4.983 run kept him in the field after the final session the Millican team loaned him a block for race day. Despite an intense thrash the Lagana team was not able to answer the first round call for Top Fuel.

That result was particularly frustrating for Lagana who had significantly upgraded his car since the last IHRA event. He showed up at Grand Bend with a new 12-inch Strange rear end installed in his car after he had been troubled by ring and pinion problems at the last event. His engine troubles kept him from competing despite the major investment he had made since the last race.

Todd Paton created one of the most stupendous fireballs ever seen when a new oil line failed on his car just off the starting line during Saturday’s Night of Fire. Todd finally coasted to a stop near the finish line, which resulted in an oil cleanup of more than one hour. Despite the magnitude of the fire the team didn’t hurt any parts and ended up with only a singed rear tire to show for the experience.

The last time we saw Paul Athey was two weeks ago. He was sliding down the quarter mile at Virginia Motorsports Park upside down in his Pro Modified Corvette. More than a few people were surprised when he showed up here with the same car. Turns out crewmembers Luke Tully and Tom Lukans had worked nearly 200 hours between them in just six days to repair the damage. They had to redo the roof and rear wing and replace the doors and front end. Meanwhile Quain Stott was replacing the injector and the top of the engine. The car is now painted an attractive blue. Paul says that this is the same blue that his sponsor, Mohegan Sun, uses for their Casino of the Sky facility.

Mark Thomas has been Mr. Sunday so far this year in the IHRA. After only fair to middlin’ qualifying results at the first three events he has come through the field on Sunday to win each of the events contested. At this event he moved some of his heroics to Saturday night when he came from deep in the field to snatch the pole position away from current world champion and home town favorite, Rob Atchison, during the final qualifying session. Recognizing that discretion is the better part of valor Mark instructed his crew to tow back to their pits the long way rather than towing directly behind the C and D grandstands. Seems that the Atchison team had purchased $17,000 worth of tickets and they had quite a number of fans and sponsor guests on hand in their own grandstands. Mark didn’t see any reason to tempt fate by intentionally passing near that area on his way back to the pits.

Speaking of the Atchison team, they were running two cars for the first time ever. Racing on their home turf they were able to muster enough sponsorship and personal to competitively field two cars. John Evanchuck from Western Canada was tabbed to drive the second Atchison car. He qualified sixth and bowed out in the second round while Rob went to the final where he red-lighted against the aforementioned Mr. Thomas.

Pro Stock competitor Elijah Morton was running his back up engine, Big Sexy, here while his primary engine was being repaired for Edmonton. It was good enough to take him to the second qualifying position with a great 6.501 best, just barely behind John Nobile’s 6.493 number one qualifying position. On race day Elijah and Big Sexy made it all the way to the final round where Elijah won his first ever IHRA event

John Montecalvo’s crew chief, Jeff Dobbins, tipped that we can expect to see him behind the wheel of a second Montecalvo car at the next event in Edmonton. He’ll be shaking down a new 2004 Chevrolet Cavalier that was built by Rick Jones while John continues on in his proven 2002 Rick Jones Cavalier.

On the exhibition front, Ken Nelson debuted Cool Bus II. The new Cool Bus wheel stander is lower and better appearing than the original according to Nelson. It also features a second seat for media rides.

Track manager Ron Biekx ran his fuel altered here as a replacement for Mike Fazer. Mike was originally booked in to race Wayne Minick in the Tom Motry-owned fuel Anglia but Fazer suffered a body failure last week during a match race in Ohio. Biekx earned a unique distinction here when he oiled his own track during the first round of the match race. A broken push rod led to a blower backfire on his ‘48 Fiat. The backfire took out the blower belt and the departing belt knocked off an oil line, earning Biekx a footnote in drag racing history.