Milan - Reporter's Notebook

Notes from Jim Luikens' Reporter's Notebook at the 2nd Annual Motor City Nationals

Keith Stark
The story of the weekend was the surprise appearance of Keith Stark. Stark had vowed not to attend another IHRA race because the Injected Top Fuel engine formula had proven to be uncompetitive for him as well as every other team that had tried to qualify with that combination. In an attempt to find out what it would take to make the combination competitive with the supercharged cars, he had begun a stealth program to investigate the feasibility of adding nitrous oxide to his nitro engine.

On Tuesday of last week, just three days before the event, IHRA officials called him and invited him to come to Milan with his car. They told him that he would have to pay the event's entry fee but would not be eligible to compete in eliminations if he ran well enough to qualify for the field. On the positive side it would give him a chance to demonstrate the combination under the watchful eye of the IHRA tech officials.

Unfortunately Keith's regular crew had already made other weekend plans because they had not been expecting to race. When the IHRA call came, Keith had to scramble and draft whoever he could to help him at Milan. As a result his, crew here was made up of his 68 year old neighbor, Maury Ziebart, his PR lady's husband, Dave Geiger, and two friends from Cleveland, Rudy Thomas and Don Washington.

Keith's weekend got off to an inauspicious start when the car would not start for Friday's only qualifying session. It turned out that the contacts in his starter's power pack, which are heavy duty and were originally designed for arc welder use, had failed. Keith says that he has never before experienced this kind of failure despite using these types of parts for years.

Saturday went better for the Stark team as the car started easily and made complete runs in both rounds. With a very soft clutch tune-up and minimal nitrous application, the car recorded a 5.51 second run in the afternoon session. A slightly more aggressive tune-up for the night session saw the car's elapsed time improve to 5.42 seconds. These two runs are the only full 1,320-foot runs that he has ever made on nitrous. Because he is basically in uncharted territory, there is no one to tap for input on using this combination. Mike Sullivan of Applied Physics and Jeff Prock (brother of Jimmy Prock) of Applied Nitrous have both been very helpful to Keith in establishing a baseline tune-up to build on.

Mike Bowman
Asked to assess his weekend, Keith said he was glad that he came to the event and that he had learned a lot. He was also pleased to have made two complete 1,320 foot passes with no engine damage or track oiling. On Sunday morning, IHRA's Scooter Peaco had a meeting with Keith. After a review of what had transpired over the preceding two days, our understanding is that nitrous oxide will be legal in Top Fuel for injected nitro engines beginning with the IHRA's next event, at Cayuga, Ontario. Keith plans to be there with his regular crew as he attempts to qualify for his first ever IHRA event.

An experiment that didn't go quite as well was the Friday night run between Mike Bowman and Mike
Bruce Litton
Moran. Both drivers were racing twin-turbocharged 1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlos that are based at Moran's shop in Taylor, Michigan and normally run Outlaw Pro Street in the PRO series. Running here as a preview of the type of car that could possibly be included in Pro Modified, Bowman experienced a major fire when his intake manifold blew off the engine near the finish line, severing the fuel lines and igniting a major fire. In retrospect Bowman, of Hesperia, California feels that he could possibly have triggered the fire when he chose to switch off the electric power to his engine because his throttle was stuck wide open as he neared the finish line. After coming to a stop in the middle of the track Bowman was able to exit the car under his own power. Although the car was burned extensively Bowman feels that the car is repairable.
Bruce Litton debuted a new Brad Hadman dragster here that is a replacement for the car that he crashed at this year's IHRA season opener in San Antonio. Litton qualified the new car fourth in its debut and won his first round match over Rick Cooper below he lost in the semi-finals to Doc Sipple. One round earlier, Sipple handed Clay Millican a rare first round defeat.

Louie Allison
Louie Allison The last time Millican lost in the first round was in 2002, at Budds Creek, when Jack Ostrander did the trick enroute to Ostrander's first-ever IHRA event win. The Jack Ostrander team reversed a year of frustration at Milan when team driver Louie Allison qualified here in the seventh position with a 4.960. This was the first time this year that either Team Ostrander car has qualified for an IHRA event. Louie made maximum use of his spot in the field as he defeated Tim Cullinan and then Doug Foley to advance to the championship finals, where he defeated the other surprise finalist, Doc Sipple, for his first ever career victory.

For the second race in a row, Mike McLaughlin was assisting the Rick Cooper team as co-crew chief. They qualified fifth here with a 4.890 second run that was recorded during Saturday's Night of Fire. The team is very happy with the progress that they made here and looks forward to continuing to work with McLaughlin. The driver directly behind Cooper in the points, Grant Flowers, did not attend the event, which means that Rick's position in the points was strengthened.

Bobby Lagana, Jr. also helped himself in the points here as he qualified sixth. The two drivers ahead of him in the Top Fuel points going into the event, Chris Karamesines and Todd Paton, both failed to qualify, which also helped his cause. Lagana discovered a wiped camshaft lobe before Saturday's Night of Fire and was forced to install a new cam without enough time to "degree" it in. Post-qualifying inspection revealed that the cam had been installed in a retarded position. Despite that, he was able to improve his best e.t. from 5.08 to 4.94 seconds. On Friday night he recorded a near-career-best top speed of 304.46 miles-per-hour on a run that included a significant pedal job.

Thomas vs Atchinson
After an up and down year so far, Mitch Stott appeared to return to his World Championship form here as he qualified second with a 6.234 second run. Tire shake in the semi-final round ended his day, but not before he had defeated Von Smith and Quain Stott in the first two rounds.

This year's two strongest funny cars, Rob Atchison and Mark Thomas, qualified first and second, respectively. They both advanced to the championship final where Rob won his first event of the year. Mark salvaged a small amount of consolation by recording a new Funny Car track speed record of 241.32 miles-per-hour in the final.

The Funny Car winner at the last event, Jeff Burnett of Brownsburg, Indiana reportedly is still in Can
Jeff Dobbins
ada. Burnett, a native of Australia, had his visa expire while he was in Canada and he was turned away at the border when he tried to reenter the USA. The story is that he has now made his way to the embassy in Toronto in an attempt to straighten out the red tape. Announcer Aaron Polburn came up with the line of the day when he dryly replied, "I guess the good news is that he can race at Cayuga" when he heard of Burnett's difficulties.

Mike Janis fell to seventh in points from second place when he did not attend the last national event at Edmonton. His free fall was amplified by the fact that the only person ahead of him in points prior to Edmonton, Harold Martin, went on to win that event. Here, he defeated Harold in the semi-finals to gain back a small part of the points he lost two weeks ago before losing to Al Billes in the final.

As tipped at the Grand Bend event, Jeff Dobbins was driving the brand new John Montecalvo Cavalier that was built by Rick Jones. Originally slated to debut at Edmonton, it instead made its debut here and qualified 14th. Jeff defeated the higher-qualified Mike Bell in the first round before losing to Frank
Jeff Burnett
Gugliotta in the second round.


The championship final rounds were run with lightning flashing just beyond the finish line. In a humorous recreation of the runaway orange balloon seen at the Busch race at Joliet last weekend, the giant Pepsi logo balloon here escaped its tether near the finish line and led track personal on a high speed chase up the track. It was immediately dubbed, "The Attack of the Giant Killer Pepsi Logo." The Keystone Cops-like chase ended with a shredded balloon amid torrential rain less than ten minutes after Bob Motz closed the event in his jet Kenworth.