Indianapolis - Reporter's Notebook

Notes from Jim Luikens' Reporter's Notebook at the 51st Annual NHRA US Nationals

"General Lee" Dragster
This race had a distinctly "Dukes" flavor to it in honor of the race's title rights sponsor, The Dukes of Hazzard movie. Festivities included having both the General Lee Dodge Charger and the police car of Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on hand. Several times throughout the weekend those two cars were run down the drag strip with the General Lee receiving a slight head start on the long-suffering sheriff. The movie debuts August 5th.

The Top Fuel dragster of Clay Millican was also repainted in an orange paint scheme that was reminiscent of the original General Lee. Clay was the perfect person to wheel a General Lee fueler because his very first race car was a Dodge Charger that featured a General Lee paint scheme. During the press preview on Thursday Clay had a chance to spend some time behind the wheel of the General Lee Charger that was on hand. He reports that the all of the controls, and their operation, came back to him immediately.

Millican's Blowover
As had been widely reported last week, Kenny Koretsky had to temporarily step out of his NHRA Dodge Pro Stocker due to a health issue. After watching his designated replacement driver, Mike Thomas, make two qualifying runs at the NHRA event in Denver, Colorado on Friday, Kenny flew to the Motor City in time to spend the rest of the weekend with his newly-purchased racing team, the ex-Peter Lehman Top Fuel squad.

The very first IHRA run that Kenny got to see his new T/F car make was a wild, tire-spinning affair with the car black-tracking from half track to the finish line. Team driver Clay Millican had left his helmet visor open to prevent having it fog up during the burnout due to the extreme humidity present. Unfortunately, he forgot to lower it before the run and was treated to a face full of nitro, some of which got into his eyes, once the run began. Despite having the car move around on him extensively he never lifted and was rewarded with a 4.647 elapsed time and a track-record speed of 317.49 miles-per-hour. That run would eventually hold up for the number one qualifying spot in Top Fuel.

Bobby Lagana
Koretsky was also on hand to witness Clay's wild blowover accident during the semifinals. Nicknamed "Captain Chaos" for some of his own on- and off-track mishaps, Kenny said he was glad that he was here to see the accident first-hand and talk to Clay right after the accident instead of getting information relayed by telephone. He also half-jokingly suggested that his own bad luck in a Top Fueler at Milan 15 years ago might have jinxed Millican. Both Millican and Koretsky opined that the "Dukes of Hazzard" sponsors had gotten their money's worth.

Engling's '72 Hurst Olds
The Top Fuel track speed record featured a tug of war here between Bobby Lagana, Jr. and Clay Millican. Entering the weekend Clay held the track speed mark at 313.07 mph. In Friday's only qualifying session Clay raised his own speed record to 313.66 mph. Bobby Lagana, Jr. then temporarily stole the mark from Clay during the afternoon session on Saturday with the highest speed he has ever recorded in his IHRA career, 315.19 mph. Running a little later in the very same session Clay then reclaimed the record with a thundering 317.49 top speed.

Olds DRCE Valve Covers
When Millican returned from his hospital checkout Sunday, Lagana showed up in the Werner Trucking pits lugging the Werner rear wing Lagana has been running on his dragster ever since the Werner team gave it to him as a replacement for the wing that failed on Lagana's very first 300 mph run. Lagana's offer to return the wing was declined once the Werner crew stopped laughing.

Undoubtedly the "hit" vehicle of the weekend was the 1972 Hurst Olds of Michigan's Keith Engling. This car, which previously had run Pro Street in Fastest Street Car

type events, was making its IHRA Pro Modified debut. Driver Brian Robbins
Mike Janis
has already won 2 NMCA events this season after recording one win in two final rounds last year. Adapting the car to IHRA rules required lowering the blower overdrive to 20% from the NMCA's permitted 29% as well as a couple of other minor changes. Learning quickly the team improved on every run, finally recording a best elapsed time of 6.398 seconds. Unfortunately, it was the very last car bumped out of the P/M field, by the very last car that could bump into the field, during Saturday's final qualifying session. Keith Baker's 6.387 just did beat out the Olds' 6.398 which relegated it to the first alternate status. Interestingly, the car's supercharged engine features a pair of the very rare Olds DRCE cast-aluminum valve covers.

Keith Baker
In addition to the Hurst Olds, Engling's Skinny Kid Race Cars has built several other prominent race cars recently including the new Dodge Stratus that is being campaigned by IHRA Pro Modified World Champion Mike Janis and the NMCA Mustang of Billy Glidden. Keith reports that the next car to be delivered by his firm will be a new twin-turbo Chevrolet Cavalier that they built for Taylor Lastor. Lastor, who is planning on running the car in NHRA Pro Modified competition, is scheduled to take delivery this week. Despite not qualifying, the Hurst Olds did receive the Best Engineered Pro Car award for this event. Its next scheduled IHRA appearance is slated for the Northern Nationals at US 131 Motorsports Park.

Al Billes - Before
Keith Baker's Circle City Transport Pro Modified 1963 Corvette was the recipient of some tin snip work here courtesy of Quain Stott. The team's Corvette had a new set of fender-well headers that required holes to be cut in its custom-painted, carbon-fiber front end. When crew chief Johnny Baker was reluctant to perform the required alterations he turned to Quain who had successfully performed some similar emergency surgery on their car a few years ago. Once again the alteration was successful and, using its new headers, the Corvette was able to slip into the final P/M qualifying position as noted above.

Al Billes suffered a devastating crash during Saturday's afternoon qualifying session at the wheel of Jim Oddy's Dodge Stratus. Al's chutes did not deploy after a run in which he recorded a potential new P/M track speed record of 231.08 miles-per-hour. The car barrel-rolled a number of times, finally vaulting a wall in the shut down area. Billes, who was out of the car almost immediately, was taken to a local hospital for observation after complaining of dizziness. The speed record was not verified when the car was unable to cross the scales to certify the run.
Al Billes - After

For Billes this was his second significant crash in the last three weeks. He recently wrote off his '53 Corvette when he suffered equipment failure at Lancaster, New York during a match race with Mike Janis. Al's short-term plans are uncertain but he still has the 1963 Corvette in reserve that he built last season but never raced.

Finally, this week's award for the best t-shirt goes to the one that paraphrased the old T.C. Lemons saying, "I didn't want my mother to think that I spent the last 20 years drag racing, so I told her I was in prison."