Norwalk, Ohio - Reporter's Notebook

Notes from Jim Luikens' Reporter's Notebook at the 27th Annual World Nationals Presented by PPG Automotive

The weather played a major role in this year’s World Nationals. After suffering through oppressive heat and humidity on Wednesday and Thursday the racers saw conditions change dramatically halfway through Friday’s first Professional qualifying session. The round began under the same tough conditions as the previous two days but changed rapidly throughout the session to the point that the final pair of Top Fuelers barely beat the fast-approaching rain. Once the rains came (at 3:30) the day’s racing was done despite repeated attempts to dry the track that were thwarted several times when new showers wiped out the progress that had been made. On Saturday morning showers delayed the start of racing but the second (and now final) Pro qualifying session was completed at 4:00 pm. Eliminations started shortly thereafter with the first round of Funny Car successfully completed before the rains returned again, this time midway through the first round of Pro Stock. When conditions hadn’t improved by 7:00 pm the racing was called early for the second day in a row. Sunday morning, after three hours of track drying, racing started at 10 a.m. and rain returned at 10:15, so the event was postponed to October 9.

Cory McClenathan
The normal field of IHRA Top Fuel drivers was augmented here by Cory McClenathan and Andrew Cowin. Cory, making his first ever IHRA start, was driving the Carrier Boyz car of Mark and Andy Carrier. Mark and Andy are the sons of the late Larry Carrier, the founder of the IHRA. Cory was running his car in its NHRA trim, having come directly from the NHRA test session in Indianapolis earlier in the week. After being forced to abort his first run he qualified sixth on his second, and final, attempt with a 4.894 elapsed time.

Andrew Cowin
Andrew Cowin made the IHRA debut of his family’s new McKinney Top Fueler here with an off-the-trailer 4.961 during Friday’s qualifying session. When he failed to improve on Saturday he ended up seventh in the final order. He also came directly from Indianapolis where he had successfully made three passes, all of which were full track runs. According to Andrew the car features all of the latest “bits” including the biggest fuel pump, a six disc clutch and an 8971 MSD controller.

Paul Athey
Pro Mod driver Paul Athey attempted to complete his Top Fuel licensing runs here in the Grant Flowers dragster with the intention of attempting to qualify if he was able to license. After making three runs at nearby Quaker City Dragway, Paul arrived here needing only a “representative” run to complete his licensing. Unfortunately, he was forced to lift on his run and was not able to run the “number” required. A recent rules change limits driver licensing to one run at a national event which meant that he was done for this weekend. He now intends to complete his licensing before the next event at Epping, New Hampshire. That event is the “home” event for his sponsor, The Mohegan Sun Casino of Uncasville, Connecticut.

Doug Foley
Recent event winner Doug Foley was using a five disc clutch in competition for the first time here. The longer five disc clutch pack requires a shorter drive shaft coupler. After testing at Indy with a borrowed coupler from Bruce Litton, Doug was forced to adapt one of his longer four disc couplers to the required shorter length when a suitable new part could not be located in time. Since the coupler is a hardened part Doug spent the better part of Thursday cutting down his four disc coupler to the required length.

Richie Stevens
One of the most beautiful race cars here was the spectacular new Valspar-sponsored Mustang Pro Modi/fied of Richie Stevens. Richie qualified the car 10th here with a 6.339 elapsed time in its IHRA debut. Owned by Roy Hill, the car has been under construction for an extended period of time. Ronnie Capps is the crew chief and Tim Fabrisi is the car chief, a position that is more often seen in NASCAR than in drag racing. The team won the Best Appearing Crew award here for their colorful new uniforms but could just as easily won the Best Appearing Car award.

Equally spectacular is the new Valspar transporter that was built by Elite Trailers of Minnesota for Roy Hill. Among its many features are doors on both sides of the trailer. The plan is to run two cars next season with each team having its own space and entrance. Unlike most other two car teams, which work on both cars under the same awning, Roy wants his two teams to have a measure of autonomy.

Rector Watches Gray's Launch
One of the busiest tuners in the IHRA got busier beginning with this event. Jimmy Rector already called the tuning shots on the Mitch Stott Pro Mod and the Mark Thomas Funny Car. Beginning with this event Jimmy was also consulting with Howard Moon on the Tommy Lipar-owned Dr. Moon’s Rage Pro Mod. The deal came about when the Lipar car did not qualify at a couple of recent events. Looking to turn their program around, team owner Lipar offered one of his Brad Anderson “Fat Head” engines to Mitch Stott in exchange for some tuning consultation from Jimmy Rector. The Lipar car responded immediately as team driver Tommy Gray (still subbing for the recovering Von Smith) qualified strongly with a 6.319 run that earned him the seventh starting position. Jimmy already goes to the starting line wearing two shirts, one on top of the other, that allow him to be properly attired no matter which car he is attending to. No word yet if he is going to add a third shirt to his starting line attire.

Scott Wildgust
According to Pro Mod driver Al Billes his “new” 1963 Corvette is nearing completion. Built by G-Force Chassis, Al has had a hand in its construction and hopes to run it soon. After shaking it down he plans to use the 1963 to replace his current 1953 Corvette race car.

One of the more popular Funny Car “acts” this year has been the Firebird of Canadian Scott Wildgust. At each race Scott’s brother wears a donkey costume to the starting line and interacts with the crowd in a San Diego Chicken- like schtick. For this event the team took their act a step further and added Shrek to their starting line antics. By the way if you choose to visit their web site make sure that you spell Donkeey the way it is spelled here and not the normal d-o-n-k-e-y.

Seen among the interested spectators here were current NHRA Pro Stock driver Larry Morgan, renowned chassis builder Don Ness and former NHRA Alcohol Funny Car World Champion Bob Gottschalk.