Richmond - Reporter's Notebook

Notes from Jim Luikens' Reporter's Notebook at the 5th Annual IHRA AC Delco Nationals

Mike Janis
Only nine Top Fuelers attempted to qualify at this year's ACDelco Virginia Nationals with the final bump spot ending up at a rather anemic 11.730 seconds. The change in Top Fuel Eliminator performance from the end of last season is astounding. New record low bump spots were set at several consecutive events near the end of last season when nearly sixteen cars fought it out at every event for the eight starting spots. By comparison this year we have seen continuously diminishing T/F fields as the car count has fallen at every event compared to the one that preceded it.

The Full Scope Top Fueler of C. J. Nelson from San Diego, California made its first appearance of the season here at Richmond. Unfortunately, C. J. suffered severe engine damage during his only qualifying attempt when the lower motor plate bolts broke, allowing the engine to move in the chassis. The resulting drive line disengagement allowed the engine's rpm to soar with the end result being a rather large hole in the block and other carnage. After spending nearly 24 hours to repair and replace the damage C. J. was unable to stage for his first round match-up with Clay Millican.

Al Billes
As has been the usual this season, no injected Top Fuelers attempted to qualify here at Richmond.

For the first two races of this season, two-time and defending Pro Modified World Champion Mike Janis had nothing but DNQs to show for his new Dodge Stratus. That all changed here at Richmond as Janis found the run he had been looking for all season. A great 6.132-second elapsed time qualified him number one in P/M and a first round victory over Charles Carpenter produced another six-teen run, this time a 6.169.

Ricky D
Jim Sickles Al Billes did equally well during in the IHRA debut of his new Stratus, qualifying third with a 6.169. Billes, who actually ran the car for the first time last weekend and went to the final round of a Canadian P/M meet, was not in the field after the first two qualifying sessions. His final qualifying run of 6.169 propelled him all the way up into the third spot in the field. But the fireworks weren't over yet. In the first round he recorded an even-better 6.128 at 236.22, easily dwarfing the respectable 6.292 run of opponent Rick DiStefano. The 236.22 was good for a new IHRA mile-per-hour world record as it was backed up by the 234.94 that he had recorded during his final qualifying attempt.

Jim Sickles
Speaking of Rickie D, he rejoined the tour here after business commitments forced him to miss the last event at Rockingham. Team crew chief Andy McIntosh was attending his first event of the season after suffering a heart attack earlier this year. Andy was shoveling snow in February when he felt chest pains. After driving himself to the hospital doctors found significant arterial blockage and performed a double bypass. Andy reports that he is now back to about 80% physically and has been doing light jobs around the race shop but still can't lift anything over his head.

Neal Parker
Even though Andy returned to the track at this event the DiStefano team was still not up to full strength. Missing in action this time was Rickie's tuner, Les Davenport, who was assisting Cy Chesterman at the NHRA event in Topeka, Kansas. Stepping into the void was Les' right-hand man, Sean Brown. Sean specializes in flow bench and CNC work for Les during the week while at the races he is the crew chief for Funny Car competitor Trevor Lebsack. In addition to assisting Lebsack here he was also consulting on the DiStefano Pro Modified Corvette.

Bunny Burkett
Funny Car Eliminator enjoyed another fine turnout here as 19 cars attempted to qualify for the eight car field. This event was notable for the debut of not just one, but two of the aerodynamic new 2005 Chevrolet Monte Carlo bodies in IHRA competition. Jim Sickles drove his new Monte Carlo (body number ten) all the way to the third qualifying position while Neal Parker ended up first alternate in his Monte Carlo (body number five) with a 5.945-second elapsed time.

Home-state Funny Car favorite Bunny Burkett celebrated her 60th birthday here on Saturday but it wasn't much of a celebration as she failed to qualify for the field. During Friday's first qualifying session a cast-aluminum lower supercharger-belt pulley failed as she approached the finish line. The departing pulley and belt did a significant amount of damage to her car's body, fuel lines, etc. For the Friday evening run her crew installed a much-stronger billet-aluminum lower pulley. A crew-member shared that the failed pulley probably had about "800 million" runs on it.

Terry McMillen
Terry McMillen, who suffered through a miserable outing last month at Rockingham, wasn't looking much better here in the early going. He entered the final qualifying session outside the field after the steering wheel had come off in his hands during his second run A great 5.864 in his final qualifying attempt pushed him all the way up to number two in the field. Terry reports that he doesn't know why his steering wheel came off but thinks he might have bumped the retaining pin as he climbed into the car. Once he got the gremlins tamed, McMillen left first in all three rounds of eliminations and went all the way to the finals, where Rob Atchison overcame McMillen's holeshot to win the event.

Ronnie Midyette
A familiar face returned to Funny Car Eliminator here in the form of Ronnie Midyette. Ronnie, who finished fourth in the points for three straight years from 2001 to 2003, was yanked off the tour after the Grand Bend event last year when his team owners decided to park their operation. Ryan Bryant and Mark Calcagni have now purchased enough parts from the defunct team to go racing. Running without any previous testing, the new team made their first runs here. Driving the John Holmes Camaro that was originally built specifically to fit him, Ronnie recorded a best elapsed time of 7.176 seconds which was only good enough for the 17th position in the final qualifying standings. Future plans for the new team are yet to be determined.

Journeyman professional alcohol tuner Bill Barrett was here asisting the Dan Roman team. Despite Bill's best efforts Dan ended up the third alternate at 5.983 seconds.

Dan Roman
Another returning team here was the Pro Stocker of Virginia's Enoch Love. Driver Bert Jackson and crew chief Chris Johnson had nothing but clutch troubles and a best elapsed time of 12.375 to show for the weekend. Team owner Love reports that the team hopes to find more power and solve their clutch troubles before hitting the tour again. The August event at Michigan's US 131 Motorsports Park has been identified as a potential target for their return to full tour competition.

Bert Jackson
There has been much speculation lately that Virginia Motorsports Park is changing sanctioning bodies from the IHRA to the NHRA. VMP General Manager Bryan Pierce would only say that the track has a contract with the IHRA for the remainder of this year. IHRA president Aaron Polburn was equally noncommittal, only willing to say that they have a contract with VMP until 12/31/05. Since both sanctioning bodies traditionally announce their subsequent year's schedules in mid-to-late summer I suspect that we won't have to wait until New Year's Eve to see which way this plays out.

Finally, the award for the t-shirt of the week goes to the one that said "It isn't my fault that drag racing is so expensive."