Richmond - Reporter's Notebook

Notes from Jim Luikens' Reporter's Notebook at the 4th Annual IHRA AC Delco Nationals

After a modern-day record 20 Top Fuelers at San Antonio and 19 at Rockingham earlier this year the field diminished slightly here as 16 fuelers attempted to make the eight car starting line-up. The difference was the missing four and three injected cars that had attempted to qualify at San Antonio and Rockingham, respectively. The only injected car here was Keith Stark, making his long-awaited IHRA Top Fuel debut. The injected cars feel that they cannot be competitive under the current rules with the bump times that the IHRA is seeing in 2004.

As mentioned above the highly anticipated debut of Keith Stark's injected IHRA entry occurred here. After recording a 5.50 second elapsed time in the first qualifying session and improving to a 5.31 e.t. on his second run, Keith suffered tire shake during his third and final attempt. He was expecting about a 5.10 second e.t. from that run, which he admits that would not have been enough to qualify. His 5.310 best time left him 12th, well above the 4.969 bump time. In fact the first three Top Fuel non-qualifiers all recorded four-second times as well.

Keith's future IHRA plans are very much in doubt as he feels that a 5.00 second e.t. is about the best that he can achieve under the current rules and that is not enough to qualify under normal circumstances. He has discussed the possibility of nitrous oxide for the injected cars with the IHRA. The IHRA told him here that they don't envision reviewing the entire situation until after the Milan event in July. As a result Keith sees little value in running his car again under the current rules. All of the other injected cars that ran with the IHRA earlier this year have already given up trying to compete in Top Fuel as evidenced by their absence here.

Ryan Hiller of Virginia Beach, Virginia had the experience of his young life when he got to spend the weekend in the pits of The Stevens Family Top Fueler that is driven by Rick Cooper. Ryan was the winner of an online contest for Jr. Dragster competitors that was run by the Stevens family. Ryan, 10, was accompanied by his older brother Evan, also a Jr. Dragster driver, as well as his parents. Unfortunately Rick Cooper was a non-qualifier for the first time this season when the car's idle would not drop far enough to engage reverse after the burnout during the Night of Fire final round qualifying. The team's first two qualifying runs were also trouble-plagued resulting in a 6.764 best e.t. for the weekend which was only good enough for 15th in the final ranking.

The Ostrander team continued their 0 for 2004 tour as both cars failed to qualify for the third straight race. Team driver Louie Allison had a best time of 4.973 seconds after three qualifying attempts, which was only good for 9th in the final standings. Despite having his car in the pits, Jack Ostrander never made a qualifying attempt as all of the team's efforts were directed at the Allison car.

A controversial rules change that saw the supercharger overdrive reduced on the Pro Mod cars since the last race seemed to have the intended impact here as the 16 car field was evenly split between eight blown cars and eight nitrous cars. In fact a supercharged car, Von Smith, ended up on the pole after three furious qualifying sessions with a 6.179 elapsed time and a top speed of 230.80 miles-per-hour, both of which were track records at the time.

On race day the eight nitrous cars and the eight blown cars boiled down to two of each to make up the final four. However, it became an all nitrous final when Steve Salvadore was unable to fire against Steve Vick and Zack Barklage lost a peddling contest to Mike Castellana.

Speaking of Zack Barklage, he was absolutely deadly before he bowed out of eliminations, recording top speeds of 231.40 and 231.87 in his first and second round victories, respectively. Crew chief Daren Mayer contributed to these resounding speeds.

AC Delco-sponsored Harold Martin showed well at his sponsor's race by qualifying second for Pro Mod with a 6.234 e.t. at 226.81 miles per hour. In fact he was on the pole until the very last Pro Mod run of the evening when Von Smith produced his 6.179 run. On race day a broken car in the first round after the burnout ended his day before it began.

Funny Car had the smallest Pro field here as only 17 cars attempted to qualify for the 16 car field. Unbelievably, Mark Thomas was the odd man out after going into the final session. Thomas, the winner of this year's first two events, set his car up plenty soft for the final attempt and he got in to the field solidly at sixth position. Event announcer Aaron Polburn came up with the quote of the weekend when he commented just before Thomas' last ditch qualifying attempt that team consultant Jimmy Rector hadn't smiled in a week. On race day this year's main man, Thomas, faced last year's main man, Rob Atchison, in the final and Mark Thomas prevailed on a hole shot.

Bunny Burkett celebrated her 59th birthday on Saturday by qualifying for the field. Unfortunately, Mark Thomas' 11th hour heroics matched him against Burkett in the first round and he ended her weekend early.

Sunoco Pro Stock qualifying was drag racing's version of fantasyland at this race. Adjusted altitudes well below 1000 feet meant ideal conditions for Saturday's final session. When the smoke cleared John Nobile had claimed the pole with a track record 6.492 elapsed time and a world record 215.37 top speed. On Sunday he claimed the world record e.t. with a first round run of 6.473 seconds.

John Montecalvo, the Pro Stock winner at both events contested so far this year was rudely upset in the first round when Frank Gugliotta ran a 6.502 to defeat J Monte's 6.507 elapsed time.

The two car Pro Stock team of Adelbertus Kelkboom and Andre Loonstra traveled from Aruba to make their P/S debut here. As the first ever competitors from Aruba it took a moment on Friday to figure out the correct postal abbreviation for Aruba in order to enter their information in the system. For the record the correct abbreviation is AW. Although neither Adelbertus or Andre qualified we expect to see them again this year at the Norwalk, Budds Creek and fall Rockingham events.

Clay Millican entered the race weekend tied with Rickie Smith for the IHRA career win record at 32 victories each. His final round win over Bruce Litton gave him sole possession of the record.