Rockingham - Reporter's Notebook

Notes from Jim Luikens' Reporter's Notebook at the 34th Annual IHRA Spring Nationals

Evan Knoll
For the second race in a row the Pro qualifying sessions were affected by weather. At the IHRA season-opener in San Antonio one session was lost to high winds. This time it was rain that affected the published plan. Since this was a "Sunday Completion" race the Pro qualifying sessions were scheduled for 7 pm on Friday evening as well 1 pm and 7 pm on Saturday. After very warm weather earlier in the day the temperature began to fall on Friday afternoon. With a fast-approaching rain storm the Friday 7 pm session was moved up by 30 minutes. The entire Pro Stock session had been completed as well as all but five cars in Funny Car when the rains came. After waiting for some time the rest of the evening's competition was canceled. The five Funny Cars that had not run were allowed to complete the round in a special 9 am Saturday session. Since the Pro Mod and Top Fuel sessions had not started their round was scrapped and, just like in San Antonio, they would be forced to make the field with just two qualifying attempts.

Todd Paton
After having 14 Top Fuelers in San Antonio only 11 dragsters answered the call here. Joining the usual gang of suspects was Evan Knoll, who was making his first attempt at qualifying for an IHRA T/F field. Evan boiled, and I do mean boiled, his tires during the Saturday afternoon session and then chose to sit out the evening session. Dale Creasy, Jr. and his team were assisting Evan at this event. Additionally, the Creasy, Jr. transporter was used to get Knoll's dragster to Rockingham.

The celebrity tuner parade that we saw in the San Antonio Top Fuel pits continued here. Most of the super star tuners from the last event were here as well as John Stewart, who was seen assisting the Paton team and the aforementioned Dale Creasy, Jr. Unfortunately, the Paton team ended up with two black flags and non-qualifying status for their two attempts. Others earning black flags in T/F qualifying were Roger Dean (2), Paul Athey and Chris Karamesines.

Mike Janis
The Bobby Lagana, Jr. team, who lost their dually to fire just before the San Antonio event were using a Chevrolet dually here that they had borrowed from Doug Foley. Since the Foley & Lewis Team is using two 18-wheelers to transport their two car team this year their dually was available for use.

The Mohegan Sun (Casino) team was doing a brisk business here with their new "Indians on Nitro" t-shirts. Their driver, Paul Athey, reports that the image on both sides of his race car is actually his grandfather, Chief Matahga. In addition to the attractive graphics package the car features a very beautiful blue paint scheme that is designed to convey peace and tranquility.

Paul Athey
As has been the norm in IHRA T/F since late last fall no injected Top Fuelers chose to participate here.

The Pro Modifieds, like the Top Fuelers, only received two qualifying attempts here. Perhaps the P/M driver who missed that third run the most was the defending P/M World Champion, Mike Janis. Despite testing at Mooresville and Atco since San Antonio, Janis still came up short as failed to qualify for the second straight event. Mike reports that they had run their old Corvette for so long that they knew exactly where the sweet spot was. Despite trying very hard the team has not been able to nail that same sweet spot in their new Dodge Stratus.

As always, Rockingham had a large contingent of Pro Modifieds present. Pro Modified eliminator got its start here in the southeast and this area remains a hot bed of P/M activity. Compared to the 21 P/Ms that were in San Antonio, 31 attempted to qualify here with Billy Harper earning the only black flag of qualifying.

Melinda Green-King
Al Billes was forced to miss Saturday's afternoon qualifying session because he was at the hospital. It seems that he had an infection that needed to be checked from the remains of a welding incident. Returning to the track only in time for Saturday's final qualifying session, it was do or die time for the Oddy& Billes team if they were to make the field. Despite setting up the car soft and driving through the clutch somewhat on his only qualifying attempt Al was able to record a 6.312 elapsed time that was good enough for the 11th position. On race day he went all the way to the final round with winning runs of 6.272, 6.306 and a pedaling 6.576 (over Dennis Radford). In the final he defeated Quain Stott with his quickest run of the weekend, a 6.162 to Quain's 6.206 elapsed time.

Unlike the shrinking fields in T/F and P/M, the Funny Car field actually grew here compared to the season-opening event. After having 11 cars attempt to qualify for the eight car field F/C field in San Antonio the field grew to 17 competitors here, all going for the same eight spots. When the dust cleared the traditional F/C big two of Rob Atchison and Mark Thomas sat in first and second spot, respectively.

Mark Thomas
Although Rob fell in the opening round, Mark went all the way to the final round where he defeated Melinda Green-King. On race day Mark was using a new Mert Littlefield supercharger that features K-9 rotors. Additionally, Mark is close to taking delivery of his new Gordy's race car. Although the chassis is nearly done, his body choice remains undecided. Mark's first choice of body is the new-generation 2005 Mustang although it is unclear when that body will be available in funny car form.

Joe "Pepi" Urban made his IHRA debut here in his Xtreme Machine jet-powered semi-truck. Billed as the "World's Fastest Freightliner", it features a (narrowed) sleeper cab, fairings for the exhaust stacks and a great set of air horns. Danny Cannon serves as the team's crew chief and also rebuilds the truck's jet engine. Friday's rains washed out their scheduled first run but they made two impressive runs on Saturday. On Sunday "Pepi" recorded a run of 207.72 miles-per-hour, blowing out the glass mounting gaskets in the tower's media center windows in the process.