Rockingham - Reporter's Notebook
Notes from Jim Luikens' Reporter's Notebook at the 34th Annual IHRA Spring Nationals
Clay Millican, IHRA's answer to John Force, claimed his second consecutive Top Fuel crown of 2005. For Millican his path to the final this time was a little more direct than last month at San Antonio where he claimed his first 2005 title. However, for the second race in a row he failed to claim the T/F pole position but he did improve on his third place qualifying position from San Antonio by moving up to the number two spot here.
Clay began eliminations by recording a 4.758 first round win when he outran a slowing Paul Athey. In the second round his 5.250 elapsed time was good enough to defeat Bobby Lagana, Jr. and he was blessed with a solo in the title-round when Rick Cooper, in his first-ever final round appearance, was shut off before staging. For his efforts Clay holds down the Hooters' points lead after two races, 244 to 175, over Rick Cooper.
The aforementioned Mr. Cooper is indeed in second place in the points after the first two races. A final round appearance here, combined with his first round loss in San Antonio, has him enjoying his highest points position ever. A second round pairing with his teammate Doug Foley answered a lot of questions when it produced an outstanding 4.791 to 4.987 side-by-side run with Cooper coming out on top.
Bobby Lagana, Jr. could at least claim a moral victory here when he received the first good luck that he has seen in some time. After getting into the field on his final qualifying attempt, he was in the other lane when Bruce Litton red lighted by a mere -.010 in the first round. In his second round match-up with Clay Millican he could have extended his good fortune when Clay slowed to a 5.250 elapsed time. Unfortunately, Bobby was unable to capitalize on the potential good fortune and recorded an even slower time himself.
San Antonio runner-up Louie Allison's weekend could best be described as a push. After claiming the first alternate's position, he moved into the field when the number eight qualifier, Chris Karamesines, was not able to answer the first-round call. Louie's stay was short however, as a credible 4.862 was defeated by pole qualifier Doug Foley's 4.658 in the first round. Still, he holds down a strong fifth position in the points.
The T/F bump position, for the second race in a row, was in the "fives" after a string of mid to high 4.8-second bump spots at the end of last season. Considering that the Top Fuelers have only had two of their three scheduled qualifying sessions at each of the first two races (due to weather) no doubt contributes to this fact, but it must be said that most "experts" were expecting 4.7-second bumps for this year instead of seeing the bump rise into the five second zone. Hopefully, the fuelers will get all three qualifying sessions at the next race (Richmond) and that will provide a more accurate picture of what to expect in T/F this year.
Even though Al Billes won Pro Modified it could be said that Quain Stott had the dominant car throughout qualifying and eliminations. Quain qualified on the P/M pole with a great 6.161-second elapsed time, which was a full .035 of a second ahead of number two man Shannon Jenkins. He advanced to a final round pairing against Billes with consecutive runs of 6.147 (P/M low for the weekend), 6.203 and 6.181 seconds. In the final Quain made his slowest run of eliminations, a 6.206, but was defeated by Billes' quicker 6.162 elapsed time.
Al's 11th qualifying position paired him with Ed Hoover, Mr. Everything at San Antonio, in the first round. The higher qualified Hoover, with lane choice, slowed and Billes notched the win with a 6.272 elapsed time. A 6.231 got past Charles Carpenter in the second round and Al's 6.576 was enough to defeat Dennis Radford in round three. In the finals Al made his best run of eliminations, a 6.162, while Quain was recording his slowest run of eliminations. That was enough to earn the Oddy/Billes team their first title since pairing up during the recent off-season.
Mark Thomas took over the Funny Car points lead with his victory here as Rob Atchison fell to number two in points. Atchison had grabbed an early lead with his victory in San Antonio but a first round loss here, combined with the Thomas victory, bumped him to number two. Dr. Tom Carter continued his hot streak, qualifying third here after his pole position run in San Antonio. Terry Munroe, Jim Sickles and Chris Foster all kept their 2005 records perfect by qualifying for both IHRA events held so far this year.