San Antonio - Reporter's Notebook
Notes from Jim Luikens' Reporter's Notebook at the 3rd Annual IHRA Amalie Oil Texas Nationals
An amazing 20 cars attempted to qualify for the eight car Top Fuel field here. Included in the participants were four of the injected fuel cars. The A Fuelers ended up occupying positions 16, 17,18 and 20 (or four of the bottom five positions) when qualifying was over. Only Gary Cooper (in the Allen Hartley car) was running a 500 inch engine. All of the others were still running their 421 cubic inch NHRA-style motors. more competitive elapsed times are expected at future events when the injected cars are converted to take full advantage of the more liberal IHRA rules.
Missing from the Top Fuel pits was the venerable ramp truck transporter of the Lagana family. Team driver Bobby Lagana, Jr. had always wanted to run a four second pass off the ramp truck and he achieved that last year. The ramp truck has been replaced by a 1985 Ford F-350 dually and a 42-foot Gold Rush trailer. Bobby was quick to tip that they still have the ramp truck and that his brother Dom recently made the first pass towards his T/F license. Dom hopes to complete his license passes by the end of this season. Bobby has named his tour for this year the All or Nothing Tour. It got off to a rough start here as his 5.035 was bumped to ninth, and out of the field, by Rick Cooper's last ditch 5.027 during Saturday's Night of Fire.
Speaking of Rick Cooper, he's the new driver for the Stevens Family top fueler. They plan to run the entire 2004 IHRA schedule and expect to be at all events.
The Stott family had a character-building weekend. Quain Stott ended up 17th, and first alternate, in the Pro Modified field with a best time of 6.330 seconds. Younger brother Mitch Stott qualified 9th in the P/M field with a best time of 6.265 seconds, but at a cost of two engines. After winning his first round pairing Mitch was eliminated by the 16th qualifier, Glen Kerunsky, in the second round. All-in-all a very disappointing and expensive weekend for the defending P/M World Champion.
On the other end of the luck scale was Harold Martin. After shearing some rear axle studs and hitting the opposite lane wall just off the starting line during Friday's evening qualifying session Harold came back to qualify number 1 during Saturday's afternoon session. Nineteen year old Zack Barklage eventually bumped Harold back to the number two position during Saturday's evening session. In Sunday's eliminations he went to his second consecutive final round. He also was a finalist at the last IHRA event of 2003. None of this would have been possible without the help of the Elijah Morton P/S team, who not only had the replacement parts on hand but actually installed them on the Martin car.
Another recipient of good sportsmanship here was the Steve Thodos team and its driver, Frank Gugliotta. The team blew their only engine in testing the day before the event started. Pete Berner, another P/S competitor, loaned them his only back-up engine and that allowed the Thodos team to compete at San Antonio. Both Frank and Pete won their first round race before losing in the second round. If Pete had damaged his engine he would have been out for the weekend thanks to his generosity. Luckily it never came to that point.
Pat Musi appeared here and qualified 15th in the P/M field driving a '57 Chevrolet Bel Air. His plan right now is to run in eight IHRA events that don't compete with his normal Fastest Street Car schedule. Over there he will drive his familiar 1999 Firebird while Tony Christian is scheduled to drive Pat's 1969 Chevrolet Camaro.
One of the most beautiful Pro Mod cars here was the fantastic 1957 Buick Special of Kip Dupuis from Los Gatos, California. Built by Tim McAmis, the attention to detail is tremendous. The car was built using a real Buick as a guide and features the distinctive three piece rear window of the '57 as well as three-dimensional side moldings rather than just the usual airbrushed side trim seen on a typical P/M car.
Mike Bell, the '95 IHRA P/S champion, is back with a vengeance. He debuted a new 2004 Ford Escort ZX2 here that was only finished on Tuesday of this week. Using an engine provided by Larry Oberbey, he qualified 12th before losing in the first round. He did come away with the Best Engineered Pro Car plaque for his efforts this weekend.
IHRA's Mr. Everything, Clay Millican, debuted a brand-new dragster here that features a one piece body. During the off-season Lance Larsen was added to the team as Mike Kloeber's assistant and day-to-day team manager back at the shop in Tennessee. Clay's goal for this season is to have a safe year and continue the success that the team has enjoyed over the past three seasons.
Bruce Litton experienced a top-end crash during his semi-final round win over Grant Flowers. After the crash Bruce was awake and alert but had to be cut from his car. He was transferred by helicopter to Brooks Medical Center in San Antonio for precautionary measures. His crash meant that the winner of the other semi-final pairing would be the winner of T/F at this event. That turned out to be Clay Millican after a tire-smoking win over Todd Paton.
IHRA debuted their new track cleaner here. An American-Lincoln model SC9772 high capacity scrubber, it seemed to greatly speed up track cleaning and maintenance.