Rockingham - Reporter's Notebook

Notes from Jim Luikens’ Reporter’s Notebook at the 34th annual IHRA Spring Nationals

An unreal 20 Top Fuel cars showed up at last month’s San Antonio season-opening IHRA event. This was the most Top Fuelers that the IHRA had seen at one event in the past six years. Some thought that this was an anomaly because several cars were Texas-based and they probably wouldn’t be making the rest of the tour. At this past weekend’s East Coast opener the missing Texas cars were replaced by a near equal number of East Coast competitors. The end result was that the fans saw 19 fuelers attempt to qualify for the eight-car show. The Top Fuel field had a record bump after the first qualifying session and it got even quicker after each of the two subsequent sessions, finally ending up at 4.875 seconds by Bobby Lagana, Jr.

The aforementioned Bobby Lagana, Jr. was sporting new sponsorship from Bobby narrowly missed qualifying at San Antonio by just .0004 of a second when he was bumped to ninth, and out of the show, by the last driver to make a qualifying attempt. Making the most of his new sponsor’s money he purchased an MSD 12-shooter ignition retard system. Also new on the car at this event was an Auto Meter data recorder, American Racing wheels and new carbon fiber “mud flaps”. The ignition retarder and data acquisition systems are the first electronics to be installed on the Lagana car. Bobby also tipped that the team has sold their legendary ramp truck. The buyer intends to restore the truck and use it to haul a nostalgia funny car.

Another Top Fuel racer here was Bruce Litton, although not in the car that he raced at San Antonio. That car, a brand new 2004 model that was making its debut, was totally destroyed just past the finish line after his semi-final victory. Bruce returned to the fray here in his 2003 car, a car that had been cannibalized for parts. Before it could be pressed back into service a number of missing parts had to be repurchased or re-created. It took his crew a total of 10 days to make the 2003 car race-ready after the San Antonio incident. A replacement 2004 car is currently under construction.

What’s not widely known is that the Litton team members drew the side curtains on their trailer’s awning and totally serviced the damaged car before the final round in San Antonio. They were not going to let a couple of minor things like not having a driver (who was still at the hospital) or a car that was in two pieces affect their plans. Bruce also shared that when the EMT crew cut off his new uniform and race shirt he was glad that he had remembered his mother’s advice to never leave home without clean underwear.

Three of the injected-style Top Fuelers competed here, down by one from the four that were at San Antonio. At San Antonio all four were clustered together near the bottom of the field as they qualified 16th, 18th, 19th and 20th. It was more of the same here, as they stood 15th, 16th and 19th after the three rounds of qualifying. Better days should be ahead as several of the injected cars are running interim parts while waiting for new components that take maximum advantage of the IHRA rules. No sign yet of Keith Stark who is expected to be a front-runner among the injected-style cars.

Notable among the non-qualifiers here were Mitch and Quain Stott in Pro Modifieds and both of the Ostrander team cars in Top Fuel. In fact Jack Ostrander and Louie Allison went 0-for-2004 as they both backed up their non-qualifying performances in San Antonio with two more DNQs here. In all five of the top ten finishing Top Fuelers from last year failed to qualify here as well as three of the top five in the final 2003 Pro Modified standings.

One of the hottest IHRA Pro Stockers in early 2004 has been the “new generation” 2004 Mustang of Elijah Morton. That trend continued here as Elijah qualified 5th among the 31 cars that were battling for one of the 16 Pro Stock starting positions. For the second straight race Elijah made it to the final four of eliminations where he again faced John Nobile. As in San Antonio Nobile prevailed, ending Morton’s day early for the second straight race. Since leaving San Antonio the Morton car has had a spectacular paint, mural and lettering job applied.

A legendary name in high performance parts history resurfaced here when Honest Charley’s Speed Shop appeared on the side of the Floyd Cheek Pro Stock Mustang. For you young whippersnappers Honest Charley’s was an early day mail order speed parts emporium. Floyd, making his 2004 debut, slipped into the Pro Stock field in 14th place before losing to the all-conquering John Montecalvo in the first round.

Mark Thomas, the Funny Car winner in San Antonio, made it two straight here as he defeated newcomer John Bojec in the final. This is the first time Mark has ever won the first two races to start a season.