Who's Hot, Who's Not - Reporter's Notebook
Notes from Jim Luikens' Reporter's Notebook
If you read the event coverage you already know that Clay Millican won his 38th IHRA Top Fuel crown as he opened his 2005 "Drive for 5" championship tour. What you might not know is that this title was not achieved in his usual Werner steamroller fashion. In fact, Clay only qualified third, behind Bruce Litton and Doug Foley, instead of his usual pole position.
Furthermore, would you believe that Clay received one of the two black flags that were given out in Top Fuel? In IHRA parlance a black flag is given to any driver that causes a delay of the event, usually by putting fluids on the track. Earning the first black flag results in a 15-point deduction for the offending driver. Subsequent black flags result in greater point deductions and, ultimately, fines.
In his victory comments Clay remarked about what a competitive year 2005 is going to be in IHRA Top Fuel. The fact that one qualifying session was lost to the wind masked the competitiveness of the field and resulted in an artificially high bump spot. Todd Paton, Bobby Lagana and Chris Karamesines, all top ten finishers a year ago, were among those that failed to make the T/F show.
San Antonio was more of the same for the Lagana team as their recent hard-luck streak continued. Bobby was forced to shut off on the line during his second, and final, qualifying attempt when his opponent broke on the burnout and came to a stop on the track. This forced the Laganas to return to their pits and partially service their car before attempting again to make their run.
The end result was that, as the last Top Fueler to run, Bobby knew for sure that it would take only a 5.174 to make the field. When his car smoked the tires off the line he stayed in it anyway, eventually blowing the engine and earning the other T/F black flag. As a non-qualifier all he had to show for his weekend's efforts were a blown engine and ten measly points after the 15-point black flag reduction. Hopefully the Laganas have their bad luck behind them now and they can look forward to a positive remainder of this season.
Equally impressive was the number of high profile tuners that were seen working in the Top Fuel pit area. Richard Hartman (Bruce Litton), Mike McLaughlin (Louie Allison), Rahn Tobler (Paul Athey), Jimbo Ermalovich (Mitch King) and Brent Fanning (Roger Dean) were all hard at work in San Antonio.
Finally, the ageless one, 75 year old Chris Karamesines, is back for another year of Top Fuel. In fact Chris was the first racer that I saw in Texas. He was washing his own truck and trailer Thursday morning in the motel parking lot before heading out to the track. He says he will be at all the events that his social security checks allow.
In the semi-finals Rob defeated his archrival, Mark Thomas, (after Thomas fouled), 5.761 to 5.827. When the call came that there was oil in the shut down area every one in the tower assumed that it came from the losing Thomas. In reality it was Atchison's Chevrolet engine that had let go.
A full-on thrash ensued in the Atchison pit to ready their car for the final against Terry McMillen. McMillen, who had a bye in his half of the semis and idled his car to a 16.167 second single, even worked on the Atchison car once his own minimal maintenance had been completed. In addition to Terry and his crew members, others that helped came from the Jeff Burnett and Mark Poyser F/C teams.
Jim Sickles and Jeff Burnett, last year's number four and five F/C points finishers, both had a weekend to forget. Sickles qualified seventh, which meant that he had to race Atchison in the first round and that's where his weekend ended.
Jeff Burnett never even got that far. Leaving before the tree was activated when his brakes failed during Friday's night qualifying session left him with no elapsed time for what looked like a pretty good run. When he broke a blower belt during Saturday's only qualifying session he was out for the weekend. Surprisingly, 11 cars showed up for the eight-car field while last year only seven cars attempted to qualify for a 16-car field here.
The combination of Ed Hoover's driving, Paul Trussell's funding and Jimmy's tuning could make it a very long season for the rest of the P/M competitors. The fact that Mike Janis (defending world champ) and Glen Kerunsky (defending event champ) were DNQs would have to rank as surprises. No doubt they, and many others, hated to lose that third qualifying session.
If there was one eliminator that stayed true to the script it was Pro Stock. Sure, the field was jumbled a little from having only two qualifying sessions but pretty much everyone ran about what they usually run and there were few out and out shockers.
In the final, Seamon, the 1998 IHRA P/S World Champion in his first race back, won the event over Gahm by a handy margin. Seamon, who had begun his weekend by being in the other lane when Jeff Dobbins took flight during the aborted first round of Pro qualifying, must have been very satisfied with his return to drag racing.
The IHRA tour now moves on to Rockingham for its 2005 East Coast debut. For many teams this is the start of the real IHRA season, as they don't make the long tow to Texas. Normally Rockingham has some of the highest car counts of the season and owner Steve Earwood's crew can be counted on to have the track groomed to perfection. Try to join us April 22-24 for the 35th Annual IHRA Spring Nationals. It should be wild!