Who's Hot, Who's Not - Reporter's Notebook

Notes from Jim Luikens' Reporter's Notebook

Allison vs Millican
Earlier this month the 2005 IHRA Hooters Racing Series officially got underway with the Amalie Oil Texas Nationals. Now that the dust has settled (no pun intended) let's take a moment to see who was hot and who was not down in San Antonio.

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.

Litton vs Allison
As for who was hot you don't have to look any further than the Foley & Lewis Team. In their debut as a two-car effort they managed to put both of their cars in the top five positions in the field. Also hot was Louie Allison. A career-best 4.622 at 317.87 in the semi-finals beat Bruce Litton's 4.663 at 310.77 straight up and put Mr. Allison into the finals. Tire smoke was his undoing there but up to that point he had looked good all weekend.

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.

Rob Atchison
Funny Car Eliminator was another case of a misleading headline. Sure, two-time and defending season champ Rob Atchison won F/C but, like Clay Millican, it wasn't in his usual fashion. In fact, Rob was beaten for the F/C pole by a racer making his first-ever funny car start.

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.

Tom Carter
Dr. Tom Carter, a former Pro Modified pilot, was the surprise F/C pole qualifier. His pole-nabbing run of 5.844 seconds came on only his third ever full-power run. Dr. Tom, who worked and worked last year to field a competitive Pro Modified, looked impressive here in his new Camaro flopper. Only a fluid leak in the staging lanes kept him from eliminations. Ready to help him this year are the Cannisters and Jeff Fowler, his sidekicks from a year ago.

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.

Ed Hoover
In Pro Modified it was all Jimmy Rector, all the time. Now tuning for the Paul Trussel team, Jimmy's new driver, Ed Hoover, roared to the number one spot in qualifying at 6.197 seconds and never looked back. On race day (night?) the team recorded consecutive runs of 6.288, 6.219, 6.162 (P/M low for the entire weekend) and 6.218 in winning the final. Their 6.197 and 6.162 were the only "teens" recorded all weekend by any P/M team.

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.

Gahm vs Seamon
Elijah Morton, Frank Gugliotta and Rob Mansfield all lost in the first round and those could be considered surprises but the track played a part in some of those losses. John Montecalvo then lost in the second round and John Nobile in the third. That left Daniel Seamon and Brian Gahm for the finals.

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!