Keep up with this weekend's Las Vegas Motor Speedway Nitro Blast Off by reading our behind-the-scenes event notebook. We bring you the stories behind the numbers and win-lights throughout the course of the weekend. Tune in daily for the latest news from the pits.



SUNDAY NOTEBOOK  – Last chance for testing and full runs

David Allio Photo

Tony Shortall will be working with Dexter Tuttle's team as crew chief.
THE SHORT AND ALL OF IT – Tony Shortall spent much of last season weathering the political firestorm associated with the team he worked for and subsequently defected from along with the driver. He followed driver Cory McClenathan over to a new lease program at Don Schumacher Racing.

This season, Shortall has a change of scenery with Dexter Tuttle’s team.

“I am real excited and there was a little controversy last year, but it was all good,” Shortall said. “Everything is fine there. I am really excited about working with Dexter and Alan and the team. We've got a new sponsor coming on board that hasn't been in motorsports before. That's real exciting. We've been working a lot on that.”

Every crew chief seeks to place their signature on the tune-up of their team. For Shortall, this is not a priority for him, considering the team had a potent tune-up already established.

“We're taking off where Dexter ended up last year,” Shortall said. “It's been a lot of work since Dexter found out he was going to do a full time thing. Just preparing the car, getting it car ready, that's taken up a majority of the time. Putting the signature on it really hasn't happened yet. I'd like to start off, see what's here and make some laps and just go from lap to lap before we can do anything like that.”

Shortall has been around the sport for a while and his resume is extensive.

“I've worked for a number of teams,” Shortall said. “People ask me, sometimes it’s easier to look out there and see who I haven't worked for. I came up through the ranks, pretty much started draining the oil, cleaning tires and just moved up through chief mechanic, assistant crew chief, co-crew chief. It's been a long journey and Dexter gave me the opportunity here. I'm really excited about it. It's just been great.”

Drag racing can be a mentoring sport, especially at the crew chief position. So who does Shortall consider as a mentor?

“Well, obviously people see me around with Wes Cerny,” Shortall said. “Wes and I have worked together extensively. Jim Dunn. Jim and I worked together for years; more often than not behind the scenes. I like the old veteran guys.”

DEXTER’S LABORATORY – Top Fuel team owner Dexter Tuttle is using this weekend’s test session to help his crew become re-acclimated to the rigors of competition after months off. Even though Tuttle admits his team in many aspects is new, they are seasoned veterans. In his opinion, even the most experienced need some test runs.

“I don't care who you are, I think everybody over the winter is a little rusty,” said Tuttle. “People need to work together as a team. Everybody is a little different. It's all about people getting used to each other and how everybody works together and how we do things over here.”

This season promises to be totally different for Tuttle’s team than anticipated last fall. Following the conclusion of the 2007 season, Tuttle had planned to run a part-time schedule. He’s now gearing up for a 24-race tour thanks to a forthcoming major sponsorship.

Tuttle admitted that he was looking for major sponsorship even during the time he said Evan Knoll had graciously afforded his program sponsorship monies to step up to a full tour.

“We're awful grateful for everything Evan did for us but it was just for somebody to come on and showcase what they do,” Tuttle said. “We were looking for somebody else and then we thought we were going to go back to a 12 or 14 race deal. I am not at liberty to say, but we picked up a sponsor and they're going to do a big release in a week or two. We'll be out for the full 24 races. Hopefully, it turns into something long term.”

Tuttle maintains a hands-on approach in every aspect of his team, including the tuning chores. He’s excited about the potential of newly appointed crew chief Tony Shortall.

“I've been out here playing with nitro for over thirty years,” Tuttle said. “I came from boat racing over here, so we're not new to it. I've learned a lot along the way. Jimmy Walsh he was a great guy. Still wish I had him over here but he's not here. We've got good guys. Tony [Shortall] is a real good guy. He's good at keeping the car all done up and everything and I'm kinda the one tuning it only from the standpoint of I've been here the longest so I understand what our combination likes and doesn't like.

“Tony is a great guy. We are glad to have him over here. He's real even temperament. The guys like him. He doesn't get all wound up about nothing, he just gets it done. I got my brother back this year; we got some new guys and a couple part time guys from before. It kinda came all together at the end. We're probably looking for one more full time guy. And, hopefully roll into Pomona with a good baseline. We had a really, really good car last year in the finals.”

David Grubnic said the conditions over this weekend's test could have produced 4.40s in a national event setting.
The fact his car hasn’t made a full lap to the finish line under power doesn’t bother David Grubnic in the least.

“We're working away at it. With these cars, you take two months off, for whatever reason even though we stay on top of the servicing there are little bits and pieces that have to be brought back in line,” said Grubnic. “Testing, regardless of whether you go down the track or not, we learn something. When something works we learn that works and if it doesn't it doesn't. We've had a few runs here where we've learned that certain things don't work, but it’s still in the overall grand scheme of things it's going okay.

“We'd rather find this out now than go to Pomona and say let's try this. Still it's going good. In all honesty, it's just great to be back out here.”

Grubnic said the conditions faced by his team have been comfortable throughout the test session.

“The racetrack I believe is good,” said Grubnic. “It's just great. The guys are all working well together. We haven't gone out and run a 4.45, but that's not our intention.”

Would these conditions yield a 4.45 at a national event?

“This track with the rules we've got in place it wouldn't surprise me if a 4.45 came up, at all,” said Grubnic.

Vinny Deceglie is finding Pro Stock to be a welcomed challenge.
Eighteen years living in California has done nothing to take the New York edge off Pro Stock rookie Vinnie Deceglie. As strong as his accent,  is Deciglie's desire to perform on a level which allows him to “flat out race.”

Deceglie has left the world of Competition Eliminator to join the world of Pro Stock.

“We're making the move because in Competition Eliminator you spent so much money; you have to make all this power and then you have to slow the car up at the end,” Deceglie said, explaining the challenge of keeping 860 cubic inches of motor from breaking outside the division index. “Here its heads up racing and that's what we want to do, we want to go heads up racing.”

The Nitro Blast became a perfect opportunity for Deceglie to adjust to his latest challenge. Ideal weather conditions allowed Deciglie to make full runs in the Mountain View Tire Chevrolet, quickly adjusting to the differences between the two cars.

“The Corvette accelerated a lot quicker up to the 600 and it pulls on the back,” Deceglie explained. “This one it pulls (off the start) and I have to shift a little higher on this car. The other one I was use to shifting at 88 – 89 hundred. This one is at 10...10 one. I'm actually hitting my shifts pretty good right now. Just the one two shift I am a tad high but we're adjusting the shift light on that right now.”

Running a limited schedule, Deceglie is looking forward to returning to some old haunts and racing in some new markets.

“We're going to Chicago. I've been to Chicago but we never ran Pro Stock at Chicago, that will be fun. We're going to hit New Jersey, Denver, Bristol, Houston, Gainesville, never raced at Gainesville, tested there but never raced.”

Deceglie is confident the team, from car owner to mechanic, can put together a winning combination.

“Nick (Mitsos) is the owner of everything, from Mountain View Tire. He owns the tire business. We just added Ron and Don Mettler; they run Competition Eliminator with their son. Don is the father of Tom. Carl, Nick's youngest son and Chris come to the races, but they come later flying in an out to work on the car.”

Deceglie shared the same attitude of all the competitors taking advantage of the Las Vegas test session.

“I'm having a lot of fun this weekend. I am having a lot of fun.”


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Leah Pruett reached both ends of the emotional spectrum during her licensing runs on Saturday. The next run after making a quick full pass was a trial by fire exercise. Las Vegas Motor Speedway track photographer David Allio caught Pruett's fiery run Saturday afternoon. She was uninjured in the mishap and brought the car to a safe stop. 


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SATURDAY NOTEBOOK – Weather made for 4.40s, Short-runs highlight day

Roger Richards photos

HERE WE GO, POSSIBLY, MAYBE – Del Worsham didn’t think his situation was isolated. He was sure that his team wasn’t the only one in a confused state when it came to preparing a legal Funny Car chassis for 2008.

Worsham explained preparing his chassis for the upcoming year was tough.

“We have, as everybody in Funny Car right now,” said Worsham of the problems with knowing what would be legal and what would not.

“We're trying to build new cars for the season waiting for SFI rules to come out. We still haven't officially got them, but we have a pretty good idea from talking to people on the board how to build the car. So, after cutting out several bars and moving stuff around and hopefully getting everybody happy we have what they want right now.”

The off-season has clearly not been a cake walk for Worsham. Testing at Las Vegas provided an opportunity to get it all back together before the first race of the year.

Not only is he testing what he feels will be the legal chassis for Pomona, he is also breaking in four new crew members on his team.

“It's mostly frustrating in the fact we had a whole new car sitting there done,” Worsham said. “We really were going to be ahead of the game this year then John's accident in Dallas put everybody behind. Then we tried to build a new car and no rules were ever released. I called Dan (Olson) at least once a week and asked him, 'what's going on.’ The rules will be out tomorrow and tomorrow became the next day and eventually; hell I really haven't seen rules yet. We've kinda just gone by what we heard and we hope this is what they want.”

Del Worsham encountered an inordinate amount of frustrations related to the chassis design uncertainty.
You really can’t argue with Worsham’s logic when the discussion turns to the choice of running the red CSK body or the blue he’s traditionally reserved for a teammate.

He’s has the option since the team has been downsized to one car for 2008.

“I'm going to run the red car but I am going to test with the blue body right now,” Worsham said. “I only have one red Impala left and I really need to run it at Pomona and Phoenix. I really would hate to blow it up testing so I brought the blue one here to start the testing while the other body is being painted.”

Okay, the real reason?

“Well we did drive the blue body to the finals in Sonoma,” Worsham said. “But the red one gets a lot of television time. How do you think we kept up with the sponsor reports?”

For the record, Worsham’s vicious body shredding explosion in Norwalk and Pomona’s cart-wheel jaunt through the sand trap, featuring the red body, ended up on many major network highlight reels.

Larry Dixon fuels his U.S. Smokeless Tobacco dragster in preparation for a second day of testing.

ALL THE WAY? – Worsham couldn’t confirm that he’d make a full run this weekend. He pointed out that decision would be made following the burnout on each outing.

As far as Worsham is concerned, pre-season testing is a mandatory practice for his team, if for nothing else other than to knock off the cobwebs from the winter layoff.

“As a team you do. In years past, in our experience testing has hurt us,” Worsham said. “Things are new this year, the chassis is new and this team they do just need to make some runs, service the car and kind a get the whole service going.”

Worsham, along with many other professional teams, read the letter issued by PRO on behalf of NHRA’s VP of Race Operations Graham Light citing safety concerns.

 “I think we're going to run in conditions like this as the year goes on, qualifying and other times and I think NHRA should have been here watching the track and telling them what to do to prepare it,” Worsham said. “So, when we get into these situations in qualifying they know how to prepare the tracks without tire problems. You can get a pretty good luck at your tires and everybody is pretty smart here and if it looks like things are bad I definitely wouldn't go to the finish line. But, I think somebody from NHRA should have been here to help prepare this track, learning for themselves so they don't get backed up into a corner like this.”

The letter pointed out tire safety and the potential of track over-prep. Worsham said his team checks their tires closely when the temperature drops.

“We know how cold it is, we're watching, we know the sun and we know how much wing we have in it and we'll just take it accordingly,” Worsham said. “And again, I think someone from the NHRA should have been watching this track for us.”

Worsham said he couldn’t detect tire issues on a burnout but an eighth-mile run would. Running in increments would tell the story.

“You'll know at half track when you shut off if it starts pulling the tires apart and you see these little divots in it all the way around it's probably not a good idea to go any farther than that,” Worsham said.

After all, Worsham reminded us that taking care of your equipment isn't rocket science.

 “I don't believe it is. Guys blow tires for unexplained reasons though and I am no way an engineer on tires and don't look at that many runs other than just my cars,” Worsham said, cautioning, “Just go out and pay attention.”

Matt Guideria reeled off a 7.02 elapsed time aboard his Buell for a new LVMS track record.

Alan Bradshaw attempted a full run on his second time out, but a blower explosion impeded his progress.
Allen Bradshaw could have second-guessed his decision to leave Bill Miller’s part-time Top Fuel program for Dexter Tuttle’s full-time effort when rumors began to swirl regarding the team’s existence in 2009. Tuttle lost his major backer in Torco Race Fuels.

Bradshaw made his driving debut with the team in today’s testing with the scuttlebutt clearly behind him.

“The good news is it all worked out for the better,” Bradshaw said. “In the big scheme of life you can't control everything, you just make the best call you can.”

Bradshaw said driving for Tuttle is another chapter in this life and he’s excited about the opportunities before him. This opportunity, Bradshaw admits, had him wondering whether he’d get the opportunity to showcase his talents.

“There was a lot of nervousness around Indy last year because it was 'are we going to do this are we going to do that?” Bradshaw said. “Dexter looked at me and said, 'I gave you my word and my word is my word, don't you worry about it we're going racing.'

“So, I took him at that, I believed that and sure enough it's all good.”

Tuttle’s addition of Torco sponsorship in 2006 enabled his part-time operation to compete on a full-time basis. Without a sponsor, the team was looking at returning to a shorter 14-race schedule. As of a week ago, the team was back to prepping for a full 24-race schedule.

“We have an announcement coming up and we intend to run for a championship,” Bradshaw said. “We’re running 24 races and the sponsor will be unveiled in Pomona.”

Bradshaw ran a 5.62 in today’s testing after exploding the supercharger at half-track.

Alan Bradshaw will be competing in 24 NHRA POWERade events in 2008 thanks to Dexter Tuttle and a forthcoming sponsor to be announced in Pomona.
Bradshaw said the transition between team owners and their management styles to be a smooth one.

“I think I have already been through boot camp so at this point it ought to be pretty good,” Bradshaw said, cracking his trademark smile.”

Was Miller really as tough as many perceived him to be?

“But, he's fair and that's the key,” Bradshaw said. “He's tough. He's fair. He has the best intentions for all of us. You have to thank him for all the work he did on this chassis, in lightening it. Now we are going to see the proof of that and every one of us drivers will thank him.

Leah Pruett used the opportunity to test drive a DSR Funny Car to showcase her driving talents. This year, she's driving a nostalgia nitro-burning Funny Car.
When Gary Scelzi announced his intentions to take a sabbatical following the 2007 season, up and coming driver Leah Pruett quickly submitted her resume to team owner Don Schumacher. Her actions netted a test session behind the wheel of the Funny Car normally driven by Jack Beckman.

Pruett never took the experience with visions of grandeur. She used the opportunity to her advantage for nothing more than to give Schumacher an opportunity to evaluate her talent.

“Don never told me ‘hey, you're trying out for a position and told me that a position was available,” Pruett said. “He never got my hopes up. He was always flat out with me and truthful just to make sure that everyone was on the same game plan. I am still working with him. We're still working together and he's still interested in having me around and seeing what else he can do. At this time he is so busy with the chassis for the Funny Cars, how difficult it is and with the possibility of four nitro funny cars on his team I am sure that he has a lot going on. There is work still to come but right now I am so focused on my nostalgia nitro funny car. It's so important for me to just learn the basics of this so I know when I get in Don's car again I will just a little better.”

Pruett is honing her driving skills in the meantime behind the wheel of a nitro-burning 1969 Mustang flopper. She admits this is a big change from the car she drove for Schumacher.

“Everything has been a change from racing my altered, which is a seven second flat car, going straight into Don's Funny Car, now I am stepping back just a little bit and going into the middle,” Pruett explained.

Pruett has tackled the challenge of licensing this weekend in a nostalgia Funny Car head-on. She’s noticed the differences in the two even though her experience in the DSR entry lasted only 200 feet.

“One thing for sure is Don’s car rattles a lot more,” Pruett said. “I mean, it shook bad. When I raced his car I actually had tire shake. Those were some similarities between the tire shake I experienced in my nostalgia car and the tire shake in his. It's the same thing and they react about the same, the steering. Other than that his is a lot louder and a little quicker.”

Pruett ran an impressive 6.06 elapsed time in her first full pass on Saturday.
Pruett laid down her first full pass in the Mustang with a 6.06 elapsed time before flaming the car in the second. She’s found out that driving a nostalgia flopper can be a handful.

“I got out there and it shook me real bad,” Pruett said of her first run. “I shifted it to get through the tire shake and it made a move out towards the center of the track and I brought it back it, but it reacted so smoothly. You have to be on your toes. You have to be on autopilot.”

Pruett was speaking with greasy hands, effectively qualifying her for being a Funny Car driver cut from the old school mold.

“Our clutch guy was actually a little late by a couple hours this morning,” Pruett said. “My dad and I, we tore every thing apart, got into the clutch and we had to check the flywheel. I was on it about an hour an hour and a half. I actually love getting dirty because you need to know about the car and see how things work to be able to understand and come back to your crew chief and tell them what happened during the run.”

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Roger Richards photos

Gary Densham plans to run the full 24-race NHRA tour.
Any rumor suggesting veteran Funny Car driver Gary Densham was going to scale back his schedule is exactly that – a rumor. Densham plans to run the full compliment of twenty-four NHRA POWERade national events.

“Our plans are to go our there and beat up on them on any given weekend that we can,” Densham said. “We know we don’t have the budget to race ith the four-car Schumacher and Force teams but hopefully our car will run well enough on any given weekend to make their life a living nightmare.”

“That’s the plan until we run out of money.”

Densham attributes racing 24 events on smaller budgets, at a reasonably competitive level, to experience. He’s raced competitively throughout his four-decades of drag racing.

“We try to keep our stuff in good shape,” Densham said. “We’re not going to go out and try to sacrifice too many parts to the aluminum gods like some teams are able to do. That hurts us some times. We try to get the most out of our performance without going home with a whole bushel basket full of damaged parts.”

Vinny Deceglie is the lone Pro Stocker on the grounds.
Densham also knows how to make the most of a test session. Racing on a smaller budget limits one’s options, so with eather conditions iffy for the Las Vegas weekend, what did Densham hope to accomplish?

“We’re hoping to get it to start,” Densham said, lightheartedly. “It’s just an opportunity to knock all of the rust off of the crew, the driver and everything. I don’t care what anyone says between the Finals and the Winternationals, I don’t care if you go and seal it in a vault, there will always be issues that pop up. You try to shake the rust off of everything and get things back into a groove.

“Even if we don’t make full runs, we’ll still feel that we accomplished something even if we take it apart and put it back together again. Plus when you’re a driver those first three runs feel really, really fast. That’s the case no matter how many thousands of runs I’ve made down the drag strip.

“I remember a few years ago when I was fortunate enough to fly with the Blue Angels, I spoke with one pilot who told me they couldn’t do what they do unless they did it every day. It had to come second nature them. I’m not saying a Funny Car can’t be parked after the Finals come back the next year and be successful.”

Dave Grubnic began the post-Zantrex3 era in Friday testing.
Today’s first day of testing featured nitro runs from Densham, Scott Kalitta, Larry Dixon and David Grubnic. Grubnic was the first of the nitro quartet to attempt a run.

On Friday, the Australian Top Fuel veteran Grubnic made two 100-foot hits. Getting the first run out of way was not as tough of a challenge as one might think.

“Connie Kalitta and I have really been chomping at the bit to get out here and run,” Grubnic said following his pass. “We had everything ready and the track looked good, so we decided to go up there and give it a shot. I was excited and looking forward to getting out there for the first time this season.

“It’s like riding a bike, you do your burnout and it all comes back. It’s great to be out here,” Grubnic said.

Grubnic and team owner Connie Kalitta enter the first test session of the year since 2003 without major funding. Zantrex3 ended their sponsorship after what was described as a successful marketing program.

“We fulfilled our obligation and they did too, but they are exploring other marketing opportunities,” Grubnic explained. “We stay in touch and we remain good friends with the CEO of the company. We spoke a week ago. Business is business and we move on.”

Despite a current lack of sponsorship, Grubnic pointed out the team will still run a 24-race schedule and likewise contend for the 2008 Top Fuel championship.

“It’s business as usual for us,” Grubnic said. “It’s the same issue with the Countdown and people asking if it affects the effort I put forth. No, it doesn’t. We give it 110% regardless of the situation. If we didn’t it wouldn’t be fair to those people on the team and those we represent.”

Over the course of the weekend, nothing will be sanctioned. The popular drink in the media center - Unsanctioned Soda. 0 Calories, 0 Participation.

Larry Dixon said this weekend's test will be used to become acclimated with new crew members as well as new rules for the Top Fuel class.
THE TRACK CONCERNS – The Professional Racers Organization (PRO) issued a statement two weeks ago citing concerns of tire safety due to cold weather conditions. The highest air temperature climbed to 62 degrees with the track temperature climbing into the 70-degree range.

None of the nitro teams ran past 100-feet under power and fears of tire chunking never materialized.

“This is obviously one of the most dynamite tracks we run at every season,” Densham said. “Chris Blair and his group do such a great job but you can’t fight Mother Nature. If it’s cold and as good as the track is, we are going to have tire issues. I doubt you will see very many full runs because of that very reason.”

Grubnic pointed out many of the teams, including his, know the limits when tires start to have problems.

“We go to these tracks and this sport is inherently dangerous and the conditions change constantly,” Grubnic said. “We monitor our tires and you know Connie don’t like tearing up tires. We do a lot of our testing in the first 330 or 660-feet of the run. We don’t necessarily come out here with the intention of running the car all the way through.

“We don’t believe it is a problem and we don’t honestly feel it is a problem with the track either because we could go to the other tracks and when it cools off, we start chunking and tearing up tires. It happens. As individual teams, we have to pay attention to that and take the necessary action.”

Densham feels that cold weather or warm; the professional teams owe LVMS the courtesy of showing up.

“When they are nice enough to come here at the beginning of the year – we need to take advantage of it, even if we only run it to half-track for safety issues,” Densham said. “It might warm up and we’ll be happy we are here and they are disappointed they are back at home in the snow.”

Grubnic wouldn’t mind seeing the NHRA support the event by sending personnel to assist the tracks.

“I would like to see the NHRA monitor these sessions if there are representative cars here,” Grubnic said. “I know they can’t go to every one. If we have a certain amount of cars at a session, I’d like to see someone from the NHRA out here monitoring the situation. I’m not in a position to say they have an obligation. But, I would like to see them out here considering we’re out here trying to make their sport better.”

Gary Densham agrees with Grubnic.

“I believe personally, the NHRA should try to show support, especially for a national event facility that they are going to run cars on,” Densham said. “It seems that they are being awful cheap and short-sighted about not being able to drive all the way from California to Las Vegas. It’s not like we are asking them to drive all across the country.

“I believe they should support it just because of what the track does for them. Two of their best national events are produced at this facility. To not come out here and support this is all wrong.

“There’s no doubt we’ve had these kinds of conditions they’re concerned about before at national events. If this was race weekend, we’d be forced into it. They’re not going to all of a sudden change that.

Larry Dixon has another view on the matter.

No,” said Dixon when asked if the NHRA should have sanctioned the event or at least had a presence.

“I think their job is to put on events and we race in their series. Until they do away with testing at specific events like the other sanctioning bodies, whether its Formula One, NASCAR, IRL or Champ Car it's kind of a free for all. Then even at that point, if they did, you would just go to an IHRA event and run. So, it’s probably why they don't sanction test dates and mandate testing and all that.”

Dixon said the timing was right to attend this season’s LVMS Blast Off. He couldn’t attend last year’s event because of the time consumed in completing the Skytel program.

Dixon’s new sponsorship program, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco, was announced prior to the end of the 2007 season.

“It's like old times, again,” said Dixon. “Twenty years ago when I started at Snake's, I started with US Tobacco on his SKOAL Bandit Funny Car. Twenty years later I am getting to drive the car. It's a great company and I'm very proud and honored to drive for them.”

Like his fellow competitors, Dixon has clearly defined objectives for testing this weekend.

“We’re sorting out crew guys, 85 versus 90-percent nitro and normal chassis versus a heavy wall chassis,” Dixon said. “There are a lot of things we work on and this gives us an opportunity to do it before we get to Pomona.”

Nitro Funny Car hopeful Leah Pruett made runs the first day in her nostalgia nitro flopper.


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