The second stop on the professional testing tour rolls into Firebird Raceway in Phoenix, AZ., for the NHRA National Time Trials/Test & Tune. The biggest names in professional drag racing will be on hand in preparation for the grueling 2007 NHRA POWERade schedule. Stay tuned as Torco's brings you the latest in news, notes and photos throughout the three-day event.





The terrible trio – Don Schumacher Racing had all three team Funny Cars in action during the National Time Trials at Firebird Raceway, and they proved to be the class of the field. Ron Capps led the way with a solid pass of 4.678 seconds at 325.92 mph to garner top elapsed time honors. Gary Scelzi also established top speed of the three-day testing weekend with a 332.59 mph run.
Capps, driving the Brut Revolution Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, posted a 4.762/318.54 pass on Friday, then scorched the quarter-mile with his 4.678/325.92 lap on Saturday.
"This weekend was great,” Capps said. “Probably the most important thing that made the weekend go so well for so many teams was (track preparation specialist) Chad Head being brought in by the track or NHRA, and it was probably the best money ever spent for this test session. The track got a little weird today, Sunday, but Friday and Saturday it was like a national event and that's when we could learn things. We unloaded a brand-new BrutRevolution Dodge that was built over the wintertime, so the first check-out run I shut it off down there about 800 feet and it had numbers (incrementals) quicker than our 4.69 (-second pass) last year, so that got me pretty excited. In the next run we went out in hotter conditions and ran .76 shutting it off pretty early. The next day, Saturday, we rolled up there and tried to duplicate the first run, except to run it down there a little farther, and I shut it off at 1220 feet and it ran .67, at only 325 mph. So, that showed that the run we made Friday was what we wanted. It's just a great weekend. It's nice to work for a team that has such great plans, already has everything laid out as to what exactly we want to accomplish in testing and we did every bit that we wanted to.
"I always wanted to be on the National Dragster cover because the quickest guys at the Phoenix test got on the cover,” said Capps. “I don't know if they still do it, but it was always something to shoot for when I first started driving."
Scelzi, piloting the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, grabbed the No. 3 spot, behind John Force's 4.708/327.82, with his 4.735/330.80 pass, set on Sunday. His other quick runs included a 4.769/309.42 on Friday and a 4.751/328.22 on Saturday.
"One word sums it up: Exciting,” Scelzi said. “We came here with the intent of going down the race track and not trying to set the world on fire. We had lost our consistency at going down the race track, and here the car reacted in the way Mike (Neff, crew chief) wants it to react. I talked to Mike for a long time last night. He told me his goal, and that's to get this thing to go down the race track and when we have to run the number, we will. But, we need to make it go down the race track all the time, so we know where our limitations are. And last year, no matter what we did, we couldn't make the car consistent. It might make two runs in a row, but it would never make three. We made eight runs here this weekend and in only two runs it smoked the tires. One of them it shouldn't have, we had a timing malfunction, and the other one was almost by design to see if we could do what we wanted to do, because this is a test. But I think we had the most consistent car this weekend. It never ran out of the .70s when it made the full runs. It ran big Speed in the heat of the day (326.87 mph), and it ran .77. We're very pleased and we're very excited about going to Pomona, but we're going to stay one more day to get some of the new crew guys up to speed a little bit More because it's going to be hectic going rounds."
Jack Beckman, in the Mail Terminal Services Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, completed the weekend's testing with a quick Saturday pass of 4.736/327.43. On Friday he posted a 4.946/240.64 (good for third behind Capps and Scelzi that day).  
“It's interesting from outside the cars a lot of people think, wow, that team's struggling or the boards, but all of our runs have basically been planned as half-track runs with the exception of the 4.73 where Todd (crew chief Okuhara) said, 'Let's take it to the finish line,'” Beckman said. “But the nice thing about the testing is the guys can try a couple of new things on the tune-up. We'll do half-track runs just to make sure it doesn't hurt anything in the motor, and then we can use that later in the year on subsequent testing. The great thing is after we tried some stuff, Todd said, 'OK, let's just go back to our baseline and make sure everything is OK,' and, boom, 4.73, 327 mph. We could load up and go to Pomona and qualify in the top four right now. But it's great practice for me. Being that I think I only had 38 or 40 runs coming into here, every time I get to launch is more practice for me, even the runs where something shakes or breaks. Everything that I get to do in the car will help me be a better driver eventually, so I'm ecstatic about every run we make here. And I think the guys also learned stuff. And, keep in mind, a lot of times in testing you'll go one direction and it might not seem like you get the results you want, but five months down the road you can go back to that data and it might help you win that next round or race, so I think it's been a huge success."

On your mark, get set, set marks -- Cory McClenathan is on a roll -The Top Fuel driver recorded his career-best speed Saturday. And in his first run Sunday, he nearly reset his career-best elapsed time. It remains 4.463, but he took the FRAM Boost Dragster on a 4.473-second ride.
"We're back to business," said McClenathan. "We'll probably be here for a few more days and then head to Vegas before Pomona. We have a whole new look with this Fram Top Fuel Dragster this year so we're pretty excited about it. We ran 4.51, 333 miles an hour, my career best speed, and turned around and ran 4.47 at almost 332, so we're very happy with the way things are going so far. We tried some new things with the car and in the clutch department, so I think with those two things Wes Cerny and Tony Shortal really have something to work with. It's an exciting year so far."

It's official -- He's in - So look out. Whit Bazemore sealed the deal for his Top Fuel license in his first attempt Sunday with a 4.544-second effort at 326.24 mph in the David Powers-owned Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dragster. His best prior run was a 4.629/267.11. Bazemore is now licensed to compete in both nitro categories, Top Fuel and Funny Car.
“It feels good to get the licensing out of the way,” Bazemore said. “You never know what can happen with these cars. Now we can concentrate on improving the performance of the car. It was good experience for me to run those two 4.54s. I got some good seat time in the car on Sunday. Like I keep saying, it’s so different than a Funny Car. It was important for me to make those two good runs today.”
Needing just one pass at 5.20 seconds and 260 mph, Bazemore used a tune-up from champion crew chief Lee Beard to card the number he needed. The most recent member of the Top Fuel fraternity then posted a nearly identical lap of 4.542 seconds at a blistering 329.18 mph. Bazemore’s license was signed by teammate Rod Fuller and veteran NHRA racer-turned ESPN analyst Mike Dunn.
“We’ll continue to test for the next couple days and work on our cool-conditions setup,” Bazemore said. “I’ll get more seat time and experience as everyday I get more comfortable inside the car. I gain more and more confidence everyday and that’s key.”
One hot rookie -- Ashley Force is a hot commodity in NHRA drag racing right now. She was on fire Sunday morning. About halfway through her opening-session run Sunday, the engine on her Castrol Ford Mustang erupted into a fireball. She was unhurt and took a 6.535/129.14 officially for her effort.
"We had a mechanical failure," Force's crew chief Dean "Guido" Antonelli said. "The car was trucking along fine and something in the engine let go. It was just kind of one of those freak deals. We've got 11 or 12 runs so far between Vegas and here and our parts consumption has been minimal, so it's not like we're on the edge. We're just baby-stepping it. That ran was a repeat of last night's 4.78 basically, and that's what I was trying to do. Like I said, we had a mechanical failure and there was a little flash. Ashley was O.K. - I think I was more worried than she was."  
Teammates feeling strong - Del Worsham piloted his red Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Funny Car on a series of runs throughout the weekend in Phoenix, with varying results, but Worsham concluded his testing on Sunday with confidence in his car, his team, and his tune up.  The team will remain at Firebird Raceway for more testing on Monday, after putting some strong half-track laps on the board late in the weekend.
"We're here testing, not racing, so we really have been trying a lot of stuff and pushing the car in different directions," Worsham said. "We have never come here with a goal of being low elapsed time or putting big home runs on the board.  Instead, we always come here with the motive of getting the car dialed in and finding what makes it happy.  With that as a goal, I'm pretty happy right now.  Yes, I would have liked to have stretched it out a little further today, but the things we were trying yesterday were a little rough on parts, so my dad and I
wanted to make sure the car wanted to stay healthy to half-track before we went any further.
"The one thing that we're working on right now is finding a way to transfer this power to the track.  The primary reason for all the work we've done since Indy last year, was to get faster and quicker, which means making more power, and we've done that.  We have a fast car right now, and we're tweaking the tune-up to keep it together going down the track.  During our mid-afternoon run today, it was really hauling, pulling hard, but then the motor went sour and it flamed up enough for me to hit the fire bottles.  I was mad, because I thought the car was back to hurting parts again, but when we looked at it at the end of the track, all that had happened was the car spit a spark plug out.   It was running great, and the motor looked clean, so we were pretty amped about it.  I've finished preseason weekends here in a panic before, so it feels pretty good to know we're working on a good, fast car." 
Worsham’s teammate Jeff Arend, driving the blue Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Monte Carlo, rebounded from serious parts attrition on Saturday to post some strong numbers on Sunday.
"We had plans, as a team, to go see the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen monster trucks up in Phoenix on Saturday night, but we tore so much stuff up we actually didn't leave the track until after 10:30," Arend said.  "We've been dealing with some fuel system and throttle issues, and it all came to head last night when it got out there to half-track and threw more rods out than stayed in. We all got to work, fixed the car, fixed the problem, cleaned everything up, and came out on Sunday ready to rock, and rock we did.
"On our mid-afternoon run, we only wanted to go to half-track, or just a hair past, to make sure the changes we made were working, and I'll tell you right now it was clearly the quickest run I've ever been on. The incrementals were very good, and the motor was very happy, so we all feel pretty good right now.  We're going to come back out here on Monday and keep making laps, and all of us are pretty psyched up to see what this car will do.   I think I know what it will do, and it'll be pretty cool when it does it. If we keep this up, you can get ready to hit the 'delete' key on my previous career bests, because this car is way faster than the best numbers I've ever put on the board."  
Lots going on -- Morgan Lucas has more concerns than the average 23-year-old. And he's learning that the "to whom much is given much is expected" credo is no cakewalk.
His team-manager duties for the racing operation that's funded by the family business have been keeping him busy during the winter, especially this winter. The Lucas Oil team has expanded to include Top Fuel driver Melanie Troxel, along with technology-sharing Funny Car partners Gary Densham and Mike Ashley.
Making sure everything was ready for the two dragsters to begin testing at Phoenix had Lucas' mind going in a million directions. He had wanted the troupe to go to Las Vegas the week before but decided against that because of the weather forecast for nearly frigid temperatures. So when they arrived at Firebird International Raceway for the National Time Trials and got to work, Lucas breathed a sigh of relief.
"To see these cars start up and run out here is huge amount of pressure off my shoulders," Lucas said.
"It's a sense of pride, seeing everyone working together so well. I see good things in the future for our teams. We have to keep our heads in the game. It is what you make of it, and now we're trying to make it the best. I'm real proud of everybody getting everything together and getting it out here."
Working with his crew chiefs, John Stewart and Ronnie Thompson, and Richard Hogan, crew chief for Troxel's Veterans Memorial/Lucas Oil/Torco Dragster is only part of his tasks this year. He has elected to compete in the Top Alcohol Dragster, as well.
He's off to a more-than-respectable start on the sportsman front. He recorded his career-best elapsed time -- 5.21 seconds at 270.70 mph -- Saturday, on just his third pass.
"That says a lot about our Lucas Oil Alcohol crew, with Steve Boggs turning the wrenches, along with everyone on our sportsman team," Lucas said. "They already work so well together and with camaraderie like that, I feel we are definitely going to be challenging for the Lucas Oil Championship.
"On top of that," he said, "our Top Fuel team has made great strides in improvement with both of our pro teams working together. Melanie made her first attempt [Saturday], and we're in the direction of making a good start."
Troxel certainly knows how. She won the Winternationals, reached the finals at the first five races, won also at Las Vegas, and led the points for the entire first half of the season.
As for Lucas' Top Fuel testing performance, his best pass of the weekend through Sunday's first run was a 5.033/196.93. Sunday's first effort was a 6.335/134.59.
"Everything is going great with both of our Lucas Oil cars" Lucas said. “We’re gaining ground on the Top Fuel car set-up."
In Sunday's opening session, Troxel knocked three-tenths of a second off her previous best run with a 6.356 E.T. at 131.97 mph. Her best run before that had been a 6.667/121.09.
Lucas, who broke into the professional ranks in 2004, still is seeking his first professional victory. He has reached xx final rounds in the Top Fuel class.
Troxel and Phoenix: Reunited
-- How could Melanie Troxel forget her previous visit to Firebird International Raceway?
She was fresh from the first victory of her career at last year's Winternationals. And in both her first- and second-round victories at this Chandler, Arizona, facility, her engine blew up at the top end of the track. The oildowns cost her 25 points and $2,500. But she went to the final round -- her third straight dating back to the 2005 Finals at Pomona. She came within a couple hundredths of beating Rod Fuller in the final round and joining Funny Car driver husband Tommy Johnson Jr. in the winners circle.
That wild day spurred her on to a record five consecutive final-round appearances.
Troxel christened her Vietnam Veterabs/POW-MIA dragster presented by Lucas Oil and Torco Race Fuels dragster in Saturday's debut for the Lucas organization with a quick launch. The 6.667-second elapsed time at 121.09 mph didn't matter. She quick shutoff was a planned one, but she said she was pleased with it. "You're always excited to get out there and get the new season started," Troxel said.

"You have a little bit of those nervous butterflies until you get in the car and start it up. Then it all goes away and you get that comfort level back in the seat. We only went to 330 feet on that pass, but that was the plan, to make sure we had everything set right on the car. We're happy to get all the gremlins out of the way, and now we can go out and make a clean pass."
Pro Stockers getting ready -- The Pro Stock class traditionally is a no-show at the Nitro Blast-Off at Las Vegas and the National Time Trials at Chandler, Arizona. Those drivers do their own dust-off-the-cobwebs preparations, then convene at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the Last Chance Test Session and their one big tune-up for the season opener the following week at Pomona, California. That's the case this year, as well.
Pontiac's Pro Stock dynamic duo of Jason Line and Greg Anderson, first of all, hope that their manufacturer wins at its own sponsored event -- the Pontiac Pro Stock Showdown, a race that takes place as part of next week's Las Vegas test-and-tune. Mopar/Dodge's Larry Morgan won last year.
The class' leaders will show off their new looks in appearance and performance in this coming Saturday's Showdown. And the sport's tag-team dominators, Line and boss Anderson, have set high standards.
During their last four seasons as teammates, they have dominated the competition, combining for four consecutive POWERade championships, 51 national-event victories in 80 final-round appearances, and 59 No. 1 qualifying awards.
Anderson has qualified for 93 straight races. With an average raced-day starting position of 2.32, he has the longest active qualifying streak in the category, dating back to the 2002 Finals. Line has qualified for all 73 national event he has entered since 2003. The two have a total of 166 consecutive starts. Entering the new year, Line, driving his Summit Racing Pontiac, owns both ends of the national record with a 6.558-second elapsed time and a speed of 209.75 mph.
Anderson said of the possibility his qualifying streak could hit 100 in a row, "That would be a neat milestone. If you could do that, I think it's a heck of an accomplishment in these days and times. It's so brutal out there, one slip, one wrong move and you're going to be going home. We've been able to avoid those pitfalls for a few years now. Can we do it again this year and the year after? We'll see. I think we can, but you have to execute. I can't look at anybody in the class that couldn't DNQ tomorrow, including Jason and myself."
Line said his own streak of 73 only adds to the team's already impressive resume. "I'm pretty proud of that actually," he said, "not only for myself. But everyone who has worked on my car and on this team should be awfully proud of that. When you add the number of consecutive races that Greg has qualified for, that really sticks out as a team accomplishment to be proud of, and makes it even more impressive. When you also take into account Greg's average qualifying position over the last four years, that makes it even more amazing."
Look for a 210 in Pro Stock -- Defending Pro Stock champion Jason Line said that it is "not only possible but highly probable" that fans will see at least one of the Pro Stock drivers it the 210-mph mark this year. He wasn't quite as confident about the probability of seeing a pass in the 6.40-second range.
"I can tell you that if one of our Summit Racing Pontiacs doesn't run 210 mph by the end of the year, then we'll be very disappointed," Line said. "Running in the 6.40s would depend on how far we get in developing the DRCE3 engine, but running that quick would be a pretty tall order. I think we're probably a year away from that. The cars will constantly get faster. It's never going to end, but gains will become incrementally smaller. What used to get you a hundredth might have taken five horsepower, now it takes more like 10 horsepower."

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Pair of 4.4s beats everything else -- Anybody who was hoping Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher and crew chief Alan Johnson lost something from their tune-up during the winter would have been disappointed Saturday. Schumacher ran a pair of 4.4-second passes that led the Top Fuel contingent, signaling that U.S. Army Dragster once again is on the march.
"Things seem to be coming along real well," Schumacher said after recording a 4.471-second pass at 333.25 mph early Saturday afternoon and following with a 4.485 E.T. at 327.27 mph.
"During pre-season testing, you are trying a lot of different things, while looking to get as much data as you can. I guess it's so far so good for us," he said. "This is like our spring training. Whether you're a driver or crew guy, you want to get back into the routine as fast as you can. It does come back to you very quickly. It's like riding a bike."
Make that one fast bike he has.
Schumacher and his team will remain at Firebird International Raceway for the next three days to prepare further for the season-opener at Pomona, California, in two weeks. "We'll make as many passes as we can between now and Tuesday," Schumacher said. "We want to make sure that we're ready to go for the first race. We want to get off on the right foot out there."
Good Indicator - Newly christened team owner Mike Ashley posted the fastest speed and fourth-quickest amongst Funny Car drivers in his first outing as a team owner with a 331.12 effort.

Ashley's made a 1000-foot lap in his Torco Race Fuels-backed entry to open the day before delivering a stellar 4.744/331.12 performance in the twilight session, joining Ron Capps, John Force and Jack Beckman as leaders in the field of 18 drivers.

"Brian [Corradi, crew chief] had the car tuned to perfection on that last run," Ashley said.

"We made several short hops yesterday just to get the feel of things and see how the new parts would work together, so I didn't know what to expect today. When I passed half-track and it still felt good, I knew it was going to put down a good number, so I stayed in it and just enjoyed the ride.

Alongside Corradi, past champion Mark Oswald and the Gotham City Racing crew took advantage of the optimal conditions to prepare for season without the pressure of racing.

"I know testing is when teams work out bugs and try new things, but honestly, I think we're in a great place because of everything we've done during the off-season. The guys have all worked so hard to get to this point, it feels great to be on the race track and running such good numbers," he said.

"I'm getting ready mentally, and the guys are getting their routines down while we're out here, so it's a really valuable time. Our whole team has really jelled since I made the move to ownership.

"Now we can fine tune and really be strategic in our racing - and that's when it gets fun," Ashley said. "I think it's just a preview of what we can expect this year."

Outstanding, too -- Brandon Bernstein  was second-quick of the day among Top Fuel drivers with a 4.487-second pass at 328.46 mph.
Cory McClenathan's 4.514-second elapsed time was third-quickest of the day, but his 333.16-mph speed was his career best.
Worn out already? --
Ashley Force said the most surprising discovery about driving a nitro Funny Car is "how exhausted you are!"
Tops of TAD - Morgan Lucas recorded his best run so far of the weekend with a half-track pass of 6.407 seconds at a coasting speed of 121.37 mph.“Everything is going great with both of our Lucas Oil cars,” said Lucas, still in pursuit of his first professional victory.

“We’re gaining ground on the Top Fuel car setup, but in our Top Alcohol car, we ran my career best sportsman time of 5.21 seconds (270.70 mph) on our third pass. That says a lot about our Lucas Oil Alcohol crew with Steve Boggs turning the wrenches along with everyone on our sportsman team. They already work so well together and with camaraderie like that, I feel we are definitely going to be challenging for the Lucas Oil Championship. On top of that, our Top Fuel team has made great strides in improvement with both of our pro teams working together. Melanie made her first attempt today and we’re in the direction of making a good start. I’m real proud of everybody getting everything together and getting it out here to make the steps in testing.”

Making plans to stage a two-car operation has been a major undertaking during the off-season. Besides his driving duties of two cars, he now also has the nearly overwhelming task of being team manager making sure all teams have what is needed and working with the crew chiefs of John Stewart and Ronnie Thompson on his team and Richard Hogan on Melanie’s Top Fuel dragster.

“To see these cars start up and run out here is huge amount of pressure off my shoulders,” said a relieved Lucas. “It’s a sense of pride seeing everyone working together so well. I see good things in the future for our teams. We have to keep our heads in the game and it is what you make of it and now we’re trying to make it the best.”

Getting Started - Melanie Troxel, making her debut for the Lucas organization, was anxiously anticipating her first time behind the wheel of her Veterans Memorial/Lucas Oil/Torco Race Fuels dragster. In an expected maneuver, she did a quick launch to check all the specifics and was pleased with the quick outcome resulting in a time of 6.667 seconds at a speed of 121.09 mph, knowing very well, it’s just the first measure.

“You’re always excited to get out there and get the new season started,” said Troxel, who set the NHRA record in 2006 after opening the season with five consecutive final round appearances with victories at Pomona and Las Vegas. “You have a little bit of those nervous butterflies until you get in the car and start it up. Then it all goes away and you get that comfort level back in the seat. We only went to 330 feet on that pass, but that was the plan to make sure we had everything set right on the car. We’re happy to get all the gremlins out of the way and now we can go out and make a clean pass.”

Chargers still rule --
While Don Schumacher Racing's trio led the Funny Car contingent in Friday's opening day of the National Time Trials, John Force slipped his Castrol Ford Mustang in between the DSR Dodge Chargers of  No. 1 Ron Capps and No. 3 Jack Beckman.
Capps took his Brut entry for a 4.678-second spin at 325.92 mph to be the class' lone driver in the 4.6-second range. Force's best Saturday was a 4.708/327.82. And Beckman got a  4.736-second elapsed time at 327.43 mph from his MTS Charger.
Monstrously hard -- Kenny Bernstein's quest to upgrade his Funny Car license became more difficult Saturday, as the best he could coax from his new Monster Energy Dodge Charger was 9.057-second run. He experienced tire shake a couple of times and wiped out the 330-foot cone on one of his afternoon passes and wound up with no clocking. In his other three passes, he recorded elapsed times of 10.289, 12.875, and 13.891 seconds. 
Getting closer -- Whit Bazemore came within one pass of earning his NHRA Top Fuel license Saturday.
Bazemore, who won 20 times in the Finny Car class, shut off his engine early and took a 4.629-second effort at 267.11 mph. He needs just one more run of at least 5.20 seconds at 260 mph in his Lee Beard-prepared Matco Tools Iron Eagle Dragster to cross-grade his license for Top Fuel competition.
"We learned a lot on Saturday," Bazemore said. "It's a way different car. It so different. It's night and day from a Funny Car. This morning, I overdrove it. I got out of the groove and shut it off before half-track. I was disappointed with that.
"I talked to Beard and "Hot" Rod [Fuller, his teammate], and the fact is that you just can't  remotely drive these like you would a Funny Car. The next run we went to 1,000 foot and it was nice and straight. It was a lot better.
"We ran that 4.62 shutting it off and we learned something there," Bazemore said. "What I realized is that all the things that make you a good Funny Car driver work against you in a Top Fuel car. That's just the way it is. If you can muscle a Funny Car and keep it in the groove, then you'll be in bad shape in a dragster. It's coming around. I feel confident. The one run made me feel that I can drive this thing straight, and that's important."
He said he plans to make some full passes Sunday. "That was the plan tonight," he said, "but it shook early. I'm eager to go to the finish line. There's nothing that makes a team, driver, and sponsor feel better than running it to the finish line. The way both cars are running, it's going to be a pretty decent run when we make an entire pass."
Bazemore's 4.629-second pass was the quickest he has gone in the quarter mile. Last June, he blasted his Matco Tools Charger Funny Car to a career-best 4.674-second elapsed time. His personal-best speed is 332.25 mph.
With potential new sponsors scheduled to look on, Fuller also will continue testing at Firebird International Raceway Sunday. He'll give the David Powers Motorsports team yet another look at the new monostrut-wing dragster that made two passes Saturday. His first registered 5.011-second elapsed time at 202.73 mph, and the second run was a broken run.

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SkyTel Dragster makes debut -- Larry Dixon said he was so used to a blue car that he nearly walked right past his new Firebird-test-20.jpgeye-popping-orange SkyTel Dragster that made its debut at the National Time Trials at Firebird International Raceway.

It's no longer a secret that the business pagers company has stepped up to sponsor the two-time Top Fuel champion, who saw longtime sponsor Miller Lite drop from the sport last year. However, Don Prudhomme Racing hasn't made any formal announcement heralding the deal that drew so much speculation.

"It's really exciting. When I pulled into the pits yesterday, I almost drove by it," Dixon said. "You get used to seeing all the blue colors. There ain't much blue left in the pits."

He said the official hoopla "is going to happen soon. We're trying to get everything all in order. I think it's obvious who it is and what it is. The official announcement, I imagine, will happen between now and Pomona."

Whenever it come, Dixon said, "I'm really proud to be associated with the company. "

As for the new, predominantly orange flavor, Dixon said, "I like it. When you're sitting in the car you can't tell the difference, but when you walk up on it, I really like it. We were in blue for so long it's a breath of fresh air. Half our crew's new this year. It goes along with it -- the new sponsorship, the new crew, a new attitude, and we're ready to go out there and get it on."

He said that with his first pass under the SkyTel banner, the team was trying to get everyone in synch.

"The first run, the end result was we spun the tires. We softened it up, and we had an .830 60-foot. All the numbers were pretty soft, but it was decent. You've got to walk before you can run."

Firebird-test-68.jpg Likes the new challenge -- The anticipation is over. Whit Bazemore has satisfied his curiosity. He knows what it feels like to drive a Top Fuel dragster, and by the smile on his face alone it was clear the newest driver in the David Powers Motorsports stable liked it -- and the challenge before him to master it.  

"It's really quite a bit different than a Funny Car. I knew it would be, but I didn't really know how or why," he said.

"The first thing that really hit me was the speed. We only went to the 330-foot [mark] the first run. The sensation of speed was much, much greater than it was in the Funny Car. And that's because of the peripheral vision you have in a dragster that you don't have in a Funny Car," Bazemore said. "In a Funny Car, you look way, way down the windshield -- out, way downtrack. This car, because it's so much more open,  you see things a lot closer to your peripheral vision. So the sensation of speed is pretty tremendous, actually. So I'm excited about that.  It's such a different animal.

"It's a new challenge, for sure."

Bazemore said he is enjoying his time with David Powers Motorsports.

"It's a great team that David has put together with Lee Beard on this car and Rob Flynn on Hot Rod's [Fuller's] car. I can see why Matco changed. It's a great organization, and I'm very happy to be proud and part of it."

He said the organization and his new crew "made it really easy for me today the first run. And I thank them for that. Everything went off without a hitch, really smooth. They made me look good. I appreciate that."

Another unfamiliar feeling that swept over Bazemore Friday centered on confidence.

Said Bazemore, "I thought to myself earlier, 'I've never lacked for confidence very often.'  Occasionally back I the early days of my career I did. But you have issues and you have to learn what you’re doing and how to do it better.  And you get confidence.

"Then I thought, 'Man, I can't tell anyone I don't have any confidence.' But it is so different. It's new," he said. "The first run answered some questions, and now I want to experience what this car does at the finish line. And once I do that, I'll have the data in my brain that I can think about at night. It has to be second nature."

Short takes -- Kenny Bernstein still doesn't have his Funny Car license, but he was on the track several times, making short launches in his Monster Energy Dodge Charger.

Firebird-test-56.jpgMail From Home -- Jack Beckman didn't exactly haul the mail in his first spurt Friday in the Don Schumacher-owned Dodge Charger Funny Car, but his sponsor, Mail Terminal Services, plans to do just that -- to American Gis in Iraq and Afghanistan. MTS will institute its "Mail from Home" program at the season-opening Winternationals next month.

Through its partnerships with the U.S. Postal Service and DHL Globalmail, Schumacher Racing and MTS will honor service personnel in a different war-zone camp in the two Middle East countries at each of the 23 national events this year by displaying the camp name on the MTS Funny Car.

Fans can get in on the act, as well. They'll have the chance in the Schumacher Racing pit area to write short notes of appreciation to the troops stationed at that camp. MTS will forward these notes along with photographs of the MTS Funny Car to the camp commander.

Out of circulation -- Brandon Bernstein will not be asked to consider starring on the TV show "The Bachelor" anymore. He officially proposed to longtime girlfriend Tracey Metz this past Tuesday and presented her with an engagement ring as an early birthday gift. The Budweiser/Lucas Oil Dragster driver said the two have not set a wedding date.

Bernstein made his first run of the preseason at dusk Friday, making an anticipated quick spurt  in the right lane.

Extra help -- Joining Clay Millican on his crew this weekend is Dom :Lagana, younger brother of and crew member for fellow Top Fuel driver Bobby Lagana. 

Let the session begin --
Bob Vandergriff opened the National Time Trials with a strong half-track pass in his UPS Dragster that translated to a 5.83-second elapsed time at 141.65. The Alpharetta, Georgia, veteran said he calculated that one single quarter-mile pass is the result of about 240 man-hours of preparation.

Firebird-test-12.jpgBeen lying low -- Mac Tools Dragster driver Doug Kalitta, recovered now from the shock of having Tony Schumacher swipe the Top Fuel championship from him in the final 4.428 seconds of the 2006 season, said he drew strength from being at his sponsor's annual Tool Fair just before the start of preseason testing.

"We're a pretty determined group," he said of his Connie Kalitta-controlled team. "It was pretty disappointing, but it's another year, and everybody's starting from scratch again. So we're ready to go again."

He said the recent gathering in Nashville, Tennessee, buoyed his spirits.

"Usually I start the year with the Mac Tools Tool Fair . . .  get with all the distributors again . . . just the great support I get from those guys, really. For the last six or seven years, that's the thing I've done before ever coming out and testing. They're all behind me, and we're ready to go," Kalitta said.
He said he has preoccupied himself during the winter with his airline and took a vacation with wife Josie and children Mitch and Avery in the Cayman Islands -- where, he was happy to report, no drag strips exist.

"I've just kind of laid low," he said.

Firebird-test-09.jpgCouldn't back it up -- The only time Doug Foley wanted to go backward in his career, he couldn't. The reverser on his Torco/Acccelerator Dragster malfunctioned when he got to the 60-foot cone, and he had to coast on down the left lane. His Rick Cassel-led crew fixed the reverser problems, then encountered clutch linkage trouble.

Foley said he had planned to make three runs altogether Friday, and three each Saturday and Sunday. He said he might stay at Firebird for a day or so but definitely would head home to Sewell, New Jersey, to rest before the NHRA season opens February 8 at Pomona, California.

Sorting it out -- Doug Herbert opted to keep his Snap-on Tools Dragster at his Lincolnton, North Carolina, shop for one more week. "We're still trying to get things under control."

He acknowledged that it takes a lot of experimentation to become truly prepared for the start of a season.

"There are a million ways to do it wrong," he said. "So you find out all those, and then you find out there are a million and one ways to do it wrong. The you figure out what you need to do to do it right. And that's what we're trying to do."
Doug Kuch came on as crew chief for the last two races of the 2006 season, and he's sharing the duties with Jim Brissette, who Herbert said "has been with me since Moby Dick was a minnow." Said Herbert, "We have new race cars, new trailers, new everything. We'll run it until we think we're OK to go to Pomona."

ETA: Saturday -- Gary Densham's crew was hard at work, preparing his Torco/Racebricks Chevy Monte Carlo, but the veteran driver, who's starting his 28th season, will arrive at the rack Saturday morning.

First looks -- Gary Scelzi, the 2005 Funny Car champion, clicked off at 1,000 feet in his opening test run of the year and registered a 5.12-second elapsed time at 216.72. Teammate Ron Capps was a hundredth of  a second slower than that two runs before him.




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