Keep up with this weekend's IHRA SKULL Shine Sooner Nationals 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.





Kevin Jones, the fourth alternate after final qualifying, completes storybook weekend with Top Fuel Ironman victory at Tulsa Raceway Park


jones.JPGKevin Jones, a barber from Berea, Ky., will probably be sending Doug Foley a gift card good for a lifetime of free haircuts. When Foley decided to pull out of the Skull Shine Sooner Nationals presented by Wolverine and Academy Sports + Outdoors to compete in the NHRA race in Englishtown, Jones and Sipple Family Racing were contacted by IHRA to see if they were interested in filling out the Knoll-Gas Torco Racing Fuels Pro NitroTop Fuel field by competing at the Nitro Jam event in Tulsa.


They had three days to get ready and head to Oklahoma, but the trip was more than worthwhile.


Jones drove past Bruce Litton, Indianapolis, to claim the first career Ironman for Sipple Family Racing. He carded a 5.138 at 260.71 mph to defeat Litton, who lost traction at half-track and lifted out of the run. Jones and crew chief Mike Sipple were thrilled with the victory, but they wish John “Doc” Sipple, the patriarch of Sipple Family Racing, could have been there to enjoy it with them.


“Doc” recently had a stint put in his heart and was back home in Kentucky recovering, unable to make the trip to Tulsa.


“This was the first time a Top Fuel team has ever pulled out of Berea without him in the rig,” Jones said. “It was kind of an emotional thing, but we knew we had to do what we had to do. If the Lord lays the way out for you, doggone it, that’s just the way it has to be. We may not understand it or like it, but if the grass is green the grass is green. You just have to follow that path.”


Dale Creasy Jr., the defending Knoll-Gas Torco Racing Fuels Pro Nitro Funny Car world champion from Beecher, Ill., continued his early-season success by stopping Andy Kelley in the final round. Creasy entered the event with a slim three-point lead over Jack Wyatt in the championship points standings, but he topped Wyatt in the semifinals before a 5.078/289.14 pass in the final round gave him the Ironman.


STOKEN.JPG“The only thing that could have ruined this thing today was the driver,” Creasy said. “My crew did a tremendous job. After the first run we didn’t like the way the motor looked. We didn’t hurt it but the crew didn’t like something about it. They changed it and 40 minutes later it was running great. These guys are the best. My crew and Evan Knoll. I just got off the phone with him and he’s ecstatic. I love the guy and he has done everything for me.”


Rob Atchison, London, Ont., tightened up the championship points race with a victory over defending world champion Mark Thomas in the final round. Atchison, who had the quickest car all day, put together a 5.846 at 241.89 mph to claim the Alcohol Funny Car Ironman.


“This is getting fun,” Atchison said. “I still think the car has more to give, but we’ve figured out how to consistently get down the track and that’s half the battle. This class is getting really exciting. Terry Munroe is running well early and you know Mark and I are going to be there all year. Any time you can beat Mark in a round, whether it’s the final round or whatever, it’s a big deal.”


Pat Stoken, Eureka, Mont., won his first career national event when he defeated defending world champion Quain Stott in the Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com Pro Modified final.


Stoken was the first nitrous-powered Pro Modified to claim an IHRA national event victory since Mike Castellana captured the Ironman at the President’s Cup Nationals in Budds Creek during the 2005 season.


“This is great, it really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Stoken said. “I don’t know if there was ever a time during the race where I thought “you know, I could win this thing’ but the car was incredibly consistent and I was able to go rounds. I guess a nitrous car can win.”


Defending Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com Pro Stock world champion Pete Berner took an early step towards a successful title defense when he knocked off Brian Gahm in the final round. Berner posted a 6.419 at 216.27 mph with a .070 reaction time to top Gahm’s 6.414/216.03 with a .077 reaction time. Berner’s margin of victory was a scant .002 of a second.


“I knew I would have to be on my game because Brian is a two-time world champion,” Berner said. “That was the best drag race I have ever participated in. I actually had no idea who had won it and, truthfully, if Brian would have pulled it out I would have been thrilled for him.”



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International Hot Rod Association fans will have to wait nearly a month to see if top qualifier Bruce Litton will earn his second Top Fuel victory in three races or just what will happen in the Nitro Funny Car class, with Gary Densham and Tim Wilkerson, the top two qualifiers, absent, honoring NHRA commitments at Englishtown, New Jersey.But they'll have plenty of time to second-guess the hard-pressed IHRA and Tulsa Raceway Park officials, who consulted evidently inaccurate weather forecasts before making a decision Sunday to reschedule the Skull Shine Sooner Nationals. Immediately after they announced the third race on the Knoll Gas Nitro-Jam Series schedule will be completed Saturday, June 23, the Oklahoma skies cleared and even though it remained breezy, it was dry and partly sunny the rest of the day.

"The first real glimpse of dry weather isn’t until Tuesday or Wednesday,” said IHRA's earnest President Aaron Polburn said Sunday after consulting the computers. “So it’s impossible to run this race as scheduled. It’s a tough call to have to make, but we feel it’s the right one, based on weather forecasts and all the rain we’ve already experienced.”

Weather particulars aside, the Tulsa crowd, welcoming IHRA racers back for a national event for the first time since 1994, will get to watch some intriguing developments.

In Top Fuel, Luigi Novelli's improved performance only will make him more upset-minded against Litton in the opening round, which also will see two-time finalist T.J. Zizzo meet Bobby Lagana, the man he defeated to win at Rockingham in Race No. 2. Scotty Cannon will have some time to rest his back after recent surgery before going against Mike Strasburg, and Doug Foley (a two-time top qualifier this season) will meet Oklahoma favorite son Scott Palmer.

The Tulsa trip turned out doubly ugly for Scott Weis, who failed to qualify for the eight-car field. While servicing the car Saturday night, he cut a finger and ended up in a hospital  emergency room, receiving five stitches. 

In Nitro Funny Car action, rookie Jon Capps, who led the field at Rockingham and was runner-up there, will have his chance in Round 1 to avenge his loss to Jack Wyatt. He clocked his first pass at more than 300 mph (300.60 in 5.051 seconds in his first qualifying chance and a career-best 304.05-mph speed the next day in securing the No. 3 spot), and the Vegas Fuel- and Warren Cat-sponsored driver said he is ready for Wyatt.
"I definitely feel like we owe Jack one," Capps said. "He took a win away from us in Rockingham, and I'd love to repay him here tomorrow. We're really excited to have qualified for our third consecutive race and also be third in the point standings.
"Everyone over here is so tough," he said, "and with several NHRA teams coming in to test for Topeka we knew it was going to be a solid field. The track is definitely capable of holding a 4.80 run. We were working more towards our tune up for eliminations tomorrow. Paul [team owner/crew chief] is just trying to get a good tune up for race day. The Vegas Fuel team has been doing a great job all weekend, and I can't mention enough how much I appreciate our guys and how hard they work."
Points leader and reigning champion Dale Creasy Jr. will benefit from Densham's expected no-show on the make-up date. Creasy and Densham were to be first-round opponents. Wilkerson was scheduled to face Andy Kelley. No. 4 qualifier Terry Haddock and Todd Simpson will face each other. 
With second-year Pro Modified driver Scott Cannon acing out track-speed recordholder Mike Janis by 44-hundredths of a second for low elapsed time (at a track-mark 6.053 seconds), that class should see some fun action, too. And with Shannon Jenkins, Jim Halsey, and Danny Rowe among the top five on the grid, the lineup is strong from top to bottom, where Joe Mulligan and his '68 Camaro anchor the field at 6.381 seconds. The fact that 2005 series champion Mike Castellana missed the cut, last among 21 entrants, shows the caliber of competition. 

Pete Berner has taken charge of the Pro Stock class, with his runner-up finish at Rockingham and No. 1 performance in Tulsa qualifying, which includes both ends of the track records (6.370-second E.T., 219.72-mph speed). He credits Dave Braswell's talk-of-the-pits carburetor magic that complements his reliable Jon Kaase power. 

Rob Atchison is back in the Alcohol Funny Car mix for the first time this year. Maybe the Ottawa Senators' appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals has been an inspiration for the three-time champion from London, Ontario. Atchison said he's just hitting his stride and that the 11-race season is early. That could spell trouble for fellow Chevy Monte Carlo drivers Terry Munroe and six-time champ Mark Thomas, who will line up third and fourth, respectively. Munroe and Thomas have traded final-round results to open the season, and Atchison's top-qualifier award put the brakes on Munroe's modest streak. Canadian Larry Dobbs opened eyes as the early leader at Tulsa and eventual No. 2 qualifier.

IHRA is returning this year for the first time since the 1994 Grand American Nationals -- which, incidentally, featured Shannon Jenkins beating Scotty Cannon in the Pro Mod final round. The make-up of the classes has changed, the E.T.s and speeds are quicker and faster, and it's certainly nothing like bracket racer and popular local engine builder Gene Carter remembers. Carter, 81 (yes -- no misprint), who's entered in the 2007 Sooner Nationals with his snazzy-looking '62 Corvette, began drag racing in 1952 at Pampas, Texas, when the entry fee was a mere 25 cents and action took place on the half-mile. He said he recalls one race that had such a large car count that it had eight lanes operating at once. But this June 23 make-up day at Tulsa Raceway Park will bring a new chapter to the IHRA history books.   


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DSB_1094.jpg TOUGH SESSION - When the flames remain on the track after the car has competed it‘s engine explosion, chances are the track will need a bit of cleaning up.

Such was the case when Chris Karamesines’ engine let go at the 200-foot mark. The engine produced a huge fireball that burned all the way until it came to a stop in the shutdown area.

At the time, only Bobby Lagana had a chance of bumping his way into the field. That Fate placed Lagana next in the lane Karamesines’ dragster soiled.

Lagana had a front-row seat to the clean-up and watched patiently as the safety crews scraped the rubber off a sixty-foot section of the lane to the point where the fire began. Then they laid down oil-dry from the wall to the centerline and worked it into the scraped surface.

Their labor was for naught. It became apparent to the IHRA officials after 90 minutes of non-stop labor, the synthetic oil was not going to work away from the racing surface regardless of what they did. That prompted the decision to run the balance of Top Fuel in the left lane.

If only it could have been that easy.

The oildown extended into the left lane requiring additional grooming before Lagana could run. The story had a happy ending for Lagana as worked his way into the seventh position.


Gary Densham said his new Chevy Impala SS "acted stupid" in the Saturday afternoon qualifying session. "That's a technical term," he added with a grin.

And despite his complaints about the performance of his car compared to its potential, Densham will lead the field into Sunday's eliminations.

"I don't want to think I'm whining even a little bit," he said after rewriting both ends of the track record with a 4.878-second elapsed time and 314.02-mph speed.

The problem, he said, was a new clutch. "What we changed [from Friday night's session that left him in first place also] shouldn't have made it as fast as it did," he said. "We dialed it back. All of a sudden it tried to run fast."

His complaint was that "we don't spend money to run the same or slower."

NIGHT OF FIRE -- Jack Wyatt knew the IHRA would be presenting its Night of Fire program Saturday night. But he hadn't planned to be part of it. Nevertheless, he started the show a bit early -- and Top Fuel's Chris Karamesines added to the sensational with a trail of flames from his dragster that cost nearly an hour and a half cleanup.

"It was a pretty big bang," Wyatt said of his burst. "We're trying to stay in this championship race, and you've got to take a little bit of a chance." Then jokingly, he said, "It's Night of Fire. That's what it's all about."

THEY’RE ALL TOUGH - Jon Capps qualified third in his third race behind the wheel of the Paul Smith flopper.

"Everyone over here is so tough," Capps said. "and with several NHRA teams coming in to test for Topeka we knew it was going to be a solid field. The track is definitely capable of holding a 4.80 run. We were working more towards our tune up for eliminations tomorrow. Paul is just trying to get a good tune up for race day. The Vegas Fuel team has been doing a great job all weekend and I can't mention enough how much I appreciate our guys and how hard they work."


Scott Cannon jumped from 11th place on the 16-car grid following Saturday's first session to the top spot for the second straight race.

"We knew we made it in, so we just went for No. 1," he said.

"We're No. 1 in points and we were trying to get the Last Man Standing. I messed up on the light a little bit and lost that. I had to get the RPM exactly right, and I was more worried about making a good run than a light. It cost me the Last Man Standing. One thing worked out," he said with a shrug.

DADS WILL BE DADS -- Scott Cannon said he was concerned about his father's return to the cockpit of his Top Fuel dragster for the first time since undergoing back surgery. "The first run, we were all a little shaky," the second-generation Pro Mod driver said, "but he made a run that didn't bother him any. We still worry about him." However, Scott Cannon said, "He's working on my car and running around better than he was before. He stays on us."

EXTRA CHORES -- Despite the effects of a last-minute change in race-weekend personnel, Scott Cannon put his '68 Firebird at the head of the Pro Mod pack.

"We're a little shorthanded this weekend on help. I wound up being the clutch guy this weekend," he said. "I went from being a motor guy and had to train somebody to do my job and then do the clutch work, too. I was kind of worried that I had it in there right. It seemed like I did."

With a 10-place improvement and a track-record elapsed time of 6.053, it definitely seemed like he did.

Cannon said he's a bit out of his comfort zone with the temporary assignment -- and he's already particular about what hands touch his race car.

"I like the motor part. I build all our motors," Cannon said. "I'm pretty picky about who I let work on my car. I let 'em start on a little bit and when they work through that, then they get a major job." As far as being a taskmaster, he said, "I may be worse than my dad."
That's saying a lot for a 28-year-old -- especially one who looks so youthful he hardly seems 28. "I feel it," Cannon said. "Today I do."

OUT IN FRONT - Some drivers prefer not to be out in front in the points chase early, choosing instead a strategy of lurking in second or third and mounting an ambush. Not Scott Cannon. "We've never been leading the points before. We're just trying to stay out there and let them chase us. We just try to run our own game and not worry about it," he said. Still, he said, "I'd rather be No. 1."

NEW CAR WOES -- As exciting as it is to have a new car, it can often be tricky finding that strong  tune-up. That's what Matt Hagan is finding out with his Torco Racing Fuels Accelerator '68 Camaro.

"It's tough," Hagen said after qualifying 12th in the 16-car lineup.  "We have a lot of work ahead of us tonight. We got a decent run tonight and yesterday, and we have something to work with.  Now we just want to improve on what we did and hopefully go out there and get this Accelerator car in the winners circle tomorrow. 

"We have had some clutch issues going on, getting things to hook up.  The track is really good right now. We can't hang enough weight on it.  We just changed our whole clutch program this last run.  It worked, but we were a little off again because we had made some changes.  I think once we get that ironed out tonight, and get a good game plan for in the morning, we will be all right," Hagan said.

"This is still a new car.  We've had about 60 hits on this car in the last few months, and it's going to take some more. Some of these guys have had their cars two or three years, and they know everything that is going to happen on their car. Hopefully we'll get everything ironed out.  It's just going to take some time."

Shannon "The Ice Man" Jenkins was the winner Saturday night for the five-point bonus award.  "The GTO made a good run," Jenkins, who'll start third on the strength of a 6.112-second elapsed time. "We hope to take this momentum into tomorrow, and see what happens."

That E.T. and his 231.79-mph speed were career bests, although his teammate, Mike Castellana, has the distinction of having the quickest and fastest nitrous car. He recorded a 6.106-second E.T. at Rockingham in October 2005 and a 232.31-mph run at Martin, Michigan.

KING OF BAD LUCK - Chip King knows all too well the highs and the lows of racing. The Pro Mod veteran unfortunately experienced more low then anything during qualifying.  "Our first run we broke a U-joint in the driveshaft," King said. "It took out the transmission and shot a piece of the U-joint out of the roof of the car. The second run, we went solid and drove through the clutch, and made it down [the track], which is what we were looking for. We were in pretty good shape for the last run, when the drain plug vibrated out of the oil pan on the burnout."

SUCH A THING AS TOO GOOD? -- The consensus is that the Tulsa Raceway Park surface is excellent, meaning that using power to their advantage is becoming the trick.  Said Danny Rowe, "We are very happy with where we are.  I think the track is good for all the racers.  We are very comfortable.  We didn't have any problems with the car. We would have gone a lot quicker, but we had a little driver brain-dead thing. But the car is running very well. 

"Jimmy has done a great job with the car," he said, referring to crew chief Jimmy Rector. "And we are moving in the right direction. I still think we can improve on it. It should get better and better as we get more and more laps in it. I think it has been great so far. Tommy Mauney builds a great car, so I think we are moving in the right direction."

BUDGET BUSTERS - Reigning Pro Mod champion Quain Stott had a few thoughts about the recent rule changes.

"The competition hasn't really stepped up. The rule changes screwed everybody up. It's thrown us a curve, and we really haven't quite figured it out yet," he said., although he qualified in the top half of the field at seventh.

"We don't have the budget to go out there and wear motors out trying to figure this new rule out with the 4:30 gear they have. The higher-funded teams are obviously figuring this out quicker then we are. We are getting better every race. This is the first race this year we've been in the top half, but actually believe it or not, I’m in better shape now than I was this time last year.

"I'm probably higher in the points now. We want to repeat, but it's hard to do," Stott said. "It seems like winning a championship is a curse, because nobody repeats. Scotty Cannon is the only one who has ever repeated. They repeat but never two in a row. 

Stott said he understands the "strength in numbers" concept and misses having Tommy D'Aprile help him run interference a little.

"[The big numbers] aren't necessarily the better funded, but the team cars. We are by ourselves this year. We had a team car last year that helped us a lot, but we don't have that this year.  Now we only get but one run where they get two or three. "I don’t know how many cars [Al] Billes is tuning, but it's a lot. He's obviously getting a lot of information we are not getting. They are just making a poor boy mad now. We’ll work harder.

"I've often said I have to outrun them with hard work.  When you don't have the money, you have to outrun them with hard work," he said.  "We've done it before and we'll do it again."

He called the track "perfect" and said, "We are changing a bunch of stuff for tomorrow.  I'm the kind of guy that will go out tomorrow and go faster and not go down. I would rather shake the tires and not go than to get outrun. So tomorrow we're going to get after it and hopefully go rounds.  The middle of the field used to be good before IHRA screwed the ladder up. It doesn't give you any incentive to qualify good. You still try to for bragging rights, but No. 8 is really the best place to be.  I'm No. 7, so I'm really in a good spot.  It shouldn't be a good spot, but it really is."

Stott will face Ed Hoover in Sunday's first round.  


Rob Atchison, No. 2 Friday night, replaced fellow Ontario driver Larry Dobbs as No. 1 qualifier with an early-Saturday effort at 5.820 second s at 245.85 mph.

"It's a lot trickier than we thought it was going to be," Atchison said. "I didn't expect this kind of weather in Tulsa, so it threw us a curveball. I didn't know it was going to be that humid. We were able to adapt, and the car came around for us. Last night it was much more feel it out. We didn't know how many [sessions] we were going to get, and we didn't know how much it was going to rain."

He said his '06 Chevy Monte Carlo is "still a little bit soft. If we're going to have to run somebody who's going to be really tough" -- he mentioned Mark Thomas and Terry Munroe -- "we've got a little bit more to play with. The (5.)82 is a little soft, but we're just happy to see the car go down the track."

Rob Atchison said he's ready to make his move to the top of the standings, ready to break up the Terry Munroe-Mark Thomas act.

"For sure, I want to get back in there and get back the points I think they're taking away from me," he said. "It's good to see Terry Munroe step up. He's always had a fast car, but he had a lot of inconsistencies. He did a lot of things over the winter. And Mark's always a tough competitor, so that's no surprise. It definitely makes the class exciting.

"We've been able to move our way into things," Atchison said. "You've got to make sure you have the car for the last three or four races. We're only a few rounds back."


Call it deja-vu for Pete Berner. First No. 1 position in three years for Berner and the first in two years for engine builder Jon Kaase.

He said he remembers that feat at the Spring Nationals at Rockingham: "We had a brand-new Kaase motor and we qualified for the pole on our first run."

Berner said, "We were somewhat conservative" with the track "because we'd never been on it."

He said he showed up at Tulsa Raceway Park prepared to compete -- and go one step farther than he did last month at Rockingham, where he was runner-up to John Montecalvo.

He and his team tested last Tuesday at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois. "With the barometer at 29.31, kind of comparable to here, at 2500 feet [above sea level], we ran 6.35 at 221.17 miles an hour. We knew we had a really nice combination to come here with," he said.

Berner, a regular at Route 66 Raceway's test-and-tune nights, said the state-of-the-art dragstrip that Bill France and Tony George have an ownership interest in is "a phenomenal track. It's fast, and it's smooth."

He said his motor "was brand-new at the end of last year. Jon did some work to it over the winter and it got to be a real animal. It's just an unbelievable motor." He said Dave Braswell, with his new carburetor and castings, has been instrumental in the performance increase. "With this new motor combination it just works really well.

"We always knew we had great power but not killer power."

He said the class is tough and "there aren't going to be any runaways." He said all the engine builders "have a good handle on power. A lot of the engine builders have caught up with Bob Ingles, who builds Robert's [Patrick's] motors. I think they're very close. It's just the way you run the car, the combination that you come up with."

He credited his crew, including key member Pat Norcia. "We don't have a set crew chief," Berner said. "We all get together, and we all talk about a combination. Everybody's input is valuable. When we come here, we're ready to race. We have a baseline set-up."

And he said he loves being No. 1 qualifier. "You can strut your stuff," he said.

THE NAMING OF AN ENGINE - Berner had bantered around a few nicknames for the new engine prior to this weekend. One of the more popular titles amongst the team was “Shaft,” the name based on the name of an iconic fictional 1970s movie character.

Isaac Hayes sang in his tribute song, “That Shaft he’s a bad mutha.”

Hush your mouth. At least that’s what Hayes followed that memorable line with.

Berner used the line in not so many ways as he silenced the competition Saturday night. The defending IHRA Torco’s CompetitionPlus Pro Stock world champion not only won the Kaase Tuning Challenge and the Quarter-max Challenge, but claimed his first top qualifier of the 2007 season.

Berner’s 6.370 elapsed time and 219.72 mile per hour speed also served as new Tulsa Raceway Park track records.

“What more could you ask for,” said Berner, whose monumental run came during Saturday’s first session. “Our testing paid off. We made a lot of runs on this new engine to get it dialed in for this weekend. This is a new combination and each time
we come out with it, we find something new to pick it up even more.”

Berner originally ran the Jon Kaase-built “Shaft” in Rockingham. The new engine exhibited lots of potential, but was fairly green to the team. They spent most of the weekend acquainting themselves to its likes and dislikes. Then in an interesting twist, the then unnamed engine rode Berner to the final round.
“We had no tune-up for it in Rockingham outside of our traditional baseline,” Berner said. “We just kept throwing stuff at it and it kept responding. It has been a bad-to-the-bone engine.”

The one thing “Shaft” has loved more than anything has been the new 7520 carburetors prepared by specialist Dave Braswell. Berner says that has been a major factor in the secret of his success.

“These are custom made just for IHRA Pro Stock,” Berner said. “I rank him as one of the best ever in working with carburetors. The new ones have their own castings unique to them. They are bigger and better for tuning than any we’ve had before. Everything about this carburetor is better. The more we tune it, the better it gets.”

NIGHT AND DAY - What a difference 24 hours can make. Robert Patrick sat on top of the field following Friday's qualifying and held the elapsed time track record. By Saturday, his top run was only good enough for sixth.

Patrick's best Bob Ingles engine dropped a valve necessitating an engine change between sessions. The replacement engine was his back-up motor which was wounded a week earlier in a special Ford event. The Purvis Ford-sponsored driver didn't have the opportunity to take the engine to Ingles' shop for a full repair.

"We are going into Sunday with only one engine," Patrick said. "We'll just do the best we can and let the chips fall where they may."

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zizzo.jpgZIZZO ZIPS -- For a driver who said he’s still trying to get a handle on his set-up, T.J. Zizzo is beconing a force to be reckoned with. The Rockingham winner and San Antonio runner-up set both ends of the track record Friday in capturing the early lead with a 4.649-second pass and a 314.68 speed.

He said fresh funding from sponsor Race News Magazine is making a difference for him and the Dave Settles-led crew. He said driving the car aggressively never had been a luxury for him before this season.

“I was never able to do that,” he said, “because we never had the budget. In years past, I would just take my foot off the throttle and coast. If the guy in the other lane was going down the race track then, I wasn’t in the mood to hunt him down. But now we have a little different mentality because of Race New Magazine. We have the opportunity to hop on the gas and do whatever you need to do to get down the quarter-mile.”
And that’s exactly what he did Friday night.
zizzoDSB_4753.jpgBACK TO REALITY - T.J. Zizzo said his experience at Rockingham Drag way -- where he won he Spring Nationals -- brought him down to earth, actually.

“It was cool to win, but reality set in once I got home,” he said. “The IHRA had arranged for me to do an interview with a radio station in Ohio, and I did it over the phone from home. You could hear my son crying in the background and my daughter whining, and I thought, ‘Well, this is reality, man.’

“You might win a race, but when you go home, you’ve got the same complaints, no matter if you win or lose,” Zizzo said. “You still have to be a dad and a husband. You still have to feed the cats. You still have to go sand Bondo and deal with customers. I found that pretty hilarious. You’re supposed to be professional, and you have to go into another room during a live radio interview.”
FOLEY FALTERS SO FAR -- Terry McMillen found himself in some distinguished Top Fuel company Friday night. Also unqualified after the first session was Doug Foley, the No. 1 qualifier at the first two races of the season (at San Antonio and Rockingham).

Traction trouble left Foley with an 8.002-second elapsed time at 89.94 mph. Following him in the order were Scot Weis, Jim Cavalieri, Kevin Jones, and Michael Gunderson.
cannnonDSA_1174.jpgBACK JUST FINE - Scotty Cannon admitted his Seelye-Wright dragster didn't run quick enough tonight to hurt his back tonight, but even if it did post low elapsed time - everything is just fine. Cannon underwent surgery to repair two damaged disks less than a month ago.
 Tonight, a blown reverser among other examples of parts attrition limited his performance to a 6.414 elapsed time at only 128 miles per hour.
"My back feels good," Cannon said. "I have been sticking to my routine of resting when I can. I managed a good night's sleep last night. I've been taking the ibprofen to keep things feeling okay.
"it just wears down at the end of the day."
WHIPLASH, SORTA -  Cannon vividly remembers the time he almost suffered a severe case of whiplash during one of his visits to Tulsa Raceway Park in the mid-1990s. Cannon's Pro Modified was rear-ended ... eh, he backed into a fellow competitor following his burnout.
Former Pro Modified competitor Chuck Peterson had gotten crossed up and nailed the wall before coming to a stop in Cannon's lane. Unbeknownst to Cannon, a stalled Peterson had a front-row seat to his opponent's high-speed back up. The resulting collision destroyed what was left of Peterson's 1970 Chevelle and a gaping hole in the rear of Cannon's car.

Tempers flared briefly between the drivers, with Peterson asking Cannon, "Why didn't you stop?"
Cannon instinctively responded, " These don't have rear-view mirrors in them, you know."
Cooler heads prevailed, as did a huge amount of fiberglass repair kit.
The resourceful Cannon went on to win the event.
mcmillenDSB_0426.jpgMCMILLEN WORKING DAY AND NIGHT -- All racers had to wait out rain delays and a lightning show before getting started Friday with the Sooner Nationals. But the schedule might have been more of drain on Terry McMillan than anybody else. The Elkhart, Indiana, driver was a guest on a local TV trackside program called “Day Break.”

Despite getting up with the chickens, McMillen had something to crow about by the end of the first day of qualifying. He already had nabbed the provisional fifth spot in the Alcohol Funny Car lineup as he prepared to run the Torco-sponsored dragster in evening action.

He didn’t fare as well in Top Fuel. He aborted the run because of tire shake and needs Saturday’s chances to break into the field of eight. He closed the day 12th with a 10.056-second, 86.72-mph clocking.

Later Friday morning, IHRA officials suspended all on-track activity until further notice. Excessive rain all day Thursday prevented race teams from moving into the pits, and that delayed Friday racing. A shower at about 5 p.m. set back the program even further.
denshamDSB_5020.jpgTEACHER KNOWS BEST - Nitro Funny Car qualifying Friday night was complete sham -- make than Densham, complete Densham. The veteran racer and former schoolteacher from Bellflower, California -- who entered late while enjoying an extended break in the National Hot Rod Association schedule -- claimed both the track elapsed time and speed records in his ’07 Chevy Impala SS. He did it with a run of 4.887 second at 311.05 mph.
CAPPS CONTINUES ROLL  -- Jon Capps, coming off an outstanding showing at Rockingham as top qualifier and runner-up to Jack Wyatt, appears to be continuing his hot streak in Paul Smith‘s ‘05 Chevy Monte Carlo. He opened qualifying with a 5.051-second elapsed time at 300.60 mph that was strong enough for the provisional No. 2 position. Just three-hundredths of a second behind him is another NHRA regular, Tim Wilkerson, who was a late entry looking for some extra seat time in his new Impala. Wilkerson took it for a 5.089-second spin at 292.20 mph.
Wyatt sits fourth after one session with a 5.180/267.91 from his ‘06 Dodge Stratus.
LOOKS LIKE RIGHT MOVE - Bob Gilbertson might be having some financial concerns about running Powerade Drag Racing Series events. He has chosen to skip next weekend’s race, the O'Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals at nearby Topeka. But he hasgilbertsonDSA_0164.jpg elected to put his restricted resources into the IHRA championship chase, and it’s paying off. He’s in the Nitro Funny Car field for now, at least, sixth Friday night with a 7.934-second elapsed time and 125.23 speed.

Gilbertson already has skipped a few NHRA races this year, and he said he regrets the budget restraints that have plagued him

"Once again this was a tough decision to make," Gilbertson said. "The same factors that caused us to miss Las Vegas and St. Louis figured into the equation. The new diesel engine emissions law that was implemented January 1, 2007 has had a direct impact on our racing budget. Freightliner, the largest truck manufacturer in the world, is one of my company's biggest customers, we supply them with air tanks and they've seen their sales drop off 40 percent and they've laid off over 6,000 people so far and with that, the demand for air tanks has dropped like a rock. They don't expect sales to improve until the fourth quarter and look to increase production then and into 2008.

"With the ever increasing cost of diesel fuel, the huge expense of traveling to Kansas for this race would be outrageous. I regret having to do this . . . but it's decision I'm forced to make. We will re-join the NHRA tour at Chicago and we'll also compete at the following race at Englishtown. I want to apologize to all my sponsors and fans who support this team and wanted to see us in Topeka but it's something I'm forced to do to keep this team alive for the rest of the season. just had to do."
smithDSB_5179.jpg HARD WORKING MAN  -- Rickie Smith put in a full day of work Friday.

He took the tentative No. 2 qualifying position in the Pro Modified class with a 6.203-second, 225.41-mph effort in his first full pass in his brand-new ’63 ’Vette -- after earning the No. 5 spot Friday in the Pro Stock category in his ’07 Chevy Cobalt.
HAGAN SHOWS WELL AGAIN - Matt Hagan, who has qualified his ‘68 Torco Accelerator Camaro in the top half of the field at the past three national events, said he and his crew “haven't been so pumped up about an event in as long as I can remember. I guess the weekend off and the good results we've been getting have made everyone really eager to get back out there and race."

He predicted he would be in the top half of the field at Tulsa Raceway Park, and he was right. Hagan closed the first day of qualifying in fourth place with a 6.214-second elapsed time at 228.23 mph.

The question is whether that will start to pay off on race day. "We're making great progress, and that's bound to pay off," Hagan said. "We'll just keep chiseling away at it, and sooner or later we're bound to end up in a final or get that big first win."



patrickDSB_5059.jpgCALL HIM OPPORTUNISTIC - That’s what Robert Patrick called himself, in so many words, Friday night after setting Tulsa Raceway Park’s elapsed-time track record en route to the early No. 1 qualifying position.

The Virginia driver, who won the season-opening Amalie Oil Texas Natonals from the top spot, edged reigning world champion Pete Berner with a 6.408-second, 216.31-mph opening salvo.

And he warned that his ‘07 Ford Cobra has the potential to lower that E.T. during Saturday’s final two sessions.

“That run wasn’t nearly as aggressive as we wanted to be,” Patrick said, “but exactly as we needed it to be. We had no data on this track, but we had a good idea of what it would hold. I don’t think we left a lot on the table tonight.
“We’ll study what we did tonight, so we can tweak and tune things up and we’ll step up things tomorrow. If it’s there,” he said, “we’re going for it.”

With rain having its effect on the track, it wasn’t prepped as much as drivers might have liked to see. In other words, it was green.

“That’s the nature of drag racing,” Patrick said. “This is not an easy sport. You don’t always get optimum conditions served up on a golden platter. You have to take what you can get and make the most of it. That’s what we did tonight and things turned out pretty good.”

Patrick won’t be satisfied with “pretty good,” not when his second No. 1 qualifying award of the season is at stake. So Berner, Oklahoma native Dean Goforth, of Holdenville, and the rest of the better Friday qualifiers can plan to watch out for Patrick.
bernerDSB_0406.JPGSURE OF HIMSELF AND HIS CAR - Pete Berner might have been surrounded by uncertainty Friday. However, he looked anything but uncertain Friday night in his ‘06 Pomtiac GTO as he recorded the track speed record -- 218.37 mph -- while challenging Robert Patrick for the top spot on the grid.

Some drivers might be frustrated for leaving performance on the table, but not Berner. That’s exactly what the current Pro Stock champion intended to do during the first day of qualifying at Tulsa. He indicated that he wanted to leave just enough on the table to not overpower the track.

“We wanted to get down the track as our first objective,” Berner said. “We learned enough tonight that I think we can step up even more tomorrow. The track was not that bad tonight. In fact, I’d say that right lane was pretty good tonight.”
Berner drove his Jon Kaase-powered, Rick Jones-built GTO to the No. 2 spot with a 6.410-second elapsed time.

He said finding the right shot on an unfamiliar track is almost like being in the Showcase Showdown on the popular television game show The Price is Right. You try to predict a number the closest to the real price without going over. But he said he had lots of confidence in his baseline set-up.

“I wasn’t afraid in the least with what we had,” Berner said. “The key was not to get after it too much and shake the tires. I was pretty confident that we had a top five car going out there.

“We went back through our log books to the test sessions we had last week and set the car up just like we had it in St. Louis,” Berner said. “The two tracks are very similar, and because of that, we felt that was the best path to take. I think we will be solidly in the 6.30s before qualifying ends.”



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UPDATE: 6:30 pm, CST - After a 90-minute sportsman session, thunder and lightning hit once again bringing a halt to competition. In the time before the rains hit, all but two sportsman classes were run to completion.
The track drying is underway and should be done in time to start the professional classes at 7:30 PM. 
UPDATE: 1:53 PM, CST -  The IHRA's determination, not to mention hard work, appears to be paying off in fighting the after-effects of yesterday's storm.
The sportsman teams are being parked and the revised schedule now shows the starting time as 3 PM.
Fingers are crossed as another round of thunderstorms are forecast for this afternoon. 
11:02, CST - The IHRA's staff is working hard to overcome the handicap the weather has dealt them. Early this morning, crews began bringing in rock and other materials to combat the flooded facility.
Today's sportsman action looks like a wash except for a round of ET bracket cars. They will run to prevent the professional categories from facing a totally green racing surface. According to the IHRA's Skooter Peaco, the goal is to get in at least one professional session and that will require a miracle. 
Some of the race teams, although recognizing the IHRA's efforts, were upset at the condition of the facility.
"It is like this national event caught them by surprise," one competitor said. "It's not like they didn't have 18 months to prepare for it."  - Roger Richards


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tulsa_notes_02.jpg Heavy rains have created a mess for the day before the IHRA Skull Shine Sooner Nationals at Tulsa Raceway Park was scheduled to begin. Parking was halted for the sportsman entries in order to let the grounds dry out.
The professional entries should be fine with the allotment of asphalt for their rigs. As of 6 PM on Thursday, the bulk of the sportsman racers were still parked in the “holding” area.
Race officials have confirmed those on the outside or those who arrived after the rain, must wait until Friday at 8 AM to park. Because of this, sportsman qualifying/time trials are expected to be delayed for much of the day. As of now, the 6:30 PM professional qualifying session appears to be on schedule.
The rain may be just one of the more recognizable problems facing the IHRA. Reportedly, one portion of the paved pits appears to be cracking under the weight of the larger race transporters. – Roger Richards



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Nitro Funny Car drivers Gary Densham and Tim Wilkerson have decided to use the down-time in the National Hot Rod Association schedule to compete in the IHRA's Skull Shine Sooner Nationals this weekend at Tulsa Raceway Park.

Densham, running select Knoll-Gas Nitro Jam™ events in 2006, won two races and finished seventh in the standings. He was No. 1 qualifier and runner-up at the March season-opener at San Antonio.

And one of the hottest drivers he'll encounter tjhis weekend is veteran Jack Wyatt, who's fresh from his third straight victory at North Carolina's Rockingham Dragway. Wyatt is back at home, back in the nation's midsection. And the Corydon, Iowa, resident said this weekend's event is one in which he hopes to capitalize on his momentum.
"Tulsa and the season beyond are what's important," Wyatt said, referring to the third event of the Knoll-Gas Nitro Jam Drag Racing Series. "We're really just getting started. In spite of our good fortune with win lights lately, the car hasn't really run well yet. A test session or two would be great, it's just not in the budget. So, we have to use event qualifying to test new stuff -- and sometimes that can bite you."
Wyatt's crew included volunteers and support from Suburban Machine, Brian Olson Paint & Body, and Tom Stephens Racing. "We were small in number but big in heart," Wyatt said. And he indicated he's planning for another strong performance as he tries to close the three-point gap that reigning champion Dale Creasy Jr. has in the standings.

 Also pre-registered in the class for this weekend are Jon Capps, the top qualifier and runner-up at Rockingham, as well as Bob Gilbertson, Terry Haddock, Andy Kelley, Todd Simpson, Paul Lee, and James Day.
In other Funny Car action, San Antonio winner Terry Munroe has a seven-point edge over Rockingham winner and current Alcohol Funny Car champion Mark Thomas. The two have split the final-round decisions in the first two races this year.
But three-time champion Rob Atchison is in third place, and he has a bit of an edge on the field. He was able to test following the Rockingham race. "We have been working on our program, and we think we are on the right track to start running more consistent and faster," he said. "We managed to get some testing in at Grand Bend Motorplex (in Ontario), and the track surface was perfectly prepared and we got to make six hits."
Pro Modified class leader Scott Cannon will be trying to hold off Danny Rowe and Ed Hoover, while his father, Scotty, is recovered from recent back surgery and looking to improve from his No. 5 position among the Top Fuel contenders.
"The doctor knew I hadn't planned to race until Friday and felt my recovery process was good enough that I could do it," Cannon said. "I explained the steps we had made within the car to make it friendlier on my body."
Cannon's dragster, which Evan Knoll owns and Seelye-Wright sponsors, is equipped with a special seat prepared by Innovative Safety Products in Charlotte, North Carolina.
"I knew I would make it back," Cannon said. "I had gone through the same thing back in 1997, and I made it back in the same amount of time. I survived a trip to Australia and did OK down there. I know [my back] will be fragile, but the doctor doesn't seem to think the acceleration with the new seat and belts will be a problem."
Cannon damaged two disks in his lower back during a Friday run at the IHRA Spring Nationals at Rockingham. He underwent surgery days later to repair a reccurring injury that dated back to 1997.
Top Fuel leader T.J. Zizzo, who was runner-up to Bruce Litton at the season-opening Texas Nationals and winner at Rockingham, has a 45-point margin over Litton..
"Our goal when we left Rockingham, in addition to being consistent, was to be No. 1 in the points, and we were able to do that," he said. "But we realize that wins are few and far between, so you have to enjoy them when they come.
There are a lot of ways to lose in this sport, so when you win, you have to take advantage and try to learn as much as possible. We’ve been able to make 12 runs at just two races so far this season, and it has really helped. We figured out that that was 33 percent of all the runs we made last season. We're running the new tire for the first time, and we're still working out the bugs."
Like Wyatt, Zizzo said the season -- although it has just 11 races with the cancellation of the Mansfield, Ohio, event because of track-construction delays -- is young and his team is just starting to function like a machine.
"We've only gone to two races so far this season, so I think that's something our competition will have to worry about later on. We haven't even hit our stride yet. We're still trying to figure this combination out."
Among those also set to compete in Top Fuel are Doug Foley, Terry McMillen, Chris Karamesines, Scott Weis, Mike Strasburg, Jim Cavaleri, Fred Farndon, Kevin Jones, Mitch King, Luigi Novelli, Jack Ostrander, Michael Gunderson, and Oklahoma native Scott Palmer.  
John Montecalvo, the Rockingham winner and San Antonio runner-up, has a slim lead over closest Pro Stock rival Robert Patrick. 
Tulsa Raceway Park owner Dan Guterman said that when he bought the track three years ago, his business group did it with the idea of luring the IHRA back for a national event for the first time since 1994. Wider lanes on the racing surface, new pavement in the pit area, a new tower, new restrooms, additional grandstands, new concessions area, improved access roads, upgraded track lighting, and concrete walls support Guterman's declaration that "our goal, from Day One, was to host an IHRA national event."
The Tulsa Sports Commission added its support. Executive Director Mike Dodson pledged to "deliver a first-class experience for race fans." Pre-race festivities will begin Thursday, May 24, with a chance for fans to get a sneak peek at points leader Creasy Jr.'s Torco-sponsored Nitro Funny Car and Bobby Lagana's Twilight Zone Top Fuel dragster. The display in downtown Tulsa at Bartlett Square, at the corner of Main Street and 5th Street, will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
"I love any opportunity to get out and meet the fans," Lagana said. "It's going to be a blast, hanging out downtown with Dale and letting the fans in Tulsa get an up-close look at our cars. I hope a lot of people come out to spend some time with us."
Pro qualifying will begin with a round at 6:30 Friday night. Pro qualifying Saturday is scheduled for noon and 6:30 p.m. Final eliminations for the pro classes Sunday will start at 10:30 a.m.



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