New rules helped to make the NHRA season-opener one of the most action-packed drag races in a long time. Chevys ruled as the Bow-Tie brigade made repeated trips to NHRA's winner's circle at the 2000 NHRA AutoZone Winternationals.
Among the new rules are two important ones that are intended to keep spectators glued to their seats. NHRA proved that they're intent on putting on a good show when they decided to levy a stiff penalty on anyone who soils the track. This caused many teams to think twice before pushing their machine to the ragged edge (and blowing up midway through their run). The result was far fewer oil downs and a lot more side-by-side racing. The other rule gives teams less time between rounds. This rule made for some interesting trips down the return road as team struggled to get beck to their pits and set up for the next round.
Another rule change had some racers up in arms. Top Fuel and Funny Car teams are now required to run a mixture of only 90 percent nitromethane (with the remaining 10 percent being methanol). Decreased horsepower was the primary concern for the teams, but this reporter believes the spectators will be the benefactors, as cars are less likely to break and therefore have a better chance at making it to the next round.
The effects of the new rules seemed to have little effect on speeds, as many of the vehicles were posting times and speeds near those clocked at the end of the 1999.
In the pro classes, Jerry Toliver's Camaro-bodied fuel coupe won his second consecutive race at Pomona's Fairplex, once again defeating one of Team Force's Mustangs in the final round and putting Chevy at the top of the points for that nitro class. Though having problems, the Prudhomme-owned Camaro piloted by Ron Capps made progress all weekend and is sure to be a force in future competition.
In the Pro Stock pits, only Kurt Johnson made it past qualifying at the Winternationals. In the first round Johnson began to get out of shape but didn't get the opportunity to straighten things out, as Ron Krisher's Pontiac crossed the centerline at about half track and collected Johnson's Camaro. The two F-bodies were damaged, but Kurt was able to bandage his car up enough to show up for the next round. Knowing his car wasn't repaired enough to make the run, Johnson staged and hoped George Marnell would redlight or break. When that didn't happen, Kurt limped down the track and packed up for the weekend.
Though it wasn't the greatest showing, the Pro Stock Camaros are expected to put up a valiant fight for the title. At Pomona there were only two Camaros (Johnson and V. Gaines) flying the Chevy Bow-Tie. Pontiac ruled the roost with enough Firebirds to dominate the class (if only they could get rid of that pesky Jeg Coughlin and his Olds). Only time will tell how much of a contender the Camaro will be in Pro Stock.
Pro Stock Trucks
The S10 trucks moved into the prime time show and didn't disappoint. With an impressive array of great-looking and brightly colored haulers, the S10 trucks continued the domination they started when the Pro Stock Truck class was first introduced. The popularity of the Pro Stock Truck class was evident, as the field was one of the largest in the entire program.
Bob Panella, driving the same S-10 with which he won the 1999 NHRA Pro Stock Truck World Championship, opened the defense of his championship by defeating fellow Chevy racer Greg Stanfield for the title.
Both Toliver and Panella qualified in the number two spot, and when it counted both men stepped up their performance. For Panella it was a matter of simply outrunning the competition as he drove around Greg Stanfield's S-10 in the final. Toliver took a different road to the winner's circle, using superior starting line reflexes to get his victory over Tony Pedregon.
If the Chevy racers were making their presence known in the Professional ranks, they were just plain dominant in the Sportsman classes. Chevys went to the final round in six of seven Sportsman classes, from Federal Mogul Funny Car to Super Gas.
Chevys ended up in the winner's circle in four classes, and if Jay Payne's alky Funny Car hadn't had trouble in the final round and slowed in the lights the Bow-Tie boys could have easily made it seven.
Old age and cunning overcame youth as 63-year-old Bryan Morrison used a holeshot to get the win in an all-Chevy Comp Eliminator final. Morrison drove his '92 Camaro small-block car to the win over Jeff Gillette's Chevy powered D/ED. Both cars ran .54 under the index, but Morrison used Gillette up on the tree with a .546 to Gillette's .586 to win.
In the Super Stock final, Bill Bennet got the benefit of a foul by distaff racer Keri Angeles and drove his '87 Camaro GT/EA to the win with a series of low 10-second passes.
Yet another Chevy racer made it to the final round when Toby Lang drove his always dangerous '69 Chevelle into a final round matchup with Don Little, but he couldn't quite get the win.
The finals in Super Comp and Super Gas were also all-Chevy meets. Kyle Siepel drove his Chevy-powered rail to the win over fellow Chevy racer Mark Cavar, winning on a double breakout final. Siepel ran an 8.88 to Cavar's 8.86. Siepel was really on the binders at the end, running some 15 miles per hour slower than Cavar in the beams. Bob Herr, who runner-upped at last year's World Finals, got the Winternationals win. Herr gave up two-thousandths of a second on the leave, but ran three-thousandths quicker than his opponent Steve Williams to put his '63 Corvette Convert across the finish line one-thousandth of a second before Williams' '85 Beretta.
If you are a Bow-Tie booster (and you'd better be if you're reading this) then you should have plenty of bragging material when talking to your misguided Ford and Mopar friends. Chevys are looking very stout in Fuel Coupe and Pro Stock Truck, and you can take it to the bank that a Chevy will win in Pro Stock. In the sportsman classes Chevys have a tradition of winning races and winning World Championships, and if the first race of the season is any indication, 2000 won't be any different.