NHRA: McClenathan, Etchells, Johnson & Hines are Winners
27 April 1998DINWIDDIE, Va. -- The Mac Attack continues. Cory McClenathan continued his torrid pace and earned his third straight victory of the season and fourth overall April 26 at the fourth annual Pennzoil Nationals presented by Trak Auto at Virginia Motorsports Park. The $1.6 million race, the sixth of 22 events in the $30 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series, was contested in front of a track record crowd of 100,200.
McClenathan, from Anaheim, Calif., outran a tire-smoking Joe Amato in the final to score his second win at VMP in three finals. The McDonald's dragster covered the quarter-mile in 4.723 seconds at 302.01 mph, while Amato's Tenneco Automotive dragster spun its tires and limped to the finish in 11.589 at 82.39.
"I haven't felt this good in a few years," said McClenathan, who increased his Winston points lead to 157 over Amato. "It was an incredible weekend. We didn't have the performance that we wanted in qualifying. That wasn't where we wanted to be, but we'll take it. This was an important win."
McClenathan, who qualified 12th, said he had a good feeling when he woke up on Sunday. He quickly gave opponents Mike Dunn, Bob Vandergriff and Paul Romine bad feelings as he advanced to the final round. He said he was particularly worried about Dunn in the first round.
"If you looked at everything on paper, we shouldn't have made it past the first round," said McClenathan, who earned $40,000 for the victory. "We knew that Mike was going to be tough. We had a smoke-fest and that's not how I wanted to win, but sometimes you have to take your ugly wins. We turned it around in the second round and got back in running form."
Top qualifier Kenny Bernstein recorded track records for elapsed time (4.637) and speed (314.79) and appeared to be ready for a strong weekend, but was upset in the first round when Shelly Anderson claimed her first round victory of the season.
Etchells, of Putnam, Conn., won a side-by-side tire smoking battle over Springfield, Ill.'s Tim Wilkerson in the Funny Car final. Etchells' Kendall Oil Chevrolet Camaro regained traction before Wilkerson's JCIT Pontiac and crossed the finish line first, running 6.019 at 238.79. Wilkerson's machine ran 6.381 at 212.06. It was the second win of the season for the Kendall Oil Chevrolet Camaro driver.
"We smoked the tires first and I saw a little of his car go by," said Etchells of his second straight win at VMP. "But we recovered first and got there first. They went after it and so did we. I knew it was going to be a fight. It was just one of those tire smokin' deals. I got on the gas, and then off, and then back on again. I think I pedaled it five times before I let it coast across the finish line. It was a lot of fun."
To advance to the final, Etchells powered past Del Worsham and Randy Anderson before showing even more muscle in a decisive semi-final win over track record holder Force.
With the win, Etchells moved in front in the Winston point standings for the first time in his Funny Car career. Cruz Pedregon, who was disqualified after crossing the center line in the first round, and John Force are tied for second.
"I don't have any feeling about being in the points lead whatsoever, it's way too early," said Etchells, who started his Funny Car career in 1987. "We'll see what the picture looks like after Sonoma. One encouraging thing, however, is that there's a lot of guys bunched in tight there. It's going to be tough to move up."
Etchells, who earned $40,000 for the win, feels the possibility for a first Winston championship is better than ever, despite the close competition.
"In the past we've never had the total package to compete for the Winston championship, and we realized that. But this year we've picked some sponsors and now have everything in place. We decided at the beginning of the year that we were going to spend every nickel we could and try and win this thing. I could never say that before."
Johnson, from Duluth, Ga., claimed his fourth straight Pro Stock victory at VMP, and fourth win of the season. Johnson ran 6.952 at 198.50 in his GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird, while Tom Martino, from Farmingdale, N.J., got loose near mid-track in his Six Flags Racing Firebird and slowed to an 8.842 at 108.45.
"We've been very fortunate at Virginia Motorsports Park, there's no two ways about it," Johnson said. "There's no way of predicting how often you're going to win, but this track has treated us exceptionally well."
Johnson had to work hard for his 67th career victory. He faced three of the deadliest drivers on the tree in the division to advance to the final. He said after beating recent Fram Nationals winner Mark Osborne in the opening round, it gave him momentum to face youngsters Richie Stevens and Jeg Coughlin.
"We won by a margin of about six-thousandths-of-a-second in the first and second round and the Coughlin kid was awful tough, too," said Johnson, who earned $25,000 for the victory. "And then to race No. 16 qualifier Tom Martino in the final proves my point that any one of these cars are capable of winning the race."
Johnson extended his points lead to 220 points over defending Winston champion Jim Yates, who failed to qualify for the race. It was the first time in 84 races that Yates wasn't quick enough to be part of the Sunday program.
Hines, from Trinidad, Colo., remained unbeaten this season and ran 7.424 at 172.77 on his Eagle One Suzuki to defeat Angelle Seeling in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final. Seeling, from New Orleans, turned on the red light aboard her Team Winston Suzuki.
"Angelle was running good this weekend, but when I saw the win light come on in my lane during the final I just rolled it back and took it easy because I didn't want to do anything stupid," Hines said. "The bike is running real good right now."
Hines, who earned $10,000 for the win, established track records for E.T. (7.287) and speed (188.32 mph). He also increased his points lead to 157 over Paul Gast.
With his strong start, and consistently quick efforts Hines is looking to keep his momentum going and have a season that everyone will remember.
"I want to become the first driver to have a undefeated season," Hines said. "I think we have a chance to do that this season."
The next NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series event will be the second annual Castrol Lone Star Nationals presented by HiLo/O'Reilly Auto Parts, May 30-April 3 at the Texas Motorplex, Ennis, Texas.