NHRA: Indy Win Tops Team Pennzoil's Wish List
2 September 1998INDIANAPOLIS - A recurring theme throughout the extended holiday weekend of the National Hot Rod Association's U.S. Nationals is one of prestige. Drivers speak at great lengths about the importance of winning the circuit's most publicized race. Many make mention of the fact that a win at Indianapolis Raceway Park is tantamount to winning a Winston points championship. Such is the importance attached to this one race.
"It's almost impossible to have a bad year if you win Indy," Team Pennzoil patriarch Eddie Hill said. "There is more media, more competitors and more money on the line than at any other race. I would dearly love to win this race. It would certainly be one of my greatest accomplishments." Considering the 62-year-old Hill has been racing for four and a half decades, that statement alone says a lot about the prestige of an Indy victory.
Naturally, all of the drivers in Team Pennzoil are eager to collect a trophy in Indianapolis and judging by the team's performance this season, the bright yellow Pennzoil brand could easily find its way into Indy's hallowed Victory Circle. All three men in the Pennzoil stable - Hill, Mike Thomas and Bruce Allen - have enjoyed a number of memorable moments in 1998 and have repeatedly shown they have the power to win it all.
Here's the latest news along Pennzoil's pit row.
Eddie Hill, the pilot of the Pennzoil Top Fuel Dragster, has a fantastic opportunity to shine in Indy. Hill has been one of the most consistent qualifiers in the Top Fuel class this year and continues to put his car in a position to win at every race. He is one of only five drivers to have qualified for all 15 races this year, extending his current streak of elimination round appearances to 33 straight events. Additionally, Hill has a total of 10 top-half qualifying performances in 1998 and has finished as one of the top four qualifiers in seven of the last nine races.
"We have every reason to believe that our good qualifying streak will continue in Indy," Hill said. "We have been the top qualifier there a couple of times over the last few years (in '94 and '92) and set a track record during qualifying in 1992. The Pennzoil Dragster is obviously very strong. We have just suffered from some terrible luck on Sunday. But I have a theory that will all change in Indy because the finals take place on Monday. Hopefully, that will break this Sunday jinx that's been following us around.
"My main job is to focus on driving. That's hard to do in Indy because of the enormous push for your attention by the media, the fans and usually all of your sponsors are there as well. It's easy to get distracted. The big challenge is to concentrate on racing."
Mike Thomas, the driver of the Pennzoil Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird, has already mapped out his plans for Indy. "I'm going to be the No. 1 qualifier on Friday night and win the race on Monday," Thomas said. "We can still make a serious move this year. Our team has gone through some changes over the last few races and that's set us back a little. But we really have gained a lot of confidence and added some experience to the crew since Brainerd (the NHRA's last race.) I think we'll be a strong contender for the title here at Indy."
Thomas, one of only half a dozen men still in the running for the Winston Pro Stock points championship, parted ways with crew chief Rickie Smith after the Seattle race and was forced to make all of his car's set-up configurations himself in Brainerd. He eventually qualified in the seventh position and lost in the first round of eliminations. As soon as the race was over, Thomas and crew headed for Indianapolis for several rounds of testing.
"We have to go out and prove that we still have the same car that won (on May 31) in Chicago," Thomas said. "Not just to everyone else, but to ourselves. Making the right calls depends a lot on your confidence and we're gaining more of that every day. Winning Indy would be the biggest accomplishment of my career. I expect to see 45-50 cars in our class. I'd love nothing more that to show off the power of the Pennzoil Pontiac at this race."
Bruce Allen, the driver of the Outlaw Fuel Additives Pontiac Firebird, joined several other drivers in testing his car at Indianapolis Raceway Park in the day's leading up to the U.S. Nationals Sept. 2 start date. Allen is hopeful that the extra time at the track will finally earn him an Indy victory.
"We've been so close to winning this race in the past," said Allen, a 2-time runner-up at the event. "We've had our chances and I hope we have another one this year. This is one of the races you really shoot for. It's touted as 'the race' to win and everyone from the fans to the press always makes a big deal out of it. It would be monumental for us to win here.
"I'm certainly encouraged by our testing. I think we figured out what made the car shut-off in Brainerd (during Allen's quarterfinal loss) and that gives us some peace of mind. We have really come a long way in the last few races. I believe we've regained a foothold among the top group drivers that has a legitimate shot at winning every race. We've really been working hard to get to this point and it's satisfying that we've started to run well again."