NHRA: Hill Takes Giant Step for Team Pennzoil
7 September 1998INDIANAPOLIS - Team Pennzoil started the final day of qualifying for the National Hot Rod Association's 44th annual U.S. Nationals with two of its premier drivers in need of improvement. Hall of Fame Top Fuel legend Eddie Hill and Pro Stock stalwart Bruce Allen both found themselves in dire need of some Sunday magic in order to make the 16-car field of qualified drivers that will compete in Monday's elimination rounds.
With the pressure of the situation mounting, the crafty Hill found the necessary power and traction to jump into the fray but Allen, despite posting his best run of the weekend, failed to qualify his Outlaw machine. Meanwhile, Pennzoil Pro Stock driver Mike Thomas successfully fought off all attempts to take away his No. 9 spot in the sport's most competitive bracket.
The following recap explains the mood in the Pennzoil pits through four rounds of professional qualifying.
Eddie Hill, the pilot of the Pennzoil Top Fuel Dragster, used every bit of his 43 years of experience to push his car through the timing lights in 4.723 seconds at 308.74 mph. The solid, measured lap - which included two minor moments of traction loss - placed Hill in the No. 10 position and is likely to maintain his streak of 33 consecutive elimination round appearances.
"Whew," an elated Hill said as he stepped out of his car. "That's a load off all of our minds. To finally get a lap under our belts that is reflective of what we can do feels absolutely wonderful. I would've like to have run a strong lap like this earlier in the weekend so we didn't have to sweat it out like this, but the good news is that we ran a great lap under what looks to be real race conditions. We are fully expecting these exact same weather conditions tomorrow.
"My crew tells me that we puffed the tires at the 60-foot and the 800-foot marks but I didn't feel either one of them. The tires lifted a little more than normal at the start but it probably helped us keep the tires from turning too much. We are really pleased in the Pennzoil pit right now."
Mike Thomas, the pilot of the Pennzoil Pro Stock Pontiac, determined that the hot weather wouldn't allow him to improve on the 7.018-second, 195.90-mph pass he carded on Friday, so he spent Sunday's early session fine-tuning his car for tomorrow's elimination racing.
"We're still heavy on the clutch but we're a lot closer to where we need to be," Thomas said. "I hope we hit the optimum set-up tomorrow at 11 a.m. when the first round starts. We've got some more work to do later today. We're chasing these various weather conditions around and working on finding the right set-up for this heat. I'm really glad that the car seems to be running exactly the same as the other top cars."
Bruce Allen, the driver of the Outlaw Fuel Additives Pro Stock Pontiac, opened Round 4 action with the session's second quickest lap, a 7.046-second pass at 195.52 mph. Unfortunately, the run was six-thousandths of a second slower than the time already posted for the final qualifying spot and Allen remained just outside the field of qualified drivers in 17th place.
"If we had made that run on Friday night we'd be qualified way up there," crew chief Dave Reher said. "This is the only pro class in the NHRA where a session's fastest lap isn't good enough to make the field. Basically, at most of these races, if you don't have a good run on Friday night when it's cool outside, you're out of the running."
Allen was equally exasperated. "I'm upset that we didn't do that earlier," he said. "We are trying our best to be as competitive as possible every time we make a run. I'm sure we will be at or near the top of every incremental time measurement for that last round. But it won't do us any good. I'm afraid that was our last chance to make the field. It'll be too hot to go fast this afternoon. We're basically testing for the next race at this point."