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NHRA: Pennzoil Pros Pushed Aside in Round 1

12 October 1998

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The fast and furious action of Sunday's first round of elimination racing at Memphis Motorsports Park left Team Pennzoil without a professional driver to possibly represent them in the Victory Circle of the 11th annual Pennzoil Nationals sponsored by AutoZone. Top Fuel pilot Eddie Hill and Pro Stock driver Mike Thomas both suffered disappointing first-round dismissals due to traction problems and will have to wait until next year to capture their sponsor's championship.

Here's a quick recap of the Pennzoil driver's Round 1 action.

Eddie Hill, the Top Fuel pilot of the Pennzoil Dragster, was eliminated from title contention in his first-round race against Tony Schumacher. Hill over-powered the track at the starting line and smoked his tires immediately. Schumacher, who is partially sponsored by Pennzoil, completed his run under power in 4.698 seconds at 308.99 mph and will advance to a quarterfinal race against Shelly Anderson, who opened with a 4.798-second lap at 254.47 mph. Hill pedaled his way through the lights and carded an official time of 6.268 seconds at 278.17 mph.

"The rear wheels were spinning before they got past the timing tree," a dejected Hill said. "I just feel terrible. We used the exact set-up that we've used for all of those 4.6-second runs we have laid down all year in qualifying and we still can't find any luck on Sunday. We've had several runs under similar conditions to what we saw today and they were all in the 4.6-second range. The only thing different today was the results.

"We could have made a charge up the points standings if we had lasted for a few rounds today. All three of the guys ahead of us were already eliminated and Shelly (Anderson) would've been our next opponent today and she only ran a 4.79-second pass. If we had and sort of representative lap, we would've had lane-choice in the quarterfinals and who knows what could have happened after that."

Hill has qualified for every race this season - one of only six drivers to do so - and has notched eight elimination round wins overall. He has reached the semi-finals on one occasion and the quarterfinals six times.

Mike Thomas, the Pro Stock driver of the Pennzoil Pontiac Firebird, had a sizable lead on Mark Pawuk midway through his first-round race when Thomas' car lost traction. Pawuk took advantage of the slowing Pennzoil machine and took the win by a margin of 7.031 seconds at 195.90 mph to Thomas' 7.207-second, 164.71-mph lap.

"I can't believe the tires let go that far down the track," Thomas said. "I had that race won. Everyone knows that we usually win races down-track, not lose them. Maybe I should have picked the other (right) lane. I know a lot of the fuel cars oiled the (left) lane down before us and there might have been some residue left on the track. Or maybe something's wrong with the car. I just don't know right now.

"We are really disappointed. If I had won just one round today I would have moved up one spot in the points standings. Plus I know all the Pennzoil folks are here and I'm sure they would have loved for a Pennzoil car to be in Victory Circle. It just wasn't the right weekend for us I guess. But mark my words - we will finish this season fighting for everything we can get."

Thomas remains the only professional Pennzoil driver to have recorded a win in 1998, taking the title of the Inaugural Route 66 Nationals in Chicago in May. He has qualified for 18 races this season and has amassed 13 elimination round wins.