April 5-8, 2001

Coming off our respectable performance in Phoenix where we gave Bucky Austin a good, close race, we were looking forward to the Las Vegas event. The Las Vegas stop has quickly become our team’s favorite place to go. The facility is spectacular and everyone loves staying in a casino and doing a little gambling. Our crew for this race consisted of Andy Johnson, Butch Blackberg, Mike Johnson, Nick Johnson and Rick McCann. Lyle and Butch drove the rig to the event and spent Thursday getting the pit space organized. Andy, Mike, Nick and Rick got to the track later, giving the team a chance to start the car and make sure that it was race-ready for the early qualifying session on Friday.

The engine and clutch tuneup that Lyle used was very similar to the one that went 6.10 at 236 in Phoenix. The team wanted to establish a good baseline before trying some new directions. Lyle was also very anxious to try a new shift light that was installed so that he can be more accurate with the 1-2 shift. The car acted kind of funny on the burnout as it gave a hard “shudder” as it got up on the tire. Lyle was immediately on his guard as the last time it did that the car refused to shift into 2nd gear on the run. Sure enough, the car launched hard but did not shift to 2nd. A minor problem with the air shifter lines had caused the problem. Back in the pits this problem was easily fixed and the clutch maintenance was completed. Unfortunately, during the warmup in the pits a rocker arm adjustor backed off and messed up a pushrod. This too was easily fixed. As Lyle analyzed the 1st run, he saw that the car had made it to well over 9,000 rpm in low gear without even coming close to shaking the tires. That gave him the idea that he should make some tuning changes to make it a little more aggressive in low gear.

When the burnout was done, the transmission was operating correctly and everything seemed to be a go for a good run. The car launched and then right at the 60 foot mark began to violently shake the tires. From inside the car Lyle said it felt like the worst shake he had ever experienced. He indicated that it felt as though the car jumped a foot in the air and turned dead right. He managed to keep it off the wall, though he did have it on 3 wheels a couple of times. Back in the pits, the computer indicated that the car began to shake at just the point that Lyle’s tuneup modification would have taken effect. Clearly that tuneup was not the right thing to do.

After 2 sessions the team was not qualified and there was little doubt that the bump would end up relatively quick with 22 cars in contention. The 3rd qualifying session was scheduled for early Saturday morning and would be their last chance. Saturday dawned overcast with a forecast of rain. Everyone was hoping that the rain would at least wait until after the session. Lyle took the engine tuneup back to a baseline that he knew and changed the clutch to a very conservative setup to avoid shaking the tires. The qualifying run was very entertaining for the spectators as Pat Austin lined up in the left lane and Lyle in the right. On the launch, Pat immediately headed right towards the centerline and Lyle headed left towards the centerline. Pat eventually crossed the centerline and took out the 330 foot reflector. Lyle stayed with the run and danced just off the line for the first half track. The car made a decent run with a 6.10 at 237 mph to get us in the program in the #14 position. Shortly after the session ended the rain began and we put the car in the trailer. Finally, late in the afternoon NHRA notified us that our 1st round which was scheduled for Saturday afternoon was being postponed until Sunday immediately following the first round of the professional classes.

Unfortunately, the #14 qualifier runs the #3 qualifier who just happened to be Pat Austin. After running Bucky Austin in the first round at Phoenix, it was not a welcome prospect to draw the “other” Austin at Vegas. Lyle wanted to try to tune the car up a little bit to see if they could give Pat a little better race. Lyle went in to the run knowing that he needed to have a great light, a great run and a little luck to defeat Austin. He got a good light with a .474 reaction time that was slightly better than Austin’s reaction time. However, in a reversal from their run on Saturday, Lyle’s car was the one that crossed the centerline. All indications are that the car was carrying the front tires slightly off the ground while drifting to the left. Lyle was reluctant to lift, knowing that the race would certainly be over at that moment. He later said that he was hoping the front end would settle down before it got to the centerline – but obviously it didn’t.

While the team has had two relatively successful outings in 2001 (qualifying at national events that had full fields of tough competitors), future plans remain uncertain. There has been a dramatic decrease in sponsorship funds that has had a negative impact on the racing budget.

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