BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
It was only a test session, but Tony Bartone showed he didn't come all the way from Long Island, N.Y., just to have a good time in Bakersfield.
He's arrived with the goal of winning the Top Fuel title at the 55th March Meet drag races.
Bartone, the No. 1 qualifier at Auto Club Famoso Raceway for last year's March Meet at 5.624 seconds, thundered down the quarter-mile Thursday afternoon in 5.56 seconds at just 220 mph as he shut off early.
That is the quickest run in nostalgia Top Fuel history, but it was only a test. Qualifying for Sunday's 16-car elimination field gets under way today with sessions set for noon and 3:30 p.m.
That it did not count doesn't make Bartone's run any less impressive. Especially when one considers he shut off early and had the parachutes out as he crossed the finish line, thus the slow 220 mph speed. Typically, runs in the 5.6-second range produce top end speeds well above 250 mph and often above 260.
Bartone hold the elapsed-time and top-speed record for front-engined Top Fuel at 5.566 seconds and 269-mph, set at Famoso in October, 2011.
"We've worked on our tune-up and we've been battling the same thing the rest of the teams have been battling, the small fuel pump," Bartone said "We're running the car a little differently this year and the first run out of the box was a success."
A success for sure. But everyone wants to know just how early did he shut the beast off?
"I'd rather not say," Bartone replied coyly.
Last year's quickness in qualifying did not equate to success in eliminations as he went out in the first round. Asked if there was a fine line between a thundering 5.60 and a tire shaking or tire smoking 6.60, Bartone feigned ignorance,
"You have to ask the crew chief that," he said. "I just drive it and hold on."
One thing Bartone and all the other drivers and crew chiefs know is that this year dumping oil on the track will prove costly in more than just the pocketbook for new parts. The down time due to cleaning up oil from expired motors at the Hot Rod Reunion was three hours in the Top Fuel division.
This year the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series instituted a tough oildown policy for every class of competition.
Any oildown that requires clean up by mechanical equipment during qualifying will negate that qualifying run. If a violation occurs during eliminations, the driver will receive credit for the win but the time will be void for lane choice.
If there are three violation in one event, that driver will be disqualified, even if the third violation occurs during the final round.
“If you don't oil the track you won't have a problem,” Bartone said. “But that's a little difficult to do out here.”
Four-time March Meet Top Fuel winner Jim Murphy said the oildowns are just a matter of teams trying to get everything they can out of the rules package in order to win.
“I have to say I know it drives the track managers nuts but it also drives the owners and drivers nuts,” he said. “Nobody's doing it on purpose. Part of the deal is we to turn these motors we have so many rpm. In the past we turned over 10,000 rpm when we run over 255 or 260.”
New tires are now available to reduce top-end rpm and there have been some the engine/driveline rule changes to try ad stem the frequency of oildowns in Top Fuel.
“They gave us about half the Funny Car package,” Murphy said. “I would have like to see the whole Funny Car package.”
About a dozen Funny Car drivers made a test run with Dan Horan Jr. leading the way at 5.78 seconds. Defending March Meet champ Chad Head was next at 5.82.
Asked what he'd like to see today, Head said. “We were here at the Hot Rod Reunion and qualified (No. 2) with a .68. It'd be nice to try to do that or go faster.
“That's why we're here. To try to go as fast as we can.”