smalldrobanner.gif (3353 bytes)

Moroso's AUTOfest 2000

by Bill Walters
with additional information and photos by Steve Gruenwald

Palm Beach Gardens, FL- Shirley Muldowney raced Don Garlits only once during AUTOfest 2000 but it was at 11:59 p.m. on New Year's Eve and the first lady of drag racing made it count. Muldowney pulled her pink and blue Top Fuel Dragster to the line at Moroso Motorsports Park to face Garlits for the first time in over a decade. Garlits, who ran a 5.30 earlier in the event to regain his top fuel license, was driving Paul Smith's Top Fuel Dragster, with Smith calling the tuning shots. Rahn Tobler, of course, handled the tuning for his wife.

The pair of legends took off just past the stroke of midnight with Muldowney putting a holeshot on a deep-staged "Big Daddy" and then driving away from the Old Man for the first Top Fuel win of the new century with a 4.98 at 287 mph to Garlits' respectable 5.23 at 285 mph, which was his best pass of the event.

After the "Nitro Millennium Mania" victory, Muldowney and her car and crew were brought back to the starting line where the event announcer, Bob Frey, and John Force were waiting to greet the team. The nine-time NHRA Funny Car Champion was so jacked up over watching the race between Shirley and Big Daddy that he wrote a check for $10,000 and presented it to an astonished Muldowney for her win.

"I am so excited to be here at AUTOfest 2000 to see Big Daddy and Shirley race each other again," Force said to the crowd. "This was just a great race tonight and it meant a lot to me. Big Daddy, you're a bad hombre but Shirley, you earned that and I'm proud to go into the new millennium with you."

The four days of AUTOfest 2000 turned into more of a major league test session than an actual race, but there were some pretty impressive numbers run on a track that has never seen this many fuel cars at one time before. A total of eight Top Fuel Dragsters made at least a pair of passes, with Tony Schumacher making the most runs during the weekend. Schumacher shattered the previous Moroso track record on New Year's Day with a 4.70 at 299 mph, posting a 3.17 at half track on the run. Bob Vandergriff Jr., returned after a blower explosion on Thursday to run a 4.72 at 310 mph (top speed of the meet) on New Year's Day, also running a 3.17 at half track. Chris Karamesines pedaled his way to a 5.25 at 290 mph, and Steve Smith also topped 290 mph with a run of 5.27 at 292 mph on Friday.

Smith ran his quickest pass of the weekend Saturday night in a match race against Don Garlits. The "Hillbilly on Nitro" may go down in history as the last driver to race and beat Big Daddy, as Smith's 5.13 at 278 mph took out Garlits' 5.36 at just 223 mph. Clay Millican ran a best of 5.30 at 256 mph in Donnie Holbrook's dragster.

Rhonda Hartman ran a match race with Shirley on Saturday, defeating Shirley with a 5.59/208.57 run. Shirley's car pulled hard to the left past half-track and both left side tires got off the track surface and began throwing a rooster tail of grass and gravel. The seasoned veteran controlled the car and guided it back on the track about at the finish line, turning the clocks at 5.63/169.14. It almost looked like Montreal from the starting line.

The nitro burning Funny Cars at AUTOfest 2000 had a tougher time negotiating Moroso's tricky surface than the Top Fuel cars. With five fuel Funny Cars on hand it wasn't until the end of the event on Sunday that Phil Burkart Jr., laid down the best pass of the weekend with a track record 5.14 at 278.85 mph, despite shutting it off well before the finish line.




Photos by Steve Gruenwald



Copyright 1999-2001, Drag Racing Online and Racing Net Source