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Words by Darr Hawthorne
Photos by Tim Marshall and Zak Hawthorne

Melanie Troxel, right lane, took Rhonda Hartman-Smith out of the competition in the first round of Top Fuel.(Tim Marshall photo)

The end of the Western Swing was the NHRA Sonoma race, officially the 15th Annual FRAM/Autolite Nationals, held at the newly named Infineon Raceway (formerly Sears Point).

The swing was dominated by Joe Amato's Darrell Russell-driven Top Fuel Dragster winning at both Denver and Seattle. Before the race, Russell admitted, "I'm really amazed that we've turned it around this year. I'd all but written it off." His crew chief, Wayne Dupuy, has overcome incredible obstacles since taking over the reins of the Amato fueler at Las Vegas earlier this year.

When the drag racing began, no one was sure how the racing surface would be. There had only been two other large-scale drag races held on the new quarter mile since its total transformation from the broken and battered surface torn up after last season's FRAM Nationals.

(Zak Hawthorne photo)

As the fog rolled in over the Western mountains on Friday evening, the air was at sea level or better and it was great for the carbureted cars. The do or die Pro Stock qualifying session began. "Do or die" because if you don't make it in this session there's not much chance of racing on Sunday.


There is growing discussion among the Factory Hot Rod camps about increasing the Pro Stock Eliminator to at least 24 cars and maybe as high as 32. There were 30 cars here at Sonoma, 32 at Seattle, and 29 at Denver. An idea being pushed by Jim Yates is the 24-car approach; the top 8 would be protected from elimination on a special Saturday night run off to eliminate 8 cars from the slow 16. A stumbling block to any increase in the size of the field will be the absence of any sponsor dollars to cover the first round payouts. Sounds like a good show for the fans.

Down to the wire on Saturday afternoon, some of the Pro Stock hitters still were not qualified. The adjusted altitude had risen to almost 1200 feet and the air had dried up. WJ's 303 race qualifying streak (since Gainesville of 1987) ended at Sonoma, with his last-ditch effort being a 6.87 on a 6.836 bump.


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