Marnell hopes Las Vegas NHRA event will turn his season around



            Qualifying in the Pro Stock category -- NHRA's most competitive professional class -- is a formidable task.  The cars are evenly matched and as many as 45 drivers have attempted to earn a place in 16-car fields this year at the first three NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series events.  Keep that in mind when hometown hero George Marnell comes to the starting line Friday afternoon for the first qualifying session of the fourth annual NHRA Nationals.

            Last year, the Las Vegan won the season-opener at Pomona, Calif.  This year, he failed to qualify.  In fact, the two-time winner has been shut out of the 16-car ladder at all three 2003 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series events.  Watching eliminations from a suite, instead of the seat of his Pontiac, is not his style.

            Marnell tested at The Strip at LVMS last week in hopes of finding the handle on the car.  His new Don Ness chassis debuted at Gainesville, Fla., but was hampered with handling problems.  Marnell hoped the mid-week session would put him back on track and into the show, but weather did not cooperate.

"We were definitely at a disadvantage with the wind today (Thursday).  It puts a light film of dirt on the track and it's hard to get traction.  We were able to test some different bars for the car, so we were doing a lot of 330s (330-ft. runs).  We tried quite a few different bar combinations and we were able to pick the one we think works the best.  This is a new car, so basically you have to find out what the car wants.  We've determined that we're real close.  The only thing we weren't able to do is try a little bit different gear ratio.  We're confident that fine-tuning is what we need to get the (car) where it needs to be.

"This car is totally different from last year's car.  It's a different chassis.  The body is the only thing that's about the same.  We have a spec body -- they're all the same.  It's a Pontiac Grand Am, purchased from GM.  There's really no aerodynamic difference.  The only difference is the chassis itself, and there is quite a bit of difference.  We had a little glitch in the (old) car and I'm sure it's nothing that can't be fixed, but we were just having some real problems just finding what the problem was.  We had it working off the starting line really well, but it was a hundreth-and-a-half off in the back half (final eighth mile of the quarter-mile strip).  The car is in high gear at half track -- horsepower and aerodynamics take over from there.  But that chassis also has to work.  We don't know if it was (binding) someplace.  We tried everything that we knew.  We thought we'd have to make a drastic move and put this new car out there.  The first hit we ran out here was pretty good (6.97 sec./198 mph).  The track was in real good shape and the car went right down and turned a good number.  That was respectable for the air density and the altitude."

Marnell was asked if he thought this weekend's NHRA Nationals would turn his season around.

"Trying to fine-tune one of these cars is not an easy chore.  Overall, we know what the car wants.  Now we're going to have to fine-tune.  There's a lot of good cars out there.  There's 30 cars that are capable of winning a race.  I'm hoping that we've got it close enough to where we can zero it in with four runs this weekend."

Tickets for this weekend's NHRA Nationals are available at the LVMS ticket office at (702) 644-4444.