Where would drag racing be without its stories? Performance is impressive and the cars can be stars, but without the stories of the men—and women—behind them, what would be the point? Inherently based on a collection of arbitrary numbers—weight, horsepower, valve clearance, reaction time, ET, speed, margin of victory—drag racing requires its memories and stories if only to provide context and meaning for its very existence.
[Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt of a story that originally appeared in DI #62 in February of 2012.]
Seriously, no passenger car is going to wind up with better brakes or more dependability, or God knows, better fuel economy because Tony Schumacher went a record-setting 327.90 mph in a thousand feet at Charlotte last year. But you can be darn sure there’s a story to go with that record and that’s what makes it important beyond mere numbers. You just know Schumacher and his crew chief and his clutch guy and his truck driver all have memories of that day to last a lifetime and will entertain who knows how many friends and acquaintances with those stories along the way.
The stories may be humorous, they may be serious, dealing with triumph, tragedy, victory or defeat; they may be intimately personal or dramatically public, but no matter what, they give meaning.
So when Drag Illustrated asked competitors from all walks of drag racing for a few simple stories reflecting their careers, it came as no surprise that they drew on so many varied experiences. From Billy Glidden recounting his first passes down a drag strip, to Mike Hill describing a long-standing rivalry, to Whit Bazemore recognizing a part failure that paid off, their recollections, their stories, provide a glimpse into what gives each one of them meaning. But that may be why the stories are told in the first place, because each storyteller is a meaning seeker of sorts, too, while much the same goes for his audience, learning how each story reinforces its teller’s point.
8-Time NMCA Pro Street World Champion
NHRA Pro Mod Event Winner
I started out racing Pro Stock in ’74, and in ’76 or ’77 I finished second in IHRA Pro Stock. And then in ’81 I ran NHRA Pro Stock and then I moved on to the Pro Street world, where I won a ton of races, beating Tony Christian. I had eight world championships there, Pro Street. I’m probably the most winningest driver in Pro Street.
I won an IHRA race in ’04, but we decided to do this NHRA Pro Mod thing and got lucky enough to get invited to Englishtown and I lost in the second round at Englishtown. We had a real fast car, but we just didn’t have the consistency. Then we went to Norwalk, and everything just fell into place, but that was probably one of the best races in my career. I won one round on a holeshot, but we had a fast car; it drove good and everything came together. Those things are hard to do.
It means everything to win a Wally. It’s hard to do that. I never really thought I’d get a shot at NHRA because Pro Stock, where I come from, is out of reach for us. Pro Mod, we won that race; there were no gimme’s, no breaks, we just won it. I outran the turbo car, I was one of the only nitrous cars to really outrun those guys and beat them. They hadn’t got their act together.
It was just great. Everything came together. It was good. I see a lot of guys get themselves in a position to win one of those things, but they can’t put it together on race days. It takes a lot.
Another thing, Rickie Smith was helping me. He made me comfortable as a driver because usually we’re doing it all. We’re scrambling. I had so much trust in him. He took the firewall back and I worried about the engine. That was a good deal. You could see on his face, he was happy. We’ve raced together a long time. But it’s the kind of thing if any of us race each other or we’re still in the rounds, we’re doing our own thing, but when one of us is gone and the other one’s still there, I’ve got his back and he’s got mine. That meant a lot.