BAYTOWN, Texasâ€” When compared with other motorsports, it`s relatively easy to see why drag racing is dubbed the “instant gratification” sport.
A Top Fuel or Funny Car driver usually knows in less than five seconds whether or not his day is over – starting with the first round of eliminations and continuing until a winner is crowned.
Drag racing has been a large part of Doug Herbert`s life for more than half his 36 years. He owns four International Hot Rod Association Top Fuel season championships (1992, 1996-98) and seven NHRA race victories.
Each February, the Cherryville, N.C., businessman/racer begins the NHRA campaign with championship aspirations. So far, there hasn`t been any early gratification. Off to a slower start than expected, Herbert had not been pleased with his showing after three events. But a semifinal finish at Las Vegas (April 4) refreshed his approach.
So much so that he`s optimistic about his chances of improving that competitive level at the O`Reilly Spring Nationals, April 16-18, at Houston Raceway Park.
“We showed at Vegas that we are definitely on the right path to getting our Snap-on dragster running good,” Herbert commented. “I think Ed (McCulloch, the tuner/team manager who came on board in January) is beginning to feel a little more comfortable. He and the crew all seem to be fitting together better.”
No one needs point out that while this sport provides instant results, it takes time to develop a consistent, winning combination, especially when the tuner is new.
“We are going in the right direction,” Herbert admitted. “I guess our main problem is that we all are just impatient.”
He did register his quickest 2004 eliminations run (4.601 seconds) in his first-round win over Darrell Russell at Vegas and then he had a single run into the semis when Cory McClenathan`s dragster couldn`t return in time.
Herbert also is a bit more relaxed now that he`s climbed into the top 10 (No. 9, 170 points), and is within striking distance of sixth-place Larry Dixon at 212.
“I do feel better about it, but we have our work cut out for us,” Herbert said. “The category has gotten stronger this year. Scott Kalitta coming back and David Grubnic driving Connie Kalitta`s car added two more quality cars to the mix. The way things are we need to qualify in the top half (of the field) so we don`t have to run any of the top cars right away.
“It`s going to be tough. There won`t be any cars backing into the winner`s circle this year.”
Herbert does know the way to the HRP winner`s circle. He won there in 1999, claiming an additional $100,000 bonus from then-series sponsor Winston.
Friday`s action gets underway with qualifying at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. and
concludes Saturday at noon and 3 p.m. Eliminations begin Sunday at 11 a.m.
TV Times: Qualifying, ESPN2, Saturday, 10 p.m.-midnight ET Eliminations, ESPN2, Sunday, 5-7 p.m. ET