The Wally: Drag racing's most prestigious trophy
At just more than one-foot tall with a classy brass finish, he stands on a solid wooden platform and is the most sought after man in the world of NHRA Mello Yello drag racing.
Be warned: He is elusive. Only the very best can catch him.
Affectionately known as a “Wally” in honor of the late NHRA founder Wally Parks by the thousands of NHRA competitors who seek it, the trophy has taken on a life of its own, and remains one of the single biggest motivators for high-performance enthusiasts from the smallest one-car garage in Kennebunkport, Maine, to one of the sport’s most sophisticated centers of technology and engineering in Yorba Linda, Calif.
It is the ultimate quest for every drag racer, from the weekend warrior Super Street competitor to the 7,000-horsepower gladiators in Top Fuel. When they do earn one, they cling to it with great passion because they know there’s no guarantee they’ll ever win another one.
“It’s obviously an award all the drivers covet,” said five-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher. “Not so much for what it is, as for what it represents. I’d like to grab a bunch of them before I’m done.”
Such is the goal of every driver. However, many have spent countless hours and thousands of dollars chasing the dream, only to be denied time and time again.
For many drivers the chase can become an obsession.
“It’s as real as a glass of water but as hard to get as a million dollars,” explained Steve Johnson, a veteran Pro Stock Motorcycle racer who won his first Wally in 2004 after two decades of trying. “It represents way more than a champion. I don’t have the words to describe it.”
Funny Car driver Tim Wilkerson says the emotion experienced while clutching the NHRA’s prestigious trophy transcends magical. He earned his first Wally in 1999 during a magical day at his home track near Chicago, when he defeated John Force in a wild final round.
“When I won my first Wally it was the coolest thing because my car wasn’t running worth a darn,” Wilkerson said. “I beat a lot of really good cars that day and then beat Force in a tire-smoking battle. The team really needed that one in the worst way. That was a very special moment that I will remember forever.”
Force, who is quick to downplay the fact that he has the most on his mantle, says the trophy represents all the hard work and emotion he has put into the sport during the last three decades.
Age: The first Wally was given to race winners during the 1969 season
Model: Top Gas racer Jack Jones
Height: 18 inches
Weight: 12 pounds
Materials: composite-standard metal mix, including zinc and aluminum
Base: solid walnut
Plating: antique brass