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Sizing up Sonoma, ballpark Rampy, and Minnesota musings

26 Jul 2007
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

It’s almost time to breathe a little sigh of relief with the ending this weekend of the six-race marathon. Although we’re not suffering the same wear and tear as the Pros traveling around the country and working their tails off, it’s still been a nonstop round of what we call “triples”: issues that contain Pro coverage from the current event, Sportsman results from the previous race, and the souvenir issue for the next event.

Issue 29 (the Beckman cover; see previous entry) was the first non-triple in a while due to the week off ahead, but the issue we officially began working on today is another triple: Sonoma Pros, Seattle Sportsman, and Brainerd souvenir. Yeah, I know … it’s almost time for Brainerd. Where has the season gone?

Kevin McKenna and Steve Waldron will be covering the action for us in Sonoma; Kevin is assigned to cover the two Pro Stock classes and Steve the two nitro classes. They finished their Seattle Sportsman stuff and hit the door, leaving the rest of us to complete the Sportsman coverage, photo pages, etc. Actually, it's a pretty thin crew here at home base because Brad Littlefield also journeyed up to Sonoma to crew on his dad's Top Alcohol Funny Car, fellow Associate Editor (and Jr. DRAGSTER editor) Candida Benson is at Bandimere Speedway for the NHRA O’Reilly Auto Parts Jr. Drag Racing League Western Conference Finals, and newcomer Kelly Wade is out of town for a wedding (not hers).

As I mentioned last time, Seattle Sportsman coverage meant yet another phone call to David Rampy, who’s on one of the most incredible rolls I’ve ever seen for a Sportsman racer. He’s won the last three and four of the last five; as I wrote in my Comp story from Denver, where he also won, his streak reminds me of what another famous fella from Alabama, Jerry Reed, once sang: “When you’re hot, you’re hot.”

I finally caught up with Rampy today while he, son Chase, and crew chief Barry Davis were at AT&T Park in San Francisco rooting on their Atlanta Braves against the Giants. Rampy did a pretty good job of dividing his attention between me and the game, interrupting his train of thought only to cheer as the Giants’ Dave Roberts was thrown out at home to end the third and Jeff Francoeur knocked a homer with Andruw Jones aboard in the top of the fourth. For the record, Rampy is no Barry Bonds fan.

Because Rampy has done most of his winning in Comp, and because I’m DRAGSTER’s resident Comp guru, I’d estimate that I’ve interviewed him on nearly 50 occasions (55 of his 67 wins have been in Comp), and he’s always modest to a fault. Even now, in the midst of a streak that’s great even by his lofty standards, he’s still the same. “I’ve just learned to not get too high or too low,” he said. “I’ve been great and I’ve been horrible, and there’s no sense getting too worked up about either one, because you know it can always change.” It may change, but I doubt he will.

This current issue we’re working on has a couple of fun features in it. John Jodauga, our Pro Stock expert, is doing a KB Racing versus Cagnazzi analysis of their seasons to date, charting everything from head-to-head matchups to total round-wins to other significant accomplishments, then offering analysis of each team’s strengths and weaknesses. I haven’t seen his stats yet, but I know it’s going to be interesting, and we’re staging a nose-to-nose kind of photo in the staging lanes at Infineon Raceway that should be a fun photo shoot.

The other story, which is part of the souvenir package for the Brainerd event, is a look at great racers from the Land of 10,000 Lakes. We’ve done this type of feature before, but never from Minnesota. It actually was the suggestion this year by reader Bob Jarvi that I mulled over for a while before assigning it to Kelly. My problem was that after naming Tom Hoover, Warren Johnson, Jason Line, and Bill Schifsky off the top of my head, I ran into a roadblock on other famous Gopher Staters. Once the staff huddled on the topic, the list just grew and grew: Doc Halladay, Al Tschida, John Hagen, Rick Johnson, Randy and Michael Mans, John Haley, Scott Pearson, Ron Hoover, Jim Lutz, C.J. and John Smith, Rick Ward, Greg Underdahl … lotta great racers there.

This week’s PROfile column also has a Minnesota connection as Jodauga shines the spotlight on famed chassis builder Don Ness, whose Don Ness Racecraft shop, based in Minneapolis, has turned out some of the all-time great Pro Stock cars since its founding in 1970. He pioneered the Funny Car roll cage in Pro Stockers and continues to have a major influence on Pro Stock body aerodynamics. It’s a great read.