Sometime soon, quite possibly before the end of the Western Swing, Dan Fletcher is going to get his 100th NHRA national event win. He’s sitting on 98 wins, and he’s headed for Denver this weekend for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, historically one of his best events. Whenever Fletcher banks two more wins, he will become just the third member of an exclusive fraternity that so far only includes 16-time Funny Car champion John Force and 17-time Top Alcohol Funny Car champion Frank Manzo. Fletcher probably won’t have to wait long for company because another highly respected Sportsman racer, David Rampy, is also knocking on the door with 91 national event victories.
Not surprisingly, there are a lot of similarities between Rampy and Fletcher beyond their extraordinary talents behind the wheel. Both drivers are touring pros who choose to defy the odds and pick a career path that few others would dare to attempt. The road to success has often been long and hard for both men, but year after year, they continue to forge ahead. Rampy and Fletcher both know they are on the verge of history, but that’s not what drives either of them. Successful racers often adjust their game plan to maximize on-track success, and that same logic applies to the business model employed by Fletcher and Rampy. Both rely on a combination of event winnings and sponsorship to make ends meet, and both admit that each year becomes more challenging than the last. The winner of three national championships, Rampy, in particular, doesn’t take any of his success for granted.
“Forget the 91 wins,” Rampy said. “Just to race at all, coming from my background where no one in my family raced and we were not rich by any means – just normal people – so all of my career, I’ve had to depend on companies and people in order to keep doing this. There’s no way I ever should have raced this long. Not many people have.
“The Lord has blessed me so much in my career, not just with my abilities but with the people he has brought into my life. Everyone has a gift, and some people are able to use it, and I never could have used it without the people. Things happen in life, and for me, it just seemed that things kept happening that kept me going down the road.”
Rampy races his A/EA Bantam roadster in Comp and a GT-class Camaro in Super Stock, and both vehicles are backed by Ray Skillman Auto Group. Prior to that, Rampy enjoyed a long relationship with Stout’s RV Sales, a leading Winnebago motorhome dealer. Owner Harold Stout raced for a long time in Super Stock and Stock and enjoyed success as a bracket racer. Early on, he became aware of Rampy’s considerable talent, but the decision to back him was based more on his impeccable character. The sport of NHRA Drag Racing is full of honest, hardworking individuals, and few embody those traits more than Rampy. Stout, who has long been retired, has often referred to Rampy as the son he never had.
“When Harold came along, it was like God sent him to me,” Rampy recalled. “I’ve often wondered, 'What is my payback to him?' He was the key, and even to this day -- even though he’s far in the background and I don’t talk to him a lot -- he’s responsible for all of this. He was the one responsible for me keeping the Winnebago deal as long as I did, he was responsible for the [similar] Freedom Roads deal, and then the one year he sponsored me to promote his wife [singer Sandy Kastel], which justified him giving me the money I knew he wanted to give me.
“When all of that went away, Boo [Weekley, professional golfer] comes along, and to this day, none of that sponsorship makes any sense. I didn’t know Boo Weekley from anyone, but a guy that I had met years and years ago [Jerry Driggers] and who I hadn’t seen for years pops up and tells me about Boo. Then Boo wins the Heritage golf tournament and sponsors me for two years. Why? What was I doing back for Boo? How did that happen? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Even through hardships, Rampy has somehow managed to continue a career that is well into its fourth decade. With 73 of his 91 wins in Comp, he is far and away the leader in that class, and he has been successful in Super Stock, Stock, Super Comp, and Super Gas. He has also won national events at 25 venues, including nine at Heartland Park Topeka and seven at Brainerd Int’l Raceway.
Several years ago, when a nonpaying sponsor threatened to derail Rampy's career, Stout again stepped in to lend a hand, and Rampy rallied.
“The Racers Edge sponsorship – for which I never ended up getting any money – almost sunk the ship,” said Rampy. "Then along comes Ray Skillman, who was steered to me by Harold. I don’t think there are very many people who have a story like mine. I’ve been very blessed."
With 98 titles already in the bank, Fletcher is a lock to reach 100 wins, and because he races two cars at each event, it could happen anytime he rolls through the gates. Rampy, with 91 wins, still needs a bit more time. To be honest, nine wins is a lot to ask from even the most successful racer. Rampy probably won’t reach the century mark in 2016, and he might not even get there in 2017. Throughout his career, Rampy has been remarkably consistent. Since his first victory in 1983, he has only had two winless seasons in national event competition. He has won 20 times since 2010, including two victories this year, so he’s still able to perform at a high level. Not surprisingly, Rampy doesn’t use numbers to define his career.
“I was stuck on 89 for so long, then you get over 90, and people start asking me about 100, and who will get there first – me or Fletcher,” he said. “I try not to get caught up in that because that’s nine wins away, but who knows how long you’re going to race? I’m not old by any means, and the Lord has blessed me with good health, but who knows?”