The quest for 100: In the 62-year history of NHRA drag racing, just two drivers – John Force and Frank Manzo, have managed to win 100 national event titles. For most sportsman racers, even those who travel often and attend many races, that number is almost too big to comprehend but for Dan Fletcher, his next win
To fully appreciate the magnitude of Fletcher’s pending 100th win consider this; other than Comp ace David Rampy, who has 92 wins, there isn’t another true sportsman driver who has more than 50 wins. To put it another way, Peter Biondo and Edmond Richardson, two of drag racing’s most decorated sportsman drivers, have just 98 wins combined.
Fletcher started the 2016 season with 94 wins and quickly padded his total with a win in Stock Eliminator at the Circle K Winternationals in Pomona. Fletcher’s career took a bit of a detour this season with his first win in Super Comp, which came at the spring Las Vegas race. On a whim, Fletcher entered his famed ’69 Camaro Super Stock car in the Super Street class in Atlanta and came away with another win. After a Super Stock victory in Chicago, Fletcher finished the season with another Stock title at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona.
As a result of his five win season, Fletcher is now one of a select few drivers who have won national events in six different eliminators; Comp, Super Stock, Stock, Super Comp, Super Gas, and Super Street. He also tied Jeg Coughlin Jr. by winning four different classes in the same season. Fletcher had previously stated at the beginning of the 2016 season that he’d be disappointed if he didn’t get to 100 victories this year but given his record, it probably won’t take long for him to knock off win No. 100 in 2017.
Pure perfection: A year ago, Doug Doll Jr. answered a phone call that changed his life forever. Longtime Division 1 Comp racer Charlie Greco asked Doll to drive his new six-cylinder dragster with the sole intention of winning the Lucas Oil Comp championship. Although he had six national event wins to his credit, including the 1999 U.S. Nationals Super Comp title, Doll didn’t think he’d be the best choice for the job, yet he quickly accepted.
“If it was my car, I wouldn’t have picked me to drive,” Doll said during a mid-season interview. “I was happy to take the job but I was just a little confused as to why Charlie would want me to drive his car. I just thought there were better options available.”
As it turns out, Greco knew exactly what he was doing and together Doll and Greco re-wrote the record books with a perfect eight-win season and the Lucas Oil Comp championship. Doll won national event titles in Epping, Norwalk, and the fall Charlotte event and won five Lucas Oil Series events in his native Northeast Division to finish the season with 730 points, the highest score in the history of the Comp class. Doll’s final score was more than 100 points higher than second-place Bryan Hyerstay and nearly 250 points more than tenth-ranked Doug Lambeck.
Flying Stockers: The four-race School of Automotive Machinists and Technology NHRA Factory Stock Showdown proved to be one of the highlights of the 2016 season largely due to the incredible performances turned in by David Barton (pictured) and Chris Holbrook. Barton debuted Gary Wolkwitz’s new supercharged COPO Camaro early in the season and promptly ran the table at the first three Factory Stock events in Gainesville, Englishtown and Norwalk.
At a time when most Factory Stock entries were struggling to run in the 8.4s, Barton made what many consider the run of the year in Englishtown when he qualified in the top spot with an 8.25-second blast, by far the sport’s quickest Stock Eliminator run. Barton was looking to finish off a sweep of the series at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals but Holbrook had other ideas. Debuting his new Team Z Motorsports-built Cobra Jet Mustang, Holbrook trumped Barton with an 8.23-second run en route to the event victory.
Both Barton and Holbrook insist that their cars have the power to run in the seven second zone and late in the season they attempted to prove it at the Pennsylvania Dutch Classic NHRA Division 1 National Open at Maple Grove Raceway. At that event, Barton re-took the lead with an 8.07 while Holbrook also improved with an 8.10 setting the stage for an epic race to the sevens in 2016.
The kids are alright: The notion that “kids today aren’t into cars and racing” is clearly a myth, especially in light of the recent success of young racers at NHRA events. Newly crowned Super Gas national champion Mia Tedesco is just 22 while Austin Williams, who finished in the top ten in two classes is just 26.
The “youth movement” went a step further this year when, two days after his 18th birthday, Koy Collier (pictured) collected the Super Gas win at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals in St. Louis. Earlier in the season, 16-year old Houston Raikes bagged the Stock title in his NHRA debut at the JEGS SPORTSnationals in Bowling Green. In order to enter an NHRA Mello Yello series national event, a competitor must be at least 18 years of age while competitors as young as 16 are eligible to enter Lucas Oil Series divisional events and the JEGS SPORTSnationals race so Collier and Raikes each just made it in under the wire.
Collier raced in several Lucas Oil Series events in 2015 with a solid record of success so his win in St. Louis shouldn’t have come as a total surprise. Collier finished 74th out of nearly 1,000 Super Gas racers despite attending just two national events. Raikes, on the other hand, provided one of the most amazing stories of the year with his win in Bowling Green. Prior to the event, he had never raced on a quarter-mile track and had never driven his family’s 125-mph Chevelle Stocker. Raikes only ran two other NHRA events after his SPORTSnationals win but he did advance to the fourth round of the Division 3 Lucas Oil Series event at Beech Bend Raceway Park.
Finally, there is the story of 16-year old Gauge Burch, who made history when he collected three Wally trophies during the Division 2 Summit E.T. Racing Series Finals at Atlanta Dragway. Burch, who splits time between his Jr. Dragster and a couple of Street E.T. cars, won two Race of Champions events and the Division 2 Jr. Dragster title. Burch won’t be eligible to race in a national event until the 2018 Gainesville race but he’s going to be worth keeping an eye on while he continues to terrorize E.T. bracket events near his Florida home.
Ladies first: Women drivers dominated NHRA competition across the board in 2016. In addition to pro wins by Leah Pritchett, Angelle Sampey, Alexis DeJoria, Courtney and Brittany Force, and alcohol titles by Megan Meyer and Jackie Fricke, ten other races were won by female drivers including Stock wins by Randi Lynn Ship (Phoenix), Trista Fenner (pictured,Topeka), and Allison Smyth (Epping). Former world champ Jackie Ally scored another victory in Super Stock with her ’69 Camaro in Denver while Michelle Furr claimed the Super Street title at the JEGS SPORTSnationals in Bowling Green. Division 1 Super Comp racers Heather Fetch (Englishtown) and Amanda Boicesco (Reading) pitched in with a pair of victories while Lauren Freer (Norwalk) and Angie Travis (Brainerd) claimed Wallys in the quick Top Dragster class.
And then there was Tedecso, who claimed the Super Gas title in Chicago, a win that helped her secure the 2016 Lucas Oil Championship in Super Gas. Tedesco was not only the first woman to win the Super Gas national title, she’s just the third woman to win any NHRA sportsman championship, following the lead of Amy Faulk and Alley, who have each earned a Super Stock title.
Fenner’s win in Topeka and Travis’ victory in Brainerd were especially notable since they were the result of all-female final rounds. Fenner, in her manually-shifted Nova, stopped National Dragster contributor Brenda Grubbs. A couple of months later, Travis stopped Division 4 racer Jennifer White in the final round of Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs in Brainerd.