Although it may be factually correct, Rob Kropfeld doesn’t want to simply be known just as the guy who won his first Wally with an 11-second reaction time nor should he be. Kropfeld’s Super Gas victory in Norwalk was indeed his first in NHRA competition but in the ultra-competitive world of big money bracket racing, he’s got a career record that compares favorably to the very best in the business. Included among Kropfeld’s highlights is a $50,000 victory in the Ultimate 64 Shooutout in 2007, and a pair of $7,500 wins in the JEGS Door Car Shootout races in 2011 and 2015.
More recently, Kropfeld gained notoriety for the unconventional manner in which he won in Norwalk. Kropfeld drove his ’71 Vega wagon to the win after his opponent, multi-time Division 5 champ Trevor Larson, fouled by four-thousandths of a second but that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. Much to his surprise, Kropfeld sat on the starting line for what seemed like an eternity before his Vega finally broke the staging beams and he was able to limp down the quarter-mile with a winning time of 29.914-seconds. Afterwards, Kropfeld explained that his aborted run was not the result of mechanical malfunction, but rather a sloppy entrance.
“When I was getting in the car and putting my jacket on, I must have brushed up against the delay box,” he admitted. “I accidently put 30-seconds of delay in the car and anyone who understands how this sort of racing works will tell you that the car wasn’t going to move for 30-seconds.
“When it first happened, I had no idea what was going on,” Kropfeld said. “The car didn’t move. I wasn’t sure what was going on. I glanced at the delay box and saw that it had 30 extra seconds in it. I didn’t even know I’d won until I got to the other end. One of the workers down there is from my local track and when I came around the corner, he was clapping. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know what that’s about, I’m not real happy about being a runner-up.’ Then he explained that I’d won. I never thought to look up and see if he’d red-lighted or anything. I looked his scoreboard and saw 9.94 and just assumed that was it.”
Ironically, Kropfeld almost withdrew from the Super Gas class before the event. He was already planning on racing his girlfriend, Cristin Wurzelbacher’s dragster in Super Comp and felt that racing two cars would be too much work.
“I normally run my Vega in Super Street,” he explained. “In fact, this is the first time in four or five years I’ve been in Super Gas. I knew that my chassis certification was expired and I still had my Super Street number on the car. The Monday before the race, I had every intention of withdrawing from the race with the Vega but I just got too busy at work and I forgot.
“When I showed up at the registration trailer, I asked what were the odds of getting a chassis certified and they said, ‘You mean today?’ I found [an NHRA Tech Official] who told me that if I got there right away he could do it. I got the car certified on Thursday morning and still got all three of my time runs.”
Kropfeld’s Vega wagon is no doubt a competitive Super Gas car even if it is a bit unconventional. These days, most competitors opt for the unobstructed view that comes with racing a topless roadster and a finish line speed well above 150-mph. Kropfeld, on the other hand, likes his vintage wagon and doesn’t seem to mind that that car rarely tops 140 on the speed chart.
“Normally, I run the car as a high-gear only set-up but not in Super Gas. On my three time runs I was 10.02, 9.93, and 9.87. Norwalk is tricky because one day you might have a head-wind and the next it’s a tail but this time there was a steady crosswind.”
Kropfeld’s slow top end speeds almost certainly played a role in his victory, particularly the second round where he put the brakes on the hottest driver in the sport, runaway Super Gas points leader John Labbous Jr. In that round, Kropfeld gave up a .012-second advantage at the start, but won after Labbous misjudged the finish line and broke out by with a 9.895.
“I could tell that he was going to take too much,” said Kropfeld. “He can run over 165 mph and if I’m like most guys going 150 or so, I’m going to get sliced and diced pretty good down there. You give someone like John .012 to play with and he’s almost certainly got you. It’s also part of knowing your car. I know this car very well. I know how much it moves and I never got stuck in the right lane the whole weekend so that helped.
“Other than the final, it was a smooth race,” said Kropfeld, who thanked girlfriend Cristin Wurzelbacher and the crew at Ohio Crankshaft for helping with his victory. “I’m still kicking myself because normally, I’d double-check the delay box but this was a Pro Tree race and it was just one of those things that slipped my mind. When I was sitting there on the starting line in the final, one thing I do remember is staring at myself on the [Sunoco Vision] screen. My first thought was, ‘Are you kidding me? As hard as it is to get to a final and then do this.” I’m just glad it worked out in the end.”