With two completed doubles and another near miss in the first six races of the 2017 season, it was temping to think that it was getting easier for a Sportsman driver to notch two wins in the same weekend.
Not so fast.
Yes, Ed Oplin opened the season with wins in Top Sportsman and Super Gas in Pomona and John Labbous Jr. left Charlotte with a pair of Wallys after claiming the Super Comp and Super Gas titles. In between, Kevin Helms earned a win in Stock and a runner-up finish in Super Stock in Houston. Still, that doesn’t make the feat very easy and the Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals proved it. Heading into the quarterfinal round of Sunday’s eliminations, five drivers, including David Rampy, Steven Furr, Joe Fisher, Ray Miller III, and Jeremy Hancock, were in the running for a double. None of them got there. In fact, none of them even made it to two final rounds. Of the five, Rampy, Miller, and Fisher, did leave Atlanta Dragway with a win, but Furr and Hancock came up short.
In the final tally, Rampy backed up his Super Stock win with a semifinal finish in Super Street. Miller won the Super Gas final but lost in the semi’s of Super Comp. Fisher claimed his first win in Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs and earned a quarterfinal finish in Super Gas. Furr was a semifinalist in Top Dragster and a quarterfinalist in Super Gas and Hancock was the Super Street runner-up and a semifinal finisher in Top Dragster.
Each of the five racers listed above left Atlanta with a story about “the one that got away,” which only helps underscore just how difficult it remains to double up. In this case, the arithmetic doesn’t lie. In more than 800 NHRA national events, there have been 35 doubles completed by just 22 drivers.
Given his vast experience, which now includes 94 national event wins, one might think that Rampy had the best chance to double up in Atlanta. With no Comp class on the docket, Rampy parked his A/EA Bantam and borrowed a GMC S-15 pickup truck to race in Super Street.
Rampy breezed through the tough Super Stock field with his Skillman Auto Group Camaro. In eliminations, he faced a tough roster that included Terry Emmons, Chad Taylor, Craig Couris, and current championship leader Helms. In the final, Rampy was able to cruise to the win after opponent Jeff Longhany fouled by five-thousandths of a second.
Rampy has won national events in Comp, Super Stock, Stock, Super Comp, and Super Gas and been to a Pro Stock final. In Atlanta, he had a chance to add a title in a sixth class with a strong run in Super Street. Driving an unfamiliar vehicle, Rampy made his way to the semifinal round where a -.002 red-light ended his weekend against eventual runner-up Hancock.
The best of the rest: Last year in Atlanta, Jimmy “Cooter” Hidalgo Jr. nearly completed a double of his own with a win in Super Stock and a runner-up finish in Stock. The Louisiana-based Hidalgo obviously likes Atlanta Dragway since he returned this year and added the Stock title to his already-impressive résumé. Driving his G/SA ’04 GTO, Hidalgo had to race his father, Jimmy Sr., in the third round. Youth won out over experience this time and Hidalgo went on to defeat Wes Neely, the same driver he lost to a year ago. In the final round, Hidalgo turned in one of the best driving performances of his career with a .002 light and a 10.849 on his 10.83 dial to stop Jerry Emmons, who broke out by two-hundredths after a late start.
Two weeks after winning a six-figure paycheck at the Spring Fling Million in Las Vegas, Luke Bogacki struck gold again when he won the Atlanta Super Comp title. The two-time national champion claimed career win No. 12 when he drove his dragster past Tony Helms in the final, 8.914 to an 8.888 breakout. Bogacki also carded wins against Shannon Roberts and Grew Trew in eliminations. Bogacki has only entered two national events this season in Super Comp and he has been to the final in both of them, so a run at a third title is not out of the question.
Miller III has won six national event titles in his career and three of them have now come at Atlanta Dragway. Miller successfully defended his 2016 Super Gas title when he drove his Corvette roadster to a final-round win over David Tatum III, who fouled. Miller also reached the semi’s in Super Comp. For Tatum, it was his second final round of the season following his runner-up finish to Sherman Adcock Jr. in Gainesville. The Georgia-based and 2010 Super Gas national champion Tatum has gotten back on his feet after his entire racing operation was stolen a couple of years ago.
Super Street champion Doug Wood was emotional after fulfilling a 15 year quest to win his first NHRA national event title. Wood was sharp in the final when he coupled a .020 light and a 10.908 for the win over Jeremy Hancock, who broke out with a 10.848. Wood also topped Ronnie Maggart, Laurel Morris, and Ken MacNicol on his way to his first Wally. Earlier in the event, Hancock made his mark with a rare perfect run. Racing against Brian Funderburk in round two, Hancock coupled a .000 light with a 10.900. Funderburk had almost no chance to win the battle despite a competitive .017 light.
A year after winning the Division 2 championship and posting a third-place finish nationally in the Top Sportsman class, Sandy Wilkins claimed his second national event title. The winner of the 2015 Atlanta race, Wilkins, who builds engines for the Roush-Yates team, drove a smart, consistent race where he used a string of .02 lights to reach the final round. After an even start, Wilkins surged ahead of opponent Vince Hoda at the finish line and won with a 6.722 on his 6.72 dial while Hoda was slightly off the mark with a 6.892 on his 6.87 dial. So far in 2017, Wilkins has been to four races and been to the final of all of them. In addition to his Atlanta win, he won a Division 2 event in Orlando, Fla., and has runner-up finishes at Lucas Oil Series races at South Georgia Motorsports Park and GALOT Motorsports Park.
Joe Fisher enjoys the Top Dragster class so much that he decided to become the title rights sponsor through his Racing RVs business. Fisher followed his quarterfinal finish in Super Gas with a win in Top Dragster. Fisher’s path to the final included a win over 1987 Super Comp national champ Steve Cohen, Kathy Fisher, and Steven Furr. In the final, Fisher cruised to the win after opponent Kevin Brannon slowed. Brannon, a former national champion in Super Comp, was attempting to join his wife, Ivey, who won the Top Dragster class a week ago in Charlotte.