The Fallen Patriots NHRA Route 66 Nationals presented by K&N Filters had a JEGS Allstars double, a traditional double, and a rare father-son final round, but all of them took a backseat to the most newsworthy event of the weekend: Dan Fletcher’s milestone 100th NHRA national event victory.
Twenty-three years after his first win, Fletcher joined John Force (148) and Frank Manzo (105) in the exclusive 100-wins club when he bagged the Super Street title in Chicago. Fletcher won the landmark event after final-round opponent, Division 7 JEGS Allstars representative Greg Ventura, red-lighted by four-thousandths.
“When I started, I never thought one win was possible much less 100,” said Fletcher. “When we were getting ready for the final, I wasn’t nervous at all. I wasn’t thinking about 100 wins. I just wanted to get a win. It was that simple; I just wanted to win. Period.”
Fletcher won his first national event title in Super Stock on June 12, 1994 at National Trail Raceway near Columbus, Ohio. At that event, his final-round opponent was four-time national champion and future Pro Stock racer Greg Stanfield, who interestingly was the runner-up in Chicago to his son, Aaron. Since then, Fletcher has won at least one national event in each season, and he has claimed three NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series national championships.
By now, most know the story of Fletcher’s rise to NHRA stardom. Following his Columbus victory, Fletcher used his winnings to finance a trip from his home in upstate New York to the three-race Western Swing in Denver, Sonoma, and Seattle. In an amazing development, Fletcher swept all three of those titles, and a short time later, he made a bold, life-altering decision to quit his 9-to-5 job at Xerox to become a full-time touring NHRA Sportsman drag racer.
“In that first final, Greg [Stanfield] was gracious enough to turn it red for me, and I then I swept the Swing,” Fletcher said. “I was stupid enough to think that I could make a living at this, and 20 years later, here we are. It’s not the easiest way to make a living, and quite frankly, I wouldn’t recommend that others follow my lead, but I don’t think I’d change a thing. I’ve had a great run.”
Fletcher has won races in six different classes: Comp, Super Stock, Stock, Super Comp, Super Gas, and Super Street. For most of his career, Super Stock and Stock have been his bread-and-butter classes, accounting for 79 of his 100 wins. Interestingly, Fletcher decided to change his routine before the Chicago race. He competed in Super Comp with his Peak-backed dragster and drove his son Timothy’s Chevy Nova in Super Street. After an early loss in the dragster, he won the Super Street title for the second time in his career. It was also the first time he has raced Timothy’s car at a national event.
“I haven’t had much luck lately, so I decided to change it up,” said Fletcher, who throughout his career has forged several notable marketing partnerships, including current-backs Peak and Mickey Thompson. “I choked in the dragster against Shawn Langdon, but the Nova came through with flying colors. It’s awesome to finally get this done.”
To put Fletcher’s 100 wins in proper context consider this: Sportsman Hall of Famers Peter Biondo and Edmond Richardson have just 102 wins combined. Other than David Rampy’s 95 wins, no other Sportsman racer is even close to the 100-win mark.
So, how many wins will Fletcher eventually have? While Fletcher has no plans to retire, he has often hinted at cutting back on his exhausting travel schedule in the coming years. At this point, it seems like a given that he’ll one day pass Manzo’s impressive 105-win total, but even Fletcher acknowledges that Force’s record 148 wins (and counting) is completely out of reach.
“No way I’ll never catch Force,” Fletcher laughs. “Ultimately, I do want to cut back a bit, and we’ll see how that goes. Obviously, things change, and it’s just not the same as it was 20 years ago, and I mean that from both an financial and an emotional standpoint. My kids race now, and they’re doing pretty well for themselves. In fact, my boys, Timothy and Thomas , both got a win in the Stocker and Super Stocker [respectively] at an IHRA race the same weekend. Overall, I’d say we did pretty well for ourselves.”
The best of the rest: While Fletcher garnered most of the attention for winning his 100th event, Chicago Comp champ David Rampy can expect a similar celebration in the near future since he now has 95 wins of his own. Rampy has been the king of Comp for more than three decades because he knows how to preserve his index, and he was able to put that skill to good use in Chicago. Rampy lost just .06-second to Competition Index Control penalties during eliminations, and final-round opponent Brian Hyerstay was down .11-hundredths in his G/Dragster. Rampy did his job on the starting line with a .009 light but didn’t need it after Hyerstay fouled. Interestingly, Fletcher has 100 national event wins in 150 finals, and Rampy’s final-round percentage compares favorably with 95 wins in 151 finals.
Last month in Bristol, Stanfield and his son, Aaron, just missed out on a memorable Father’s Day when Aaron won the title in the Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs class and Greg scored a runner-up finish in Super Stock. In Chicago, the Stanfields made another run at history when they met in the Super Stock final, where Aaron bagged another title at the expense of his father.
Brad Burton has won two national championships driving his familiar red Pontiac Firebird, but in Chicago, he was racing his father, Scott’s, white Pontiac. Burton admits that while both cars appear similar there are significant differences. Regardless, he was able to make the necessary adjustments to pick up the win. In the final round, Burton drove to a 10.412 on his 10.39 dial for the win after Division 1 allstar and reigning division champ Justin Picillo, behind the wheel of Jeg Coughlin Jr.’s Drag Pak Challenger, broke out by a hundredth.
With a double in Norwalk and a victory in Saturday’s JEGS Allstars race, reigning national champion Nick Folk entered the Super Comp class as the hottest driver in the sport, but he was no match for Luke Bogacki in the final round. Bogacki picked up the first leg of his memorable double when he squeezed by Folk, 8.909 to 8.918.
A few minutes after winning the Super Comp final, Bogacki became the 24th different driver to double-up when he put his Super Gas Corvette into the winner’s circle after defeating Mike Sawyer in the final. Bogacki was masterful in the final with a perfect light and a 9.930 after Sawyer broke out with a 9.890. Bogacki already has a pair of national championships to his credit, but the 2017 season is shaping up to be one of his best, especially after his win at the K&N Spring Fling Million in Las Vegas a couple months ago.
Zach Sackman won his first national event title in Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs when he drove past Shanna Snyder’s Vintage Trailers dragster in the final. Sackman, who shares driving duties with his brother, Matt, slowed to a 6.206 on his 6.08 dial after Snyder got distracted on the starting line.
Mark McDonald completed a perfect weekend in Top Sportsman presented by Racing RVs when he claimed both the JEGS Allstars title on Saturday and the Fallen Patriots NHRA Route 66 Nationals win on Sunday. McDonald won eight-straight rounds, including Sunday’s final, where he coupled a .005 light and a 6.677 on his 6.65 dial to stop Todd “Bones” Ewing, who was just not far behind with a 6.833 on his 6.80 dial.