Terry Haddock has been racing nitro cars or more than 20 years, but even as he continues to teach new drivers who rent his Top Fuel dragster, he admits he’s still learning, too.
This year’s “student” is Cameron Ferre, a former Jr. Dragster and Sportsman-class racer, who has driven Haddock’s dragster at all seven events this season – and qualified at six -- while Haddock wheels his Mustang Funny Car (which has qualified at all seven). Over the last half-dozen years, Haddock has offered his experience and racecar to a succession of drivers, including his ex-wife Jenna, Jim Maroney, and Terry Totten, and has been helping 1990s Top Fuel racer Patrick Kitowski prepare for his comeback.
Still even the teacher needs more education, and for Haddock this year that comes in the form of veteran nitro racer Johnny West, who drove Funny cars for years before moving to the tuning side.
From left, Johnny West, Cameron Ferre, and Terry Haddock
“I brought Johnny on board this year and he’s showing me lots of things,” Haddock said. “I’m still tuning it but Johnny has come in and cleaned up everything and organized it, and showing me how important even the smallest detail is. All of the sudden the car is worlds better. He didn’t come in and tell me how stupid I was and how I need to change everything, which some people might do. He said, ‘You’ve got some nice parts, you’re pretty smart, let me help you do what you’re already doing.’ It’s been a lot of fun.”
Although Haddock knows that his cars will never challenge for low e.t. or even a race win, he’s understandable proud of what he can do on a shoestring budget.
“It’s not the fastest car out there but at least I get to pull the parachute,” he said of his car’s consistency, which recently yielded a string of 13 straight runs in the 4.0s and 4-teens. “The paycheck I get for qualifying the Funny Car helps keep the dragster on the road, too. It’s a bad business model, but we’re making it work. We work as hard as we can and give it everything we’ve got.”
Even that was a challenge after last year’s Auto Club NHRA Finals, where a broken internal head stud allowed the engine to overpressure the oil tank, which blew, causing a fire that destroyed or damaged everything but the chassis.
“After the fire I knew I either had to quit or get someone to help me,” he said. “I realized that when i have someone in the dragster and I can watch; it always goes down the track, not on fire, and qualifies most of the time. I have no one to keep me safe like I keep Cam safe. That’s Johnny.
West, meanwhile, is very impressed with Haddock and his resiliency, and has become his biggest fan.
“He’s really a pretty sharp kid; there’s very little he doesn’t know about this racecar,” he said. “He already knows it; it’s just practicing it. And he’s like McGyver: He knows how to fix something with nothing. The real reason I’m here is that I look at him another John Force.. I really think that if he gets a little bit of help, watch out. Even $150 grand, and he’d be there.
“When I first started with him in Pomona, I asked him, ‘If someone walked up to you and gave you $150 grand, what would you do’ and he said, ‘Add some people. We need people,’ and that was the exact answer I wanted to hear. Not another set of heads, another block, another blower –- people. He’s got his head on right.”
Haddock is getting some help, after signing a modest deal with ChecklistBoards.com, which was brought to him by another “fan,” former Funny Car owner Jim Wemett (of Wombat/Tom Anderson fame), who has been helping him with a bit of marketing, and bought him things like a blower case and drive tires for the truck. The names on the side of the car don’t add up to a lot of money, but it’s a start.
In recognition of National Police Week, Haddock has returned another name to the hood of his Funny Car and the flanks of the dragster, a pro-police campaign called “Back The Blue,” which commemorates and honors 168 police officers and K9s who made the ultimate sacrifice. It’s a cause very close to Haddock’s heart.
“When I was a kid, I was on the wrong path when a cop straightened me out,” he said. “A couple of years ago , when those officers got killed in Dallas, someone said, ‘Why don’t you put a piece of blue tape on your window to honor them?’ and I thought, ‘Hell, if these guys are willing to take a bullet and die for us, I need to do more, so we had that on the car for a while back then, then brought it back for this special week. We’re trying to give a little bit back.”
The crew is also wearing Back the Blue shirts, and t-shirts are also on sale at the “Stupid Fast Racing” display in the pits, the proceeds of which will contribute to fund for families of fallen officers.
As Haddock continues to support others, he’s hoping someone else will jump in soon to help support him and keep his dream – and the dreams of future nitro drivers – alive and well.
“We don’t know long we can go, but we’ll go until we can’t,” he said. “We can’t afford to run all of the sessions yet without the kind of financing you need to do it right, but we’re doing what we can with what we have.”