He doesn’t make many appearances at NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events, but Jack Wyatt has been burning nitro since 1987 which puts him in the same league as fellow veterans John Force, Pat Dakin, Chris Karamesines, and Hall of Fame team owner Connie Kalitta. Preparing for an upcoming match race in Canada, Wyatt couldn’t resist the temptation to bring his Dodge Charger-bodied entry to Topeka, where he’s got a guaranteed starting spot in the 15-car Funny Car field.
“I usually run one or two NHRA races each year, whatever I can afford,” said Wyatt. “I wanted to go to Chicago but when I looked at the entry list and saw 19 Funny Cars, I decided that wasn’t a good idea. We didn’t have a full field here, and this race is only three-and-a-half hours from home so it made much more sense from a financial standpoint.”
Wyatt attends many NHRA events as a crewmember, working primarily on Clay Millican’s Parts Plus Top Fuel dragster. That experience allows him to stay involved and keep up on things like technology and track prep so when he runs his own Funny Car, he doesn’t necessarily feel out-gunned by the larger, more well-funded teams.
“I also match race three or four times a year, so I get to make some runs and we just try to run within our budget,” Wyatt said. “We ran a 4.18 last year in St. Louis and we did it without hurting a bunch of parts. I try to be conservative; we only run 85 or 86 percent nitro just to be safe. That also helps us get down the track consistently.”
During his long career, Wyatt has just about seen it all. In the late 1980s, he was side-by-side with the late Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen during an event in Norwalk when the power went out. Somehow, both drivers managed to get safely stopped in near-total darkness. Wyatt has also scored a number of upset wins during his NHRA appearances. He defeated Robert Hight and Tim Wilkerson at the 2005 Bristol race to reach the semifinals for the only time in his career. He also beat Ashley Force Hood in the opening round in Brainerd in 2009. The warm temperatures and tricky track conditions this weekend in Topeka could present another opportunity for Wyatt to add to his win total.
“I don’t think anyone can take us lightly,” said Wyatt, who’s volunteer crew this weekend includes veteran nitro crewman Mike Guger. “Our plan is to be able to go from the starting line to the finish line and sometimes, that’s all you need to do. Depending on how well we run here, I might come back out for St. Louis or one of the other close races later this year. I started racing an alcohol car in 1979 and then buit my first nitro car in 1987, and I’ve had one ever since. I still enjoy it.”
On Friday, Wyatt made just one qualifying attempt which resulted in an early shut-off 7.46. He enters Saturday’s final qualifying day as the No. 15 qualifier.