Here we are. December 2020. Who knew it’d be like this? I certainly didn’t. I’m lucky to have a column as we close the book on this season. Going WFO, one more time.
Most importantly, we got it in! We completed the 2020 NHRA season and champions have been crowned. Some stories remained the same as the CAPCO team continued its dominance of the Top Fuel eliminator with a third consecutive championship and Erica Enders went back to back, again, making her a four-time NHRA Pro Stock champion. And the Matts – Hagan and Smith – added championships to their total, locking them in as all-time NHRA greats. Each championship team is deserving and the crazy season that was 2020 produced accurate results of who performed best this year.
After a year like this, when our whole planet was challenged, it’s hard to not be retrospective.
In Arizona, I remember thinking about what a great year it was going to be. I had such optimism for the season. Obviously, there were other plans for 2020, and it turned into a grind, perhaps even a test? Everyone that I know who truly loves this sport did exactly what I’d expect a bunch of drag racers to do. They knuckled down, figured it out, and innovated. I’m proud of how our community handled this test. Whether it be sponsor-logo masks, hand sanitizer in every pit, or social distancing in the winner’s circle, we kept on racing. The stories that I will remember most from 2020, however, aren’t from the on-track action.
I never met Candace Allen, but that doesn’t matter, I know, her son, Ervin “Jock” Allen. Jock and his mom were early faces of the pandemic with Jock spending 32 days in the hospital, including 24 days on a ventilator. Candace, a healthcare worker, also became infected and passed away on May 18 from COVID-19. I can’t help but think about how Candace and all of the healthcare workers who fight on the front lines stepped up when their country called. Knowing Jock made it real and personal. Frankly, prior to Jock’s family story, many people were not taking things as seriously as they should have. Their story probably saved lives of others who realized how serious things were. Seeing him back at the track was good for the soul.
I wasn’t at the race, but I remember being happy for Dom Lagana, who won Top Fuel as a member of the CAPCO team at the Dodge NHRA Indy Nationals. By now everyone knows the story. Dom, Jake Sanders, and Richie Crampton were involved in a horrific public roadway incident. After months of struggle, emotion, and worry, they are all now home recovering. Changed, no doubt, but alive and with us. These three talented young men exemplify the passion for drag racing and they live it every day. I’m thankful they are all still with us.
Eric Lane, aka “Hop,” was, simply put, one of the best and brightest young crew chiefs in drag racing. He was a world champion in 2016 with the NAPA team. He was also a friend and taught me the workings of the clutch on nitro cars. Eric was killed as a pedestrian along a public road, between the Dallas and Houston races, while taking a little time to build chemistry with his new team. Eric was a kind, positive, optimistic person with endless energy, and an intense passion for drag racing. He’d stay late, help others, and mentor young crewmembers. I still cannot believe he’s gone, and I will miss him greatly.
So, we move forward, beyond 2020 into a new year. What lessons have been learned?
First, it is a privilege to be able to chase your dreams. When we start the 2021 NHRA season at the Gatornationals, in Gainesville, we’ll be moving into a new world, a Camping World, if you will. Many things will be different, and, frankly, tough times may linger, but we’ll make it through. We proved that in 2020. I’d love for our fans to join us, as we carry this passion for drag racing. I’m eager to get back to the track and see great friends and fans again.
My WFO Radio Podcast will continue through the extended winter break with interviews from each NHRA champion, discussion of the latest news, and some fun car talk. Sure, it’s a shameless plug, but isn’t that the point? Regardless of the challenge posed, we continue to work hard at the business of drag racing. Be sure to subscribe!
Joe Castello is an NHRA staff announcer, host of the WFO Radio NHRA Nitro podcast, and co-host of Performance TV on the Velocity Network. He is a track championship-winning bracket racer who started his racing and announcing career at Miami-Hollywood Speedway Park in Miami. Castello and his father own a ’78 Pontiac Trans Am with NHRA Super Street aspirations. Readers can listen to the WFO Radio podcast on anything with an internet connection and contact Castello on Twitter @WFOJoe or via email at [email protected].