Two years ago, Jackie Fricke came within one run of winning the Top Alcohol Dragster world title. At the fall Las Vegas event, Fricke squared off against Rachel Meyer in a winner-take-all final round for the title. Fricke made a decent run with a 5.260 in her John Finke-owned dragster, but Meyer was quicker with a 5.191 to win the race and lock up the championship.
Fricke generally isn’t one to dwell on the past, but she calls the events of 2021 a “huge motivation” even as the calendar turns to 2023. Oftentimes, nearly winning a championship can have a galvanizing effect on a team, and Fricke hopes that’s the case as she sets out in pursuit of the world title.
“I am probably more motivated than I’ve ever been,” said Fricke. “Last year, we had a decent year, but we had some turmoil within our team. We had a hard time being consistent with our clutch [program].
“We eventually found a lot of old, old, clutch parts, and they worked pretty well. We begged and borrowed what we could, and now we should have enough to get through the season. We need to be smart about it, but we don’t have to ration it. We also have stability in our crew, which makes a big difference. John [Finke, team owner] and I are the truck drivers. I don’t mind it at all. I set up and take down the awning. I’ve never been afraid of hard work.”
Fricke has turned her attention to the 2023 season, and so far, it’s been fairly eventful beginning with began a scorching 5.11 during a preseason test in Bradenton, Fla. That run counts as one of the quickest in the history of the class and gave the team every indication they were on the right track.
“We rented the Bradenton track for a week, and we said we’d go down there and push limits on everything to find out where they are. That 5.11 was awesome. We were doing backflips, and the rest of the test was good. We ran some more teens and low 5.20s.
“The next day we came back and tried to better the [current 5.09 national record],” said Fricke. “John said, ‘You just had a .910 60-foot time and you don’t tune that up, but I’ll give you one shot. We almost did it, but we didn’t make it. I won’t lie and say I don’t want the record, but everything has to be just right, and there are plenty of other cars that can do it.”
Coming off the Bradenton test, Fricke used that positive momentum to post a runner-up finish to Aaron Cooper at the season’s first regional event at No Problem Raceway Park in Louisiana.
“We stubbed our toes in the final,” said Fricke. “Aaron didn’t get down track all day, and we thought we had it. We didn’t put enough load on the motor, and it put a hole out 3.2 seconds into the run. I’m happy for Aaron. He’s a good guy, but I just hate to leave points on the table.”
Leaving points on the table is a big no-no in any class, especially Top Alcohol Dragster where there is a surplus of quick cars and the championship will almost certainly be won by a small margin. Most observers, including Fricke, believe it will take close to six-eight victories to get the job done, so every point is crucial. She also realizes she couldn’t contend for a title without the support of Lucas Oil, NGK, Finke Equipment, Accelerated Travel, and Burnyzz Speed Shop, owned by Top Fuel racer Josh Hart.
“Two years ago, I went to 12 finals but didn’t win enough of them,” she said. “This class is so tough, but I love it. The rental programs have made it so competitive. I’m not complaining. Actually, I think it’s awesome. The fact that someone can step in and get a license and jump into a competitive car just makes it harder and more competitive. This class is strong right now, and it’s fun to be a part of.”
The TAD class figures to get even stronger this season with the arrival of NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart, wo has committed to chasing the championship with the McPhillips family. Stewart made his debut with a runner-up finish last fall in Las Vegas. The prospect of racing Stewart greets Fricke with equal parts dread and anticipation.
“I lost in the semi’s in Las Vegas, which is too bad because I really wanted to race Tony in the final and, hopefully, be the first one to beat him. He was very friendly and very down to Earth. I can already tell he’s going to be a handful. I want to race him for sure, but I might regret it later. He’s going to bring a lot of attention to the class, which is a great thing because there are a lot of interesting stories out here.”
Fricke wants to win the championship for a lot of reasons but none more personal or more emotional than her longstanding friendship with three-time Comp champ Frank Aragona Jr., who passed away Feb. 10 after a battle with cancer.
“I’m going to try not to get too emotional here, but Frank said he’d ride with me to the championship, and that’s all the motivation I could ever need,” said Fricke. “His attitude was so positive, even when he knew the outlook wasn’t so good. He taught us a lot about dignity and how to confront one’s own mortality. More than ever I realize that tomorrow is not promised and you need to make the most of every single day. Frank’s name is on my car, and he’ll ride with me, hopefully to a championship.”