ROCKINGHAM, N.C.-In two seasons, Laurie Cannister has matured from pro outlaw Rookie of the Year to its champion.
This should be cause for celebration, but the 40-year-old SmithKline Beecham executive from Clinton, Pa., faces daunting questions about her drag-racing future. While she'll go down in the IHRA record book as the last pro outlaw champ as the 2000 season came to a close Sunday, Cannister's biggest challenge could be finding a sponsor to replace Nicorette/Nicoderm CQ, which has decided to go in a different direction.
"My crew and engine builder Jeff Fowler all put in a lot of hours to make us the champions in 2000," Cannister said. "I hate that our class is going away, but I am thankful that I will be remembered as the final world champion."
To clinch the Pro Outlaw championship, all Cannister had to do was to qualify on Saturday for Sunday's eliminations at the rain-rescheduled CARQUEST Autumn Nationals. But she wanted more. She wanted to notch her fifth IHRA tour victory to surpass her rookie total.
Cannister qualified her Mopar Parts dragster fourth with an elapsed time of 6.166 seconds at 220.55 mph on the Rockingham Dragway and made it through the first round by beating Mike Decker, 7.206/208.46 to 15.419/50.00.
But it wasn't a pretty first round as her car nailed the tires and encountered severe tire shake. Unbeknownst to Cannister, Decker experienced similar problems, forcing him to lift at mid-track.
We had a hard time just getting to this point," Cannister added. "We had a tough weekend, and we really didn't qualify as well as we wanted to. I guess it all worked out in the end for us. I'd like to thank Nicorette/Nicoderm CQ and Mopar for helping us to jump to the top of the game."
With the title secured, Cannister was looking to run for the event win, finally had a strong run but couldn't derail Michael Barclay. She got off the starting line first with her holeshot of .453 seconds to .479, but Barclay nosed her out at the finish line by .007 seconds or about two feet. He covered the quarter-mile in 6.054/229.04 to the champ's 6.087/224/58.
In addition to securing a sponsor, Cannister's other big question to be answered is what division she'll race next year. She's mulling several classes.
"Who knows where we will be at, whether it is a Funny Car or Pro Modified. We wanted to go to top fuel, but we don't know if that will happen or not," Cannister said.
Cannister has a lot of work ahead to be prepared for 2001 when it opens on March 8 at Virginia Motorsports Park in Dinwiddie with the www.competitionplus.com-sponsored preseason test runs.