50 Greatest drivers: Frank Hawley

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#43: FRANK HAWLEY It wasn't John Force who first made Austin Coil a world championship tuner, nor was it Force who gave Coil his first NHRA national event win. That honor belongs to the driver who today is best known as the founder of drag racing's original driving school, Frank Hawley. In his 10-year fuel career, Hawley won seven NHRA Funny Car titles, the 1982 and 1983 Winston Funny Car championships, and two Top Fuel titles. His greatest success came in his late 20s as hired driver for the world-famous Chi-Town Hustler Funny Car team that rarely made national event appearances, but was a huge attraction at match races long before Hawley ever drove a race car. In 1981, Hawley added his name to the roster of Chi-Town drivers, alongside fuel greats Pat Minnick, Ron Colson, Denny Savage, and Pete Williams. He was just 24 when he took the controls of famed Farkonas, Coil & Minick entry. Hawley, a London, Ontario, native and once a fearless and impetuous teen-ager, drove Brian Noakes' BB/FC when he was just 19, his own Pop Shoppe Vega in 1977 and 1978, and a '23-T Ford altered in 1979. Like the Chi-Town Hustler, his rides always were operated on a shoestring budget. Silencing critics who didn't think an alcohol racer with no major wins deserved the coveted seat of the Chi-Town Hustler, Hawley proved his worth by winning immediately on the match-race circuit. He soon was indoctrinated into the famous team's ways: The burnouts had better be crowd-pleasing half-trackers and the car was to be driven to the finish line no matter the circumstances on tracks of every description and condition. The 1982 season that cemented Hawley's prominent place in drag lore began when the crew traveled to California for the Winternationals in the same ramp truck with more than half a million miles on its odometer that for years had delivered various Chi-Town Hustlers to booked-in shows across North America. They never intended to complete the full NHRA season and entered the following event, the Gatornationals, only because of Hawley's success in Pomona. At that race he qualified No. 1 with a 5.86 - three-hundredths of a second quicker than the national record - and advanced to the semifinals, where he narrowly lost to three-time world champion Raymond Beadle in the quickest race of all time, 5.97 to 5.96. In Gainesville, where just three years later he would open The Drag Racing School, Hawley won his and the Hustler team's first NHRA event with a 6.07 in the final against Tim Grose, whose parachute deployed before half-track. Hawley scored again in Columbus and later that season at the inaugural NorthStar Nationals in Brainerd, and not all of the under-financed team's success was a result of Coil's mastery of the marginal-track tune-up. By then, Hawley had perfected a pedaling technique in which he lifted only halfway off the throttle, sensing problems before the loss of traction was too great for the run to be completed and saving who knows how many runs that lesser drivers would have had to abort. That season, Hawley also won the inaugural Big Bud Shootout, defeating Don "the Snake" Prudhomme in the final, 5.85 to 5.92. At the World Finals, he clinched his first of back-to-back championships, ending the reign of Prudhomme and Beadle, who between them had won all seven championships of the Winston era. Hawley opened his championship defense with a victory at the rain-delayed 1983 Winternationals and followed with wins at the next two races, the Gatornationals and the Southern Nationals in Atlanta. His Mile-High Nationals win that July would be his last as a Funny Car driver. Hawley also dominated the prestigious Super Stock Nationals and the Popular Hot Rodding Championships that year and won the championship by nearly 2,000 points over Candies & Hughes driver Mark Oswald. When the team disbanded following a winless 1984 campaign and Force begged Coil to become his crew chief until Coil finally relented, Hawley opened The Drag Racing School. His 1985 curriculum included classroom and on-track instruction for Alcohol Dragsters and Alcohol Funny Cars, and late the following summer, Super Comp dragsters were added -- all of which Hawley tested himself before turning them over to eager students. The school, now known as Frank Hawley's NHRA Drag Racing School, further expanded to include Super Gas doorslammers and Pro Stock Motorcycles and last year had an enrollment of more than 1,000. In 1996, the school moved to Pomona Raceway, and today it boasts permanent facilities both in Pomona and Gainesville. Among its more than 10,000 graduates are distinguished alumni Dan Pastorini, Whit Bazemore, Larry Dixon, Angelle Seeling, Melanie Troxel, Jerry Toliver, and Matt Hines. In 1988, with the school running smoothly and his desire to compete as strong as ever, Hawley was tabbed to drive Larry Minor's Miller High Life Top Fuel dragster. He was runner-up to Eddie Hill at the 1988 Fallnationals and to Gene Snow at the 1989 Cajun Nationals, then replaced Darrell Gwynn in the Coors Extra Gold dragster following Gwynn's tragic 1990 accident at England's Santa Pod Raceway. In his first race for Gwynn, the 1990 Springnationals, Hawley went all the way, defeating Joe Amato in the final to join what at the time was a very short list of drivers who had won in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. Later that year, Hawley was runner-up in Sonoma and Indy and won in Dallas. The following season, driving for Gwynn's Coors Light team, he didn't win but through a string of semifinal showings finished the season fourth in the Winston point standings. When his driving days were over, Hawley moved to the broadcast booth, where his glib demeanor and articulate manner made him a natural in front of the camera. As a color commentator, he covered NHRA national events for ABC and TNN with credentials few could match. NHRA's Top 50 Drivers will be unveiled on NHRA.com and through the pages of National DRAGSTER, in reverse order throughout the 2001 season, with a schedule leading up to the naming of the top driver at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway on Nov. 11. As NHRA celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2001, it has emerged as one of the most popular spectator sports, highlighted by a $50 million, 24-event, nationally televised tour. The NHRA has developed into the world's largest motorsports sanctioning body, with more than 80,000 members nationwide, and more than 140 member tracks.

NHRA's 50 GREATEST DRIVERS
50. Elmer Trett
49. Richard Tharp
48. Malcolm Durham
47. Billy Meyer
46. Ken Veney
45. Scotty Richardson
44. Dave Schultz
43. Frank Hawley

-NHRA-

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