MORRISSON, Colo. - When a competitor is victorious at an NHRA national event, the only suspicion one might have running through their head at that ultimate moment of triumph is, 'Is this the last time I visit the winner's circle?'
Doug Herbert might not admit to thinking the unthinkable, but he had to seriously wonder whether he was destined to ever again grasp the 'Wally' trophy presented to NHRA event winners at the end of the track.
After a stellar 1999 season where Herbert won a career-best four national events, became the first driver to win the lucrative $100,000 Winston No Bull Challenge bonus, and finish a career-best seventh in the Winston standings, the drought began.
After collecting his final win of '99 season in Memphis, Herbert closed out the year in his Snap-on Tools dragster with high hopes for 2000. His hopes were soon extinguished. Herbert failed to make it to any final rounds last year and advanced only as far as the semifinals five times all season. The disappointing performance continued into the first half 2001 as Herbert watched the zenith of the Top Fuel field distance themselves from the rest of the competition.
Finally, 38 races later and 21 months removed from his last win, Herbert reached the Promised Land. He won the special Pep Boys NHRA 50th Anniversary Nationals in Pomona, Calif., ending the streak.
Herbert will seek to continue his winning ways at the 22nd annual Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals, July 19-22 at scenic Bandimere Speedway. The $1.8 million race is the 14th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
"We have been struggling this year," said the 33-year-old Herbert. "Our car has ran pretty good all season. We have been qualifying well all year, near the top, but we couldn't seem to put a win together until (Pomona) because little unlucky things kept happening to us. We would go out and run the second quickest elapsed time of the round, only to be beat by the guy who ran the low e.t. of the round, and stuff like that. What do you do?"
With the win in Southern California being a step in the right direction, Herbert started off the second half of the 2001 season on a positive note that he hopes builds momentum towards a strong finish.
"(Our team) kept thinking to ourselves, 'Is the season half over, or do we have half a season to do well,'" said Herbert. "It's kind of like the glass being half-empty or half-full. We are still in the top ten in the Winston standings and we are aiming for the drivers right ahead of us and I think we can catch them."
Herbert, who flies himself and several others on his private Cesna 425 to NHRA events west of the Mississippi River, can make a statement and a surge among the Top Fuel field.
"We have four races in five weeks (that began with Pomona)," said Herbert, from Cherryville, N.C. "We go to Denver, Seattle and Sonoma (Calif.) - boom, boom, boom. By the time we leave Sonoma, we're going to have an idea of where we stand."