ENGLISHTOWN, N.J., May 15, 2000 - To the average person in the United States, comprehending one-tenth of a second is probably as easy to understand as the speed of light.
Well, Doug Herbert isn't your average American. At least not when it comes to tenths of a second. (And he might have some perspective on the speed of light - 186,000 miles per second - although his best on-track speed is 321.65 mph.)
As a professional drag racer, the fortunes of Herbert and his Snap-on Racing team sometimes hinge on as little as one-thousandth of a second. But it's the tenth of a second he covets.
"What our car's performance really needs right now is about one-tenth of a second," said Herbert. How much difference would one-tenth of a second make?
In this case, one-tenth of a second improvement would put Herbert into the thick of the NHRA Top Fuel point chase. As it stands, the Cherryville, N.C., driver heads for the Spring SuperNationals, Friday through Sunday at Raceway Park, in eighth place with 329 points.
His race-day times have been primarily in the mid-4.70-second range when it has been requiring at least mid-4.60-second elapsed times to win races.
Herbert believes crew chief Larry Frazier and the team are getting closer to their goal. "We've made some changes to the fuel system that have helped," he said. "Sometimes when you do that, you go backwards, but we didn't. The new flow bench we built at the shop has definitely helped us in that area.
"Now we have some clutch stuff we want to try, so we're going to start working the clutch with the fuel system," Herbert added. "If it all works, the car should run good."
Herbert was runner-up to Joe Amato during the rain-delayed race at Englishtown last year, so he knows the track is very reliable.
"The Englishtown track is so good you can't help but run well there," he said. "It is very smooth. We need to be ready to run good, especially in the (Friday) night session.
"Actually, we've been making changes to the tune-up over the last couple races and have been going in the right direction. Frazier keeps trying different combinations."
Because this event is the first of three in three weeks - stops at Dallas and Joliet, Ill., follow - Herbert is hoping the additional changes uncover that elusive one-tenth of a second.
"It would be nice to run in the 4.60s consistently this week - and we just might," Herbert added. "That would build momentum for the next two races."
Herbert's second Snap-on Racing dragster, driven by Jim Bailey, also is entered at Englishtown. Bailey, who is competing for the IHRA title, has qualified at the three NHRA events he has attended, including the last two at Richmond, Va., and Atlanta.
"We are basically testing his car for the next IHRA race (June 2-4 at Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada) and are learning what it wants, too," said Herbert, who was pleased with Bailey's 4.78-second time in the first round at Atlanta. "We need to have that car go down the track so they can be ready to go for the race win in Canada."