Howard clinches Division Championship despite horrific crash

NOBLE, Okla. - NHRA Federal Mogul Dragster pilot Shelly Howard had a weekend that was memorable, yet one that she would like to soon forget as well, during this past weekend's final Division 4 Federal Mogul Drag Racing Series race at Thunder Valley Raceway Park just outside of Oklahoma City. With early exits by close competitors Jay Meyer and Troy Buff, Howard's bid for the 2001 Division 4 Federal Mogul Dragster Championship was sealed, but came after she suffered a horrific top-end crash during Saturday evening's final qualifying session.

Howard, a registered nurse from Tulsa, Okla., encountered heavy tireshake during Saturday's final qualifying session. The heavy tireshake was heavy enough to break the car's wing struts (frame that holds up the wing that provides downforce), causing the wing to fall back. It is believed that the broken wingstrut punctured a tire just before the finish line, sending Howard out of control. After veering hard left, the car came back to impact the right wall nearly head on. The car then broke in half, as designed, just behind the driver's compartment. The car slid to a stop along the right guardrail, where NHRA safety officials were quickly on the scene. Howard remained conscious throughout the wreck, and was able to walk on her own once being removed from the wreckage. Besides a few bruises, Howard's only significant injury from her 250+ mph crash was a torn tendon in her right hand.

"We're not really sure what happened," said Howard. "We know we had a problem with the rear wing. It went to the neutral position, then went upwards. Towards the finish line, it made an immediate left turn, took out the cones, then made an immediate right turn. I tried to correct it, but there was really nothing I could do about it. I'm disappointed it tore the car up, but I'm fine."

On Sunday, the weekend took a turn for the better, as her closest competitor, Jay Meyer lost in the first round to Troy Buff, who in turn lost to Mark Hentges in the semifinals, clinching Howard her first career Divisional Championship.

"I'm really pleased with the year we have had," reflected Howard. "It has had it's highs and lows, but all in all has been a good year. I'm really happy about winning the Division Championship, it has been a goal of ours for a long time. I would like to thank Tom Conway, our tuning consultant, my crew chief Mark Gardner, crewmembers Joe Monden, Rick Meyer, Shane Conway, and my husband Paul, all of whom have been solidly behind me all year. Sponsors like, PPG, Valvoline, NGK, St. Moritz Machine and Broken Arrow Powder Coatings have made a season like this possible for us. We will build a new car over the offseason, and I'm looking forward to next year."

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