Oswald makes stellar return to competition with quarterfinal finish in Chicago
JOLIET, Ill. (June 8, 2008) - For long-time drag racing fans, former world champion Mark Oswald's return to competition in this weekend's NHRA Route 66 Nationals in Joliet, Ill. was like a return to days gone by. Round-by-round, the "Ice Man" drove the A&R Transport Dodge Charger like he'd been in the seat every day in the past eleven years - not tuning and working behind the scenes.
Oswald was tapped late Thursday night by Mike Ashley to drive the car because Ashley was once again called into action by his company, Lend America, and had to miss the race. Although Oswald hadn't driven competitively since 1997, he took the challenge knowing that the car he was getting into was one of the best in the field.
"Naturally when I got the call on Thursday night, I was nervous because I haven't made any runs this year at all and a very few number last year. As we did better and better throughout the weekend, I was fine," Oswald said.
"Honestly, that was a lot of fun," he said.
Oswald worked his way through qualifying, delivering consistently quick laps, and ultimately took the No. 2 qualifying spot, just behind his teammate, Melanie Troxel, in the car that he normally is tuning side-by-side with Brian Corradi.
On Sunday morning, Oswald was paired first round with Jack Beckman, and in a classic duel, Oswald reeled him in quickly and took the stripe by a close margin, 4.822/319.52 to Beckman's 4.895/316.82.
Second round, Oswald faced off agains reigning world champion Tony Pedregon, and the two champs delivered a crowd-pleasing show. Pedregon had a slight advantage off the starting line, and that proved to be all he needed, as Oswald hustled to catch him at the stripe, barely missing him and the win. Both drivers turned in matching 4.88's - Pedregon with a 4.882/297.61 to Oswald's slightly slower 4.884/316.08.
"That's such a good car, incredibly competitive, and this Gotham City team - we've got such a good team over here. It was a great race with Tony, and we came up just a little short," he said.
"Actually, I was really rooting for Melanie, because to be perfectly honest with you, we all know that we use this car to support her, and we know we've got to get back into the top ten, but, I'm just proud of the whole team on both cars," he added.
Oswald said he'd enjoy another chance to drive, although it's not his ultimate goal.
"You never know with [team co-owner] Mike Ashley whether I'll be out driving again or not. I've got to take my hat off to him and Roger Burgess, they've just put together a great bunch of people. And that's what makes these cars go.
Oswald added, "I know it had to be a thrill for our local sponsor, A&R Transport, I know it was for me. They've been supporting us for so long, and for us to do well at their hometown race right by their truck terminal, and PneuTech, their parent company - I think it was great all the way around.