Rob Wendland Named Crew Chief For Johnny Gray’s Service Central Funny Car
Rob Wendland, involved in drag racing since the age of eight, has been promoted to crew chief on the Service Central Racing Team Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car driven by Johnny Gray out of Don Schumacher Racing.
Wendland, 45, who had been the assistant crew chief on the team since its late 2010 formation, takes the tuning reigns beginning with next weekend’s Joliet (Ill.) race from veteran Lee Beard, who will remain with DSR in an engineering-consulting role for the seven-team organization.
According to Don Schumacher, “It was time to make a change on the Service Central car. The team was not performing with the consistency we believed it should at this point in the season. We think Rob’s overall knowledge and work with this team can provide just what is needed to get it to the next level.”
As the season approaches the Countdown to 1 playoffs, Gray holds the 10th, and final, spot for post-season qualification. The performance in the first 10 races of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series campaign has included a final and a semifinals appearance, as well as two number-two qualifiers, but a pair of DNQs, including the last race, tempered the positive achievements.
Wendland believes the car has unrealized performance potential.
“We’ve evaluated the car and, with the help of Rahn Tobler and John Collins (crew chief and assistant crew chief on Jack Beckman’s Funny Car), we’ve made many changes, just about everything but the driver, mirroring the setup of their car and the NAPA car. This will allow us to share information and data amongst all three cars.
“This means we can feed off those cars, making this a true team effort and allows us to utilize the expertise of guys like Rahn, John and Tim (Richards, NAPA crew chief) and all the talented DSR staff. This is what teammates do and I think you’ll see the difference right away in Chicago.
“I think you’ll see the kind of turn-a-round with this car you’ve seen with the NAPA car since Tim took over (five races ago, culminating in a three-place jump in the standings after a number-two qualifier and runner up in the last race).”
Wendland relishes the opportunity in a career, more precisely, a life in drag racing which began when he worked the bleach box and DHT line at a Kansas drag strip.
“I went with a neighbor to the nearby track,” said the Lawrence, Kan., native. “I would fill the bleach box with water for the burnout then spray the glue at the DHT line for the drivers to do a dry hop. As I continued to hang around, I did more and more things with the cars, going from cleaning oil pans through building cars.
“I’ve worked on every type of hot rod over the years with numerous great racers, tuners and fabricators, including having my own speed shop, been a car chief on a nitro Funny Car, and drove a top alcohol dragster in 1999 for Mike Troxel.”
He finished sixth in his rookie – and lone driving- season with four national-event victories, including Chicago.
“I got a hell of a lot of respect for drivers from that experience,” he said. “I used to think a driver should just suck it up and drive through tire shake, for example. Well, after driving, I called many of the guys who had driven for me and apologized about my attitude.”
He originally joined DSR in 2009, coming over with Antron Brown and the Matco Tools Top Fuel dragster team, and then spent 2010 with different Funny Car operations before returning in November 2010 as the Service Central team was formed.