POMONA, Calif. - It definitely wasn't the way Doug Herbert wanted to end his best NHRA season - as a spectator for Sunday's Auto Club Finals at Pomona Raceway - but that's what he was.
Herbert had a tremendous engine explosion during Friday's qualifying session that turned out to be just the beginning of his problems.
His Snap-on Racing Top Fuel dragster experienced fuel system trouble on his second attempt of the race and the engine turned into a fireball a few feet into the run. Herbert received a headache from the concussion and some black and blue toes where a piece of metal hit his foot.
"We really don't know what happened on the run," Herbert said. "We thought the problem might've been in the fuel system, but we aren't sure. The explosion rang my bell pretty good."
Crew chief Larry Frazier and the team readied the new Murf McKinney chassis later Friday night but they had just two qualifying sessions Saturday to figure it out. And, as it turned out, it wasn't enough.
On his first attempt, with a "soft tune-up" to get the car down the track, Herbert stopped the clocks at 4.766 seconds. It was good enough for 16th at the time, but by the time Herbert came around for this final run, he wasn't among the top 16. And his 4.982-second time didn't get him into the field, either.
"The engine was weak on our final qualifying attempt," said Herbert, who had qualified for the first 21 series events this season. "We had to change everything (after Friday night's spectacular engine explosion) and we just didn't have time to sort things out.
"I shut off the engine at about 1000 feet because I knew it wasn't going anywhere. It has been a pretty disappointing weekend," said the dejected driver.
Herbert, nevertheless, enjoyed his finest NHRA season, putting the Snap-on dragster into the winner's circle four times - Houston, Columbus, Ohio, Topeka, Kan., and Memphis - and finishing second twice. He also collected a $100,000 bonus from Winston while placing seventh (1259 points) in the final standings.
The next race is the 2000 Winternationals, Feb. 3-6, at Pomona Raceway.
The race winners: Mike Dunn in Top Fuel, Jerry Toliver in Funny Car, Jeg Coughlin Jr. in Pro Stock. -30-