Richmond Bob Gilbertson seeks more magic

DINWIDDIE, Va. - It's been less than a week and Bob Gilbertson still can't believe it. The Gastonia, N.C. Funny Car competitor, a journeyman in the sport in every respect, lived every independent team owner's dream at Houston Raceway Park on ...

DINWIDDIE, Va. - It's been less than a week and Bob Gilbertson still can't believe it.

The Gastonia, N.C. Funny Car competitor, a journeyman in the sport in every respect, lived every independent team owner's dream at Houston Raceway Park on April 16.

Unknown, unsponsored and unrecognized by most fans and even many of his peers, Gilbertson - a guy who's never even clocked a four-second run down the quarter-mile -- did the unthinkable.

He won.

And he did it against the toughest odds imaginable.

While his long journey to his first career victory was filled with many obstacles, including mechanical miscues, raging engine fires, cost-cutting budget concerns and a long list of DNQs (did not qualify), nothing quite compares to the journey he made that weekend in Baytown, Texas.

Starting with round one, he faced the best of the best in the 6,000 horsepower category. And one by one, he knocked them off, proving on that day that he was in fact, the best.

First he recorded a career-best 5.023-second elapsed time to defeat No. 1 qualifier and Funny Car kingpin John Force. He then advanced to the semifinals when the series' most recent winner, Jim Epler, tripped the starting beam too early. Ron Capps then crossed the center line in NHRA legend Don Prudhomme's entry. In the final, Gilbertson's coach crossed the finish line just before midnight, avoiding the pumpkin curse, and defeated the category's current heavyweight champ, WWF's Jerry Toliver.

It was the first time a No. 16 Funny Car qualifier won since 1997, when Tom Hoover pulled the rare feat at Columbus, Ohio's National Trail Raceway. More importantly, his victory offers hope to all teams, no matter the operating budget. In drag racing there are no guarantees - if you can qualify in the top 16, you can win.

"Unbelievable, that's the only word I can think of," said Gilbertson, 45, who by virtue of his victory becomes one of the favorites for the sixth annual Moto1.net NHRA Nationals presented by Chevrolet, April 27-30, at Virginia Motorsports Park. The $1.7 million race is the sixth of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

"It was all like a dream," said Gilbertson, driver of the Trick Tank Pontiac Firebird. "Lady Luck was on our side. When you have her, it doesn't matter what else happens. I didn't even know what (numbers) I ran, who I raced, nothing. It doesn't matter though, because we won."

His victory elevates him into the Winston top 10 for the first time in his career. Prior to Houston, Gilbertson was 15th overall in the standings, after posting consecutive first round losses in the first four events. "I run this deal out of my own pocket," Gilbertson said. "If we had some money, we'd be dangerous. We're sixth in points now and we think we have an advantage coming up to some of the warm weather tracks. Who knows what's going to happen."

For now, he simply hopes the dream continues at VMP.

"I'm thinking we're going to kick some butt here the rest of the year," said Gilbertson. "Maybe we can go to Richmond and be the No. 16 qualifier again and do the same thing all over. That's all we can hope for. Take it a round at a time and give everything we got."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Gilbertson , Jim Epler , Ron Capps , John Force , Don Prudhomme , Jerry Toliver