The 50th U.S Nationals: Part 4 of 9

The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series presents the fourth in a series of nine U.S. Nationals special reports as the NHRA celebrates its 50th Anniversary of the famed event. Part 4: Zimmerman has perfect U.S. Nationals attendance for 50 ...

The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series presents the fourth in a series of nine U.S. Nationals special reports as the NHRA celebrates its 50th Anniversary of the famed event.

Part 4: Zimmerman has perfect U.S. Nationals attendance for 50 years.

*NHRA Editor's note: The 2004 NHRA POWERade season is underway and all eyes are focused on two things: POWERade championships and the 50th anniversary of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, held during Labor Day weekend at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

GLENDORA, Calif. - An NHRA POWERade Drag Racing event is about more than just the racing that takes place on the quarter-mile strip between the water box at the starting line and the top end are where competitors get out of the cars and curse the loss or celebrate the victory.

Held in 20 major cities across the United States, the POWERade Series is about racing, sure. But it is also about the people. From its earliest beginnings 53 years ago, the National Hot Rod Association brought people together for one purpose - to provide safer racing conditions to anyone who wanted to compete with their vehicles.

The Nationals was held in 1955 in Great Bend, Kan., and its goal was to bring a nation of people who wanted to drag race together in one city. That same race - now called the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals - remains the most prestigious event of every season, 50 years later.

One person has seen 49 previous U.S. Nationals. And he will be there, is his usual spot, when the first pair of cars fire their engines at No. 50.

Darrell Zimmerman has perfect attendance at the U.S. Nationals.

Not only has Zimmerman, known as "Zimm" around the pits, been to every race, but he has played a role in each of them too.

In 1955 Zimm brought his '55 Chevy convertible to Kansas, hoping to compete for the victory in B Stock. When he lined up to have his car checked out by the tech officials, Zimm saw what seemed like an endless line of cars in front of him. So he walked up to help.

"I walked up and said I could help tech the cars and they put me to work right away," Zimm said. "When all of the cars were done, I asked if someone else would tech my car. I didn't feel comfortable checking out my own vehicle. They said, 'You're a racer? We thought (NHRA founder) Wally Parks sent you over to help.' But I didn't know what they were talking about. I was just trying to help out."

In 1956, Zimmerman raced again. In 1957, he received a phone call from Parks, asking if he would like to join the NHRA team and work the national events as a tech official. Since, Zimmerman has worked in nearly every position at the track, from tech, to staging to his current position in race control.

Graham Light, senior vice president of racing operations, said Zimmerman has become a legend at the track.

"Zimm has spent a majority of his life nurturing the growth of this sport," Light said. "He was a racer in 1955, he'll be working in race control in 2004 and he's been to every U.S. Nationals event in between. It's quite an accomplishment, to say the least."

Zimmerman credits his Iron Man dedication to the U.S. Nationals to two very simple things: "My love of the automobile and the love of all the people involved."

"The U.S. Nationals was the first event, and since then it has always been the biggest and most prestigious event," Zimm said. "It's an honor to be a participant, a worker or a spectator of the U.S. Nationals because it's the Grand Daddy of them all."

You might think that his runner-up finish in 1955 would be a highlight, but not in Zimm's personal opinion. His opinion, by the way, should matter a little more when it comes to memorable moments - he's seen them all in person.

"I think one of the greatest moments was when Pete Robinson won with a small block Chevy," Zimm said. "No one gave him a chance at winning, but no one came close to beating him."

Retirement might be an option someday, but missing the U.S. Nationals isn't an option.

"If I wasn't racing, I was working the U.S. Nationals," Zimm said. "If I am not working it someday, then I will still be there. I've always been there."

In 2004 -- the 50th anniversary of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals -- more than 1,000 competitors will compete for a share of the event purse, estimated at more than $2.6 million. ESPN and its family of networks will provide more than 10 hours of coverage of the U.S. Nationals over three days. Professional winners will be showcased in four different categories in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series -- Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Bike -- while seven sportsman winners will be crowned as part of the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. Additionally, the eight best Funny Car drivers from the season will compete in a bonus all-star event, the Skoal Showdown, and the winner will earn $100,000.

-nhra-

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