The elusive "Wally" - profile

Elusive 'Wally' biggest driving force in NHRA Drag Racing. GLENDORA, Calif. - At more than one-foot tall with a classy brass finish, he stands on a solid wooden platform and is the most sought after man in the world of NHRA Drag Racing. Be ...

Elusive 'Wally' biggest driving force in NHRA Drag Racing.

GLENDORA, Calif. - At more than one-foot tall with a classy brass finish, he stands on a solid wooden platform and is the most sought after man in the world of NHRA Drag Racing.

Be warned: He is elusive. Only the very best can catch him. Affectionately known as a "Wally" by the thousands of NHRA competitors who seek it, the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event trophy has taken on a life of its own over the years, and remains one of the single biggest motivators for high-performance enthusiasts from the smallest one car garage in Kennebunkport, Maine, to the sport's most sophisticated center of technology and engineering in Yorba Linda, Calif.

More than 1,100 NHRA competitors will try to win one of 11 available Wallys during the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Aug. 29-Sept. 2, at Indianapolis Raceway Park. The $2.5 million race, drag racing's most prestigious affair, is the 17th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

It is the ultimate quest for every NHRA drag racer, from weekend warrior sportsman competitors to the 6,000 horsepower gladiators in Top Fuel. When presented with a Wally in the winner's circle, all racers cling to it with great passion because they know there's no guarantee they'll ever win another one.

"It's obviously an award all the drivers covet," said Tony Schumacher, who has claimed five Wallys during his career, including one at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in 2000. "Not so much for what it is, as for what it represents. I'd like to grab a bunch of them before I'm done with my career."

Such is the goal of every driver. However, many have spent countless hours and thousands of dollars chasing the dream, only to be denied time and time again.

For most drivers the chase becomes an obsession. "It's as real as a glass of water but as hard to get as a million dollars," explained Steve Johnson, a veteran Pro Stock Bike racer who has been in hot pursuit of his first Wally for nearly two decades. "It represents way more than a champion. I don't have the vocabulary or the words to describe it."

Johnson, who is 0-for-5 in career final round appearances, can visualize the moment when he will finally hoist his first Wally high in the sky. He's replayed it a million times in his dreams. He has a winner's circle kit prepared, complete with several bottles of champagne and team hats with his current sponsor, K&N Filters. He even has a special custom built cabinet all ready to house the trophy at his home.

"When I am finally fortunate enough to win my first Wally I know it's going to be like one moment in time when the world will stop," Johnson said. "I've been after it for too long. I actually bought a small glass case with a mirror behind it to display it in when I finally get it. I know it's going to happen one day."

Funny Car driver Tim Wilkerson has already experienced the emotion of clutching the NHRA's prestigious trophy. He earned his one and only Wally during a magical day at his home track near Chicago, when he defeated 11-time Funny Car champion John Force in a wild final round.

"When I won my Wally it was the coolest thing because my car wasn't running worth a darn," said Wilkerson. "I beat a lot of really good cars that day and then beat Force in a tire-smoking battle. The team really needed that one in the worst way. That was a very special moment that I will remember forever."

It is ironic that he defeated Force, who owns the most Wallys in the history of the NHRA -- 123 to be exact, not counting his 11 series championship Wallys, which are a bit taller than the national event version and feature a golden finish. Force's national event trophy collection includes his record 103, in addition to the 20 earned by Force Racing team drivers Tony Pedregon and Gary Densham.

"When you go to John Force's shop and see all of his Wallys you get pretty envious," said Wilkerson, who added with a grin, "I was at his shop picking up parts one time and was thinking about taking 40 of them out of the backdoor to my truck."

Force, who is quick to downplay the fact that he has the most on his mantle, says the trophy represents all the hard work and emotion he has put into the sport during the last three decades.

"The Wally trophies all mean a lot to me, every one that I've won over the years," Force said. "I just hope I can win some more. I think it means more because it's not 'just' a trophy that you'd go to a trophy story and buy. It's something that's identified with NHRA drag racing. Most of mine are at the shop, but I always carry one with me on the bus. When I look at them, I know I've accomplished something in the sport."

THE WALLY FILE
* HEIGHT: 18-inches
* WEIGHT: 12-pounds
* COMPOSITE: Standard metal mix, including zinc and aluminum, solid walnut base and antique brass plating. Championship Wallys are slightly larger in size and feature gold plating.
* AGE: Wallys have been awarded to NHRA winners for 33 years, starting in the 1969 season.
* PRODUCED: Crafted exclusively for NHRA by American Trophy Inc., Chicago

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Gary Densham , Tim Wilkerson , Steve Johnson