Topeka: Herbert looks for two straight

TOPEKA, Kan., Sept. 22, 2000 - In his first six races at Heartland Park, Doug Herbert's foremost memory came from an event he was unable to compete in. But he was spectacular. A qualifying crash in 1993 that saw Herbert's car cross the track,...

TOPEKA, Kan., Sept. 22, 2000 - In his first six races at Heartland Park, Doug Herbert's foremost memory came from an event he was unable to compete in. But he was spectacular.

A qualifying crash in 1993 that saw Herbert's car cross the track, bounce over the guard wall and knock down an unoccupied TV stand destroyed the racecar but didn't hurt him. He stayed qualified but couldn't answer the race day bell.

Call his seventh stop lucky. It sticks out in the Snap-on Racing Top Fuel driver's memory like a million-dollar diamond in a bag of baubles. He braved the elements - a cold October wind drove wind-chill temperatures into the 20s and a cold rain eventually postponed completion of the race one day - and the drivers to capture his third NHRA Winston Series win of 1999.

So his first priority as he returns to Heartland Park for the Advance Auto Parts Nationals, Sept. 29-Oct. 1, is to successfully defend his title. Should he do so, it would be the highlight of an otherwise uneventful 2000 campaign.

Herbert is winless thus far after 18 events and is ninth in points with 765. He trails eighth-place Bob Vandergriff by 13 points, and he's six rounds out of seventh place with 20 rounds remaining. He did enjoy one of his best outings this season at the Keystone Nationals (Sept. 17 at Reading, Pa.), qualifying sixth and reaching the semifinals.

"We had the same engine in the car all weekend and it ran great," Herbert said. "The only problem we had was in the clutch department, so I've been talking to (crew chief Larry) Frazier quite a bit about that. Hopefully we can figure out what our ailment is and get it fixed. We'd better get it fixed if we're going to win a race this year. We need to start soon and there wouldn't be any better place to start than Topeka."

Herbert ran 4.613 and 4.658 during qualifying at Reading. On race day, he had a few breaks go his way, but he didn't care. David Grubnic smoked the tires against him in the first round and the parachute on Melanie Troxel's car inadvertently deployed on the burn out, giving Herbert a solo into the semifinals, where he squared off against Gary Scelzi. Herbert left the starting line first (.472 to .502) but Scelzi soon went by on the way to a 4.634 at 308.57. Herbert shut off the engine early and coasted to the line at 5.463 at 172.47 mph.

"I shut it off soon after Scelzi passed me because I knew I couldn't catch him," Herbert noted. "We just didn't want to take a risk and maybe hurt the engine."

Herbert didn't have many engine problems at Topeka last year, but he remembers, "Our performance wasn't as stellar as some of the other drivers, but we kept going down the track and winning rounds."

He was consistent, however, running 4.60-second times. Herbert stunned Tony Schumacher, who went on to win the season championship, in the semifinals, then beat Joe Amato in the finals.

It's a memory Herbert savors, and one he wouldn't mind reliving this time around.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , David Grubnic , Melanie Troxel , Bob Vandergriff