ROCKINGHAM, NC. -When Charlie Hunt Motorsports announced that 27-year-old Gene Wilson would be taking over the driving duties of their Mercury Cougar in Sunoco Race Fuels Pro Stock competition for the 2001 IHRA season, the news, while interesting,...
ROCKINGHAM, NC. -When Charlie Hunt Motorsports announced that 27-year-old Gene Wilson would be taking over the driving duties of their Mercury Cougar in Sunoco Race Fuels Pro Stock competition for the 2001 IHRA season, the news, while interesting, raised relatively few eyebrows amongst his fellow racers. After all, very rarely do new teams make much of an impact, especially in the early going.
Rarely, but not always. For Wilson, and new crew chief Gary Henry, it was immediately obvious that the alliance was a perfect combination of the right people and the right equipment. Soon, that fact would also become painfully obvious to the rest of the "mountain motor" clan.
Wilson, of Canton, Georgia, had finished 6th in the championship points pursuit in 2000, and was confident of a better finish this time around; but it's a safe bet that in his most optimistic imaginings he never visualized the season that lay ahead. It didn't take him, or the racing community, long to get a glimpse of his future domination, however. At the season opening Holley Spring Nationals at Rockingham Dragway, Wilson's power and considerable driving skills were on display as he cut a razor sharp light, and rode the holeshot to victory over Tom Lee in the final, despite his opponent's record-shattering 6.552 elapsed time. And that was just the beginning.
Two more equally impressive victories followed, and the Don Smith Ford-sponsored Cougar was suddenly being taken very seriously, with the word "unbeatable" starting to make its way through the camps of many of Wilson's shell-shocked opposition. Parts breakage in the final interrupted the win streak at the fourth event, the Amalie Oil Summer nationals in Cordova, IL, but the Hunt team regrouped quickly, and reeled off three more wins in the next four events. For a man who had never won a national event in his career, he was racking them up with deadly consistency, and building a nearly untouchable points lead in the process.
Wilson gives much of the credit for his success this year to the horsepower provided by engine builder Jon Kaase, a well-built chassis from Jerry Haas and the tuning skills of Henry. "It's not a single thing that has put us in the position we are in currently," explained Wilson. "It's a combination of everyone and everything working together as one unit. All the pieces must fit and work to support each other. That's the case with this team - we work hard to support and compliment one another."
Closing in on Bob Glidden's eight win record, and his first Pro Stock championship, Wilson is looking forward to this weekend's 3rd Annual CARQUEST Autumn Nationals, being contested back where the whole thing started, Rockingham Dragway. Despite shooting for win number seven, Wilson is careful not to anticipate the season's potential rewards. "If we can just continue to make good runs and not make any dumb mistakes, we might end up in pretty good shape," he said. "Right now, though, we're going to concentrate on the twelve rounds of competition that we have left to go. And if we're lucky enough to win the whole deal after the dust settles, the credit has to go to the whole Charlie Hunt Motorsports team, because everyone involved has worked so hard to put me in a great race car week after week, all season long."