Atlanta Doug Herbert Top Fuel Preview

HERBERT EMERGING AS TOP FUEL CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER COMMERCE, Ga. -- Doug Herbert can think of 100,000 reasons why he's having the time of his life in NHRA Top Fuel competition this season. The veteran driver, who earned the ...

HERBERT EMERGING AS TOP FUEL CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER COMMERCE, Ga. -- Doug Herbert can think of 100,000 reasons why he's having the time of his life in NHRA Top Fuel competition this season. The veteran driver, who earned the lucrative $100,000 Winston No Bull Challenge bonus at Houston's O'Reilly Nationals last month by earning his first victory in over six years, is making the strongest charge at a Winston championship in his 10 year career. The toughest thing for Herbert and his Snap-on Tools crew has been coming back to earth following their record-payday performance. "It was unbelieveable," said Herbert, from Cherryville, N.C. "I won't be forgetting about that for a long time. That was probably the best weekend of racing that I've ever had, and I've been racing for a long time. As good as that weekend was, now we have to start looking ahead and move on. I think that's what happened to us at Dallas when we lost in the first round. Maybe we were thinking about what a great time we had in Houston and didn't focus enough on Dallas. If anything, losing in the first round was a wake-up call." Herbert hopes his team can answer that call with a victory at the 19th annual Advance Auto Parts NHRA Southern Nationals, May 13-16, at Atlanta Dragway. The $1.6 million race is the seventh of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. Herbert says the key to racing at the Georgia quarter-mile is to expect the unexpected. "The thing about Atlanta is whatever you're expecting is probably not going to happen," Herbert said. "Success there depends on the ability to go there and adjust to the changing weather conditions. I'm fortunate because Dick LaHaie is one of the best at tuning for the weather." In fact, the addition of LaHaie -- the 1987 NHRA Winston Top Fuel champion and crew chief during Scott Kalitta's championship seasons in 1994-95 -- as crew chief has made a huge difference in Herbert's operation. This year Herbert has maintained his top five position in the point standings and appears to be headed to a career-best finish. "Dick and I get along real good," Herbert said. "He's a real intense guy. He expects me to drive perfect and the car to work perfect. There's a lot of pressure on everybody, but we don't want any mistakes. Dick is real aggressive and very good at working out all the bugs. We're confident." Herbert hired LaHaie at the beginning of the season. They have been one of a few Top Fuel teams to master the new five-disc clutch setup. The combination, which allows teams to better distribute power to the wheels throughout the quarter-mile, has produced career-bests in elapsed time (4.550 seconds) and speed (321.65 mph) for Herbert. "It's like with everything else, there's a learning curve and you have to figure it out," Herbert said. "Fortunately we started working with the five-disc clutch last season and LaHaie has an advantage because he's good at adapting to all the changes that goes along with the clutch." Herbert, who won four Top Fuel championships in IHRA competition in the early 1990s, says it's fun to be back in the thick of a championship race, even if it's early in the season. "We just want to be able to go out and contend for a championship," Herbert said. "It's still too early to start thinking about winning the championship. But as far as getting in position to contend for the championship, I think we can."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Scott Kalitta , Dick LaHaie