Bowler to be crowned Division 5 Champ this weekend

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Federal Mogul Dragster driver Bruce Bowler will be crowned the NHRA Division 5 FMD Champion at this weekend's Division 5 Awards Banquet in Overland Park, Kansas. Bowler's road to the championship was no easy feat. ...

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Federal Mogul Dragster driver Bruce Bowler will be crowned the NHRA Division 5 FMD Champion at this weekend's Division 5 Awards Banquet in Overland Park, Kansas.

Bowler's road to the championship was no easy feat. The title chase went down to the wire as Bowler won the championship by winning in the finals of the last race of the year at Firebird Raceway in Phoenix. In fact, many wrote the championship off when Billy Bybee won the final Division 5 [Midwest Division] race in Earlville, Iowa over Bowler. Just as they was about to announce Bybee as the Division 5 Champ, is when Bowler informed NHRA officials that he still had a mathematical shot at the Division title. A long shot, albeit, but a shot.

The Division 5 season kicked off at Heartland Park in Topeka, Kansas. Bowler came into the event fresh off a strong outing at the Checker's-Schuck's-Kraegen Nationals in Phoenix where he recorded a career best elapsed time of 5.33 seconds at a career best 266 miles per hour. Bowler qualified No. 1 at the event with a 5.431 e.t. at 253 mph, and went on to win defeating Bybee in the finals when Bybee's blower belt came off his car slowing him to a 7.41 at only 116 mph. Bowler streaked to the win with a 5.68 at 248.

Bowler said, "Topeka was quite a thrill for us. It was our first event win, in this category. We had a feeling we might do pretty good from how we ran at the Phoenix national event. We ended up running low e.t. and top speed right off the trailer. We had a few problems along the way, and had to replace a motor and some parts. We felt pretty fortunate to win the event. At that point in time, we really didn't feel we had a chance at the championship, our goal was for a top five finish."

Bowler's team then went through a dry spell. At the next race in Brainerd, Minn., parts attrition caused Bowler not to make the call in the semifinal round.

"We ran well in Brainerd, but we kept torching cylinder heads," explained Bowler. "We couldn't make the semifinals because we didn't have any heads left."

From Brainerd, the team moved to their home track, Bandimere Speedway, just outside of Denver, in Morrison, Col. The high altitude puts his injected nitro combination at a disadvantage to his blown alcohol dragster counterparts, the other combination in the class. At the next race in Douglas, Wyo., he faced the same heat and altitude problems.

"In Denver, with the heat and altitude, we just couldn't do much," explained Bowler. "We qualified, but lost in the first round. We went to Douglas and did a little bit better, and won the first round, but lost in the second round to David Wells [defending Division 5 Champ]"

The next race on the Division 5 trail was at the Nebraska Motorplex in Scribner, Neb. Bowler's dragster responded well to the lower altitude conditions by taking the No. 1 qualifying spot with a solid 5.69 at 249 mph on the marginal track. Bowler continued his solid performances all the way to the winner's circle by defeating Billy Bybee in the final round with a low e.t. of the race 5.56 at 245 mph to Bybee's trailing 5.66 at 248 mph.

Bowler said, "By the time we got to Scribner, we had been beaten up pretty bad. We also had the Mile High Nationals in Denver between those races that we didn't do so well at either. The car absolutely loved the change in altitude, and it seemed like it flew threw that race. The car picked up almost every run."

Now for one to understand the mathematical possibilities of the points battle that was transpiring, one must be familiar with the NHRA divisional points system. A racer can claim his/her best five races out of the first eight they attend. After eight, they can still attend races, but it will not affect their final points total. Going into the last race on the Division 5 schedule at Tri-State Raceway in Earlville, Iowa, points leader Bybee had already attended his eight races he could earn points at, while Bowler still had races to claim.

"Going into Earlville, we had sat down at the computer, did our calculations and found that if we could win some races, we could overtake Bybee," explained Bowler. "He had attended so many races early in the year that he essentially blocked himself from earning anymore points. That gave us some encouragement going to that race."

While Bowler qualified well in the No. 2 spot, he lost in the finals to championship hopeful Bybee. Bybee took the win with a 5.63 at 254 mph to Bowler's right there 5.67 at 249 mph. Even with the runner-up finish, Bowler still had a chance. He had two races he could go to out of his division, and he had to win both of them.

"During that event, the announcers said they were going to crown Bybee as the Division Champ," stated Bowler. "That's when we went to them [NHRA] and told them that we could still beat Bybee for the championship if we won a few more races, and they might want to hold off on that announcement."

"With the runner-up in Earlville, that meant we had to win the next two out of division races we attended. If we did anything other than win, we wouldn't have caught him."

>From Earlville, the action became more intense. Bowler's first out of division race would be the final Division 4 [South-Central Division] race in Noble, Okla. Not only would Bowler be fighting for the Division Championship, but was caught in the middle of the fight for the World Championship between the defending World Champ Rick Santos and Division 4 heavy hitter Jay Meyer.

"Noble was a very interesting and challenging race," said Bowler. "Santos qualified No. 1, Meyer No. 2, and we were third. Sunday was a terrible day to race because of a cold front that had just moved through. Eliminations had been delayed for rain."

"We ended up racing Meyer in the second round knowing he had to win the event to keep his world championship hopes alive. The only reason Santos was there was to stop Meyer. Jay knew we had ran better than he did in the round before and that it was going to be a tough race. As we were going down the track, I saw him and knew that I really needed to catch him. We ended up winning the round and after the race I found out that he had redlighted. With that loss, Meyer was then unable to catch Santos for the championship. Santos then raced Troy Buff and beat him, but since there was no chance of Meyer catching him, he bypassed the scales and pulled himself from the race. That reinstated Buff, and we ran well and beat Buff in the final."

The storybook win in Noble left Bowler with one last shot at the Division 5 Championship with the Division 7 closer in Phoenix. Yet another unique turn of events was involved with this race. The O'Reilly Fall Nationals in Dallas which Bowler had qualified well at had been rained out and rescheduled for the same weekend as the Phoenix Division 7 race.

Bowler said, "We had a decision to make: Do we stay in Dallas and try to win the national event, or try our chances in Phoenix for the Division Championship. We, as a team, decided to sacrifice the national event and go for the gold in Phoenix."

"We went there and qualified No. 1 right off the trailer after the first day of qualifying," Bowler continued. "We had a pretty good feeling then that we could do it. That night, Gary Ormsby, Jr., pulled into the track and took the top spot in the first run on Saturday, and put us No. 2. Ormsby was kind of the hottest guy on the trail at the end of the season, and Bybee had came out to Phoenix in an effort to block us from winning, so we knew we had our work cut out. In the first round, we beat out Mike Strasburg, then we beat Dale Carlson on a holeshot in the second round. He ran quicker than we did, but I got to the finish line first because of my better reaction time. Bybee went up against Ormsby in the other semifinal round and lost, so that put him out of the picture. I had Ormsby in the final, so we let it all hang out. My son Scott (team Crew Chief), put some good power in the motor, and we were able to win with a 5.50 to Ormsby's 5.53. It was quite a thrill. We were in a state of shock, and didn't know how to respond to the whole thing. We knew we had won the championship on the very last run of the year."

Bowler is quick to give credit to those who helped him get the title this year.

"We would like to thank Jerry Darien. He sold us two motors from when he had Melanie Troxel driving his A/Fuel Dragster in '99, and that really helped us get where we needed to be. My son Scott, as the crew chief, did a great job tuning and keeping the car together all year long. Our crew, Terry Phillips, Larry Knapp, Mike Bowler and Chris Bowler, they did a phenomenal job this year as well. I also have to thank my wife who was behind us the whole year, and my daughter Mary who helped keep the financial records of the race team up. Without all of them, this wouldn't have happened."

With the 2000 Championship under his belt, Bowler now has his eyes on the 2002 season.

"We certainly are going to try to protect our Championship standing in Division 5," stated Bowler. "In addition to keeping the Division 5 title, our goal is to make a beeline for the World Championship this year. We know now that the car has the capability of winning wherever we go, and we're really going to put the 'full court' press on to take the No. 1 from Rick Santos."

After a story book year like the one he had in 2000, it looks like the sky may be the limit for the Phoenix Motorsports Apparel team in 2001.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Rick Santos , Melanie Troxel , Mike Strasburg , David Wells , Troy Buff