Columbus: Doug Herbert looking to turn top fuel hat trick

KIRKERSVILLE, Ohio - Doug Herbert is more than ready to return to his drag racing sanctuary. For the 30-year-old driver from Cherryville, N.C., that place has been in, of all places, central Ohio. Herbert earned his first victory at National...

KIRKERSVILLE, Ohio - Doug Herbert is more than ready to return to his drag racing sanctuary. For the 30-year-old driver from Cherryville, N.C., that place has been in, of all places, central Ohio. Herbert earned his first victory at National Trail Raceway in 1993. Last year, Herbert scored another victory there. This season he hopes to erase the memories of a less than spectacular first half of the season by scoring a third victory at the at the quarter-mile track located just east of Ohio's capital city of Columbus during the 36th annual Pontiac Excitement Nationals presented by Summit Racing, June 15-18. The $1.9 million race is the 11th of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. "That's a pretty happy place for me to go back to," said Herbert, a five-time Top Fuel winner on the NHRA circuit. "I'd sure like to be able to pick up where we left off there last year. We had everything figured out and were running pretty good that day." Indeed. Herbert defeated Jim Head, Kenny Bernstein and Gary Scelzi before topping Bob Vandergriff in the final round. He used a string of consistent 4.60-second runs to claim the event title. His efforts there were part of his best season ever in NHRA drag racing. He scored four victories in six final rounds in 1999 to post a seventh place finish in the Winston point standings. Herbert, who defeated Bernstein for the victory here in '93, says it takes patience and stamina to do well at National Trail Raceway, one of the most historic tracks on the NHRA schedule. Past Top Fuel winners include Don Prudhomme, Shirley Muldowney, Don Garlits, Frank Hawley and Gary Beck, among others. "It's always hot there and the track can be a little slippery at times," he said. "I think the heat just wears guys out. I guess over the years I've gained a lot of experience running on slippery surfaces in some other racing circuits, so I'm not afraid to try some things that others might not." This season Herbert has been searching for consistency. With crew chief Larry Frazier turning the wrenches, the Snap-on Tools dragster can brag of only two semifinal appearances. There have been five first round losses. Two of the most recent ones - in Dallas and Chicago - were totally uncalled for, Herbert said. At Dallas he fouled at the start, giving Rhonda Hartman-Smith the easy victory. In Chicago he had the quicker elapsed time, but was edged out at the finish by Doug Kalitta, who posted a near-miracle .429 reaction time to get the victory on a holeshot. "I had total brain failure in Dallas, and at Chicago Kalitta took a pretty good guess on me, that's all I can say about that one," Herbert said. "We just haven't had any racing luck this year. It seems like it has taken us a pretty good while to get up to speed." Despite his racing luck, his car's performance at the last two events have given the team a good amount of optimism heading into the second half of the season.

"I think we've found the perfect tune-up for the car, now we just have to make it repeat on a consistent basis," Herbert said. "Eventually, we'll get it to where we want it to be." He just hopes eventually comes sooner, rather than later. "We're running out of time on it this year," Herbert said. "If we're going to gain some momentum and get in the points battle we need to start at Columbus. The clock is ticking. Everybody knows we have to get on the ball and get going."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Doug Herbert , Kenny Bernstein , Rhonda Hartman-Smith , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Don Garlits , Don Prudhomme , Frank Hawley