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HERBERT'S SECOND STRAIGHT WIN PUTS SNAP-ON DRAGSTER TEAM INTO CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENTION GOING INTO FALL NATIONALS DALLAS - Doug Herbert finds himself in an unaccustomed position - that of championship contender - with only three races...

HERBERT'S SECOND STRAIGHT WIN PUTS SNAP-ON DRAGSTER TEAM INTO CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENTION GOING INTO FALL NATIONALS

DALLAS - Doug Herbert finds himself in an unaccustomed position - that of championship contender - with only three races remaining in the 1999 NHRA season.

Herbert is on a two-race Winston Series win streak that has catapulted him from 10th to fourth place in points and made him a legitimate challenger for the coveted crown. He won the rain-plagued AutoZone Nationals (Oct. 10 at Memphis) six days after driving the Snap-on dragster to victory in the rain-delayed Advance Auto Parts Nationals at Topeka, Kan.

"We've done very well in the last two races," Herbert said while understating his performance. "But we have back-to-back races coming in Dallas and Houston and we are going to have to pick up our performance in order to win at those tracks. We'll need to run in the 4.50s for sure."

The O'Reilly Fall Nationals, Oct. 22-24, at the Texas Motorplex is the first of the two events, followed by the Supernationals, Oct. 29-31, at Houston.

Once thought out of the title picture after slipping from second to 10th, Herbert has rallied behind veteran tuner Larry Frazier, who moved up from co-crew chief with the departure of Dick LaHaie in August. "Frazier and the crew have worked very hard between races," said Herbert. "We wanted all our equipment to be ready for the next two races. Everything has to be in tip-top shape to run back-to-back races like that, so that's what we're doing."

Herbert, 75 points behind pacesetter Tony Schumacher (1221 to 1146), is one of five drivers still harboring title aspirations. Joe Amato is second (1201) and Gary Scelzi third (1155).

"The win streak has been great. I can't believe it," added Herbert. "We are in a position where we have to take advantage of winning rounds."

In simple mathematics, Herbert trails Schumacher by four rounds with 12 (including the AAA Finals, Nov. 14 at Pomona, Calif.) remaining. That's not bad, going into Topeka, Herbert was eight rounds behind. However, the Cherryville, N.C. driver was as high as second place after winning at Columbus, Ohio, in June.

He went into a slump, falling in the first round seven consecutive times, before he and Frazier turned around the Snap-on dragster's fortunes by winning the International Hot Rod Association Autumn Nationals at Rockingham, N.C., the week before the Topeka event. "Frazier had some things he wanted to check out, so we ran at Rockingham," Herbert said, "and we've kept it going."

"We always thought we had a good chance of winning the NHRA title," Herbert remarked, even though his name wasn't mentioned with other drivers in championship contention. "I thought it was kind of funny. They talked everybody else except me and that did kind of surprised me, especially when we were No. 2 in points."

Herbert beat Amato in the Topeka finals after disposing of Schumacher in the semifinals. At Memphis, he waited through more than two days of rain, qualified 13th then marched through the field, beating Jim Head in a tire-smoking title round with his slowest run of eliminations, 5.635 seconds.

    "Some days you're the windshield," Herbert said, "and some days you're
the bug.  In Memphis we were the windshield.

"When the cars left the line, the front end of my car came up pretty good, so I pulled on the brake a little because I don't like it to go up too high. About the time the front wheels hit the ground it started smoking the tires. I was expecting Jim to come sailing by me any second but, fortunately, it never happened. I tell you what, going down the track in five seconds seemed like it was an hour."

He defeated Doug Kalitta (4.727, 304.60 mph) in the first round, Eddie Hill in round two (4.750, 300.86) and Terry Mullins in the semifinals (4.676, 305.15). "Going from Point A to Point B and not beating ourselves, that pretty much was our plan," Herbert said.

It is, the Snap-on team believes, the way to win a championship. Which isn't bad for a guy who once felt he was a possible title contender instead of a real one. "I was thinking we needed to finish the year on a good note so we could get our feet on the ground for next year," Herbert said. "All of the sudden we have a couple more wins and things are looking a little bit different. It's been the best year I've ever had, that's for sure."

With 19 of the 22 races in the books, Herbert has four wins in six final rounds, including an April win in Houston that also included a $100,000 Winston bonus. This could be a season he'll never forget.

Doug Herbert Facts:

Age: 32 Hometown: Cherryville, N.C.

Career Final-round record: 5-7 1999 Final rounds: 4-2

1999 Wins: Houston, April 11; Columbus, Ohio, June 13; Topeka, Kan., Oct. 4; Memphis, Oct. 10

Quickest time: 4.551 seconds (3/99, Gainesville, Fla.) Fastest speed: 321.65 mph (4/99, Houston)

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Doug Herbert , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Dick LaHaie