A lifetime of dedication results in Hall of Fame recognition for Drag Racing Pioneer and Champion Dick LaHaie. On Thursday, March 13, 2003, Dick LaHaie, crew chief of Don Prudhomme Racing's Miller Lite Top Fuel Dragster, will be honored for a ...
A lifetime of dedication results in Hall of Fame recognition for Drag Racing Pioneer and Champion Dick LaHaie.
On Thursday, March 13, 2003, Dick LaHaie, crew chief of Don Prudhomme Racing's Miller Lite Top Fuel Dragster, will be honored for a lifetime of achievement as he will be inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in Gainesville, Florida.
While new fans of the NHRA may only be aware of LaHaie's most recent success with 2002 NHRA POWERade Champion Larry Dixon, LaHaie has a list of accomplishments in the sport dating back over 40 years. Affectionately nicknamed "Dicko" by his closest friends and teammates, LaHaie entered the sport at age 16 and went on to drive competitively until retiring in 1991 at the age of 49. With several regional track victories and three United Drag Racing Association championships (1970, 73, 76) to his credit early in his career, LaHaie also proved his championship mettle on the national level. During his many years of NHRA competition, the Michigan native notched his first national event victory at the 1980 Summernationals, en route to 15 more national titles, including five during his 1987 Winston Top Fuel Championship season.
His transformation into becoming a full-blown crew chief may have seemed like the next logical step, but it was not until a phone call from Connie Kalitta in 1993 that nudged LaHaie into the role of lead tuner. Calling on his years of knowledge and experience from working on and driving his own car, LaHaie flourished as he tuned Scott Kalitta to a second place finish in 1993 before securing consecutive Winston Top Fuel Championships with Kalitta in 1994 and 1995.
LaHaie can also be held largely responsible for turning Prudhomme's Miller Lite Top Fuel team and ninth-year driver Larry Dixon into a championship caliber operation. Although Dixon had success during his 1995 rookie season, 20 of his 26 national event wins have come under LaHaie's direction over the past four seasons. In short, LaHaie has emerged as perhaps the premier tuner in drag racing.
Following are LaHaie's comments on induction into the Hall of Fame, his career in drag racing, his thoughts on retirement and his desire to keep Dixon and the Snake Racing Miller Lite Dragster Team on top.
Q: You have had a great career both as a driver and tuner. What are your feelings on receiving honors such as 2002 Car Craft Crew Chief of the year and now your induction into the International Drag Racing Hall of fame?
LaHaie: I really don't think about that stuff. It's kind of funny. This is my 45th year in the sport and I think of old people being in the hall of fame and I guess this means I am getting old. Seriously, it's an honor to be inducted into something like this. The quality of people that are in it now and that will be inducted in the future is a great group of people. It is drag racing history, forever is what it means. It's pretty exciting, it really is. I am kind of without words right now because I don't know what is going to happen. I am a little nervous about it and I am not sure quite what to expect, but we are going to go in there and try and enjoy ourselves, have a good time and just be thankful. Gosh, the races that we have won over the years... I mean Donnie (Bender) and I have figured it out the other day and together we have won around 30 races, three world championships and three or four Bud Shootouts. He has been a big part of my career too, so I am going to make sure that he is there to get some recognition too.
Q: Is it nice to know that you have made a name for yourself in the sport?
LaHaie: That is something that you don't think about when you are doing it. I am doing something that I have wanted to do ever since I was a kid when I was 15 or 16 years old, or actually even before that. To be able to live my life as a dream basically is pretty cool.
Q: Now, with all that you have accomplished, how much longer do you want to keep working?
LaHaie: People keep asking me that and there appears to be new challenges that come up all the time. Obviously we want to be the best that there is out there. I think everybody that does this wants the same thing. Other teams keep raising the bar a little higher, so it means that we have to work a little bit more to accomplish what we want to accomplish and it takes time to do that, so it just continues on. I don't think I can say when it's time to quit. I guess when it's time to go to my last drag race, I'll know it when it happens.
Q: Aside from winning as many races as championships as you possibly can, is there anything specific that you would like to accomplish before your time in the sport is done?
LaHaie: The statement was made last year that just about every time we dragged it to the starting line there was another record that we could set. I would like to be in those situations and get every record out there for the most round wins, and the E.T. record, and the mile-per-hour record, and the longest period of time that anyone has held the No. 1 spot. I'd like to have them all. But you know that's really not feasible. But I think that's what keeps me going anyway. There's a possibility that we can set another record of some sort that somebody will try and break in years to come. Right now we have the record with 14 final rounds. Well, I can remember when there were only 14 races. I would like to be associated with all that stuff and I would like to have Don Prudhomme Racing associated with it.
Q: The Miller Lite Team with Larry and yourself have dominated the Top Fuel category over the past year and the team appears to be off to the same start as last year's championship season. Talk about your desire to go the extra mile with extra testing sessions and how those results have been?
LaHaie: Testing after Phoenix went very well. We expected to make more runs than we did. I am astounded though. Donnie and I will sit and talk things over and we'll change things on the car and prepare the car for the test sessions and it's almost like this is part of a fairy tale because we say, 'OK, we need to do this and that, and the car should do this and that,' and lo and behold we go out there and run the thing and it does exactly what we think it's going to do. There are times that I'll sit back and think, 'Wow, are we just lucky or are we doing what needs to be done to stay on top of this thing.' As far as testing after Gainesville, we have got more new things that we need to test and we are trying to make our program stronger, quicker and faster and more consistent and win more races and we have to test in order to do that.
Q: One area that has picked up noticeably in the performance of the car is the top end speed. You have always been able to tune the car to consistent times, most often in the 4.5-second range. Explain your thoughts on mile per hour and why the car has been running faster than usual?
LaHaie: We just wanted to start running the car different. We knew that we were leaving a little bit on the table by not running speed with the car. So we just went ahead and adjusted things to make it do that. For the longest time we didn't think that the speed was really that important, but we realize now that we need every chance that we can to find anything we can to pick up a hundredth here or there and that's why it's running more speed now. It's the same parts, we are just running them a little but different and taking a different approach and the speed came up a little bit toward the end of last year.