INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 27) -- The trophy presented to the winner of the annual U.S. Nationals is exactly the same size, shape and color as the trophies given out at the other 21 events on the National Hot Rod Association circuit. But to the nearly ...
INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 27) -- The trophy presented to the winner of the annual U.S. Nationals is exactly the same size, shape and color as the trophies given out at the other 21 events on the National Hot Rod Association circuit. But to the nearly 35,000 registered competitors that fill the ranks of the NHRA's membership, the Wally Parks statuette awarded in Indianapolis Raceway Park's Victory Circle is equivalent to the Holy Grail itself.
"For drag racers, nothing compares with winning Indy," said 63-year-old Texan Eddie Hill, the legendary pilot of the Pennzoil Top Fuel Dragster. "Even the word 'Indy' sounds magical to me. The race is 45 years old and absolutely chock-full of tradition and history. I have a copy of a full-page ad for Pennzoil I did for the Indy program in 1961. Boy, I thought I had really hit the big-time when that ad came out at the U.S. Nationals.
"We've sure had some great times here. I've finished second before, been the No. 1 qualifier a few times and I've held the track elapsed time record. I guess a win this time around would complete my Indy resume."
Pro Stock driver Bruce Allen, who pilots the Outlaw Fuel Additives Pontiac Firebird, has been close to snatching Indy's shiny brass ring twice. But his two runner-up finishes have also taught the Arlington, Texas resident the frustration of coming up short.
"Because of the shear magnitude of this specific race," he said, "my second runner-up finish here has to be the biggest disappointment of my career. I was racing Bob Glidden and I totally had him covered. I got the jump at the starting line and I was outrunning him on the strip until my engine exploded in high gear and he drove right by me for the win. It just crushed me.
"That was back in the days when Indy was the only race where every single pro would compete. If you won Indy you knew that you were the best of the best. Plus we got extra points for winning so it really meant a lot to win the race back then.
"It's still the one race you really want to win. I guess it always will be."
Allen's Pennzoil teammate Mike Thomas will be chasing Indy dreams of his own behind the wheel of his Pennzoil Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird. Thomas, from Knoxville, Tenn., is the most recent winner on Team Pennzoil, having captured his first career win at last year's Route 66 Nationals in Chicago. The victory in the Windy City was certainly a big goal for Thomas. Now, his next stated objective is to win on Indy's hallowed ground.
"Short of winning the championship, Indy is the ultimate in our sport," Thomas says. "It's the biggest crowd, the most intense media attention and the largest purse. Not to mention the fact that every sponsor in the world is right there watching you. This race can make your career."