GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 10, 2000 - Doug Herbert's return to the NHRA's Gatornationals event carries a special meaning this year. "It's the first time I've come back to a racetrack where I experienced winning or finishing second in about...
GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 10, 2000 - Doug Herbert's return to the NHRA's Gatornationals event carries a special meaning this year.
"It's the first time I've come back to a racetrack where I experienced winning or finishing second in about seven years," he said. "We had a very good race at Gainesville (Raceway) last year, and I wound up losing a close race to Mike Dunn in the Top Fuel final. It will feel good getting back to Gainesville."
Herbert's 1999 performance, which also included his career-best time of 4.551 seconds, was a harbinger of things to come. He drove his Snap-on Racing dragster to victory at Houston, the next event following the Gatornationals, and won a $100,000 bonus, too. It was his first of four wins in six final rounds.
He stayed in contention for Winston Series Top Fuel honors for most of the season before placing seventh in a tightly bunched field.
Herbert, of course, wants to improve his '99 Gatornationals finish now and work on bettering his point standing when the event's 2000 edition unfolds March 17-19. This is the third of 23 series outings and the Cherryville, N.C. driver arrives in seventh place, with 87 points.
"Our car is starting to run better," Herbert said. "We worked on improving our 60-foot times at Phoenix and we did. I think we can be competitive now. It has taken (crew chief Larry) Frazier and the team a little while to get things figured out with the new NHRA rule allowing only 90 percent nitro (fuel)."
Herbert qualified sixth (4.683 seconds, 313.29 mph) and defeated Tim Gibson in the first round at Phoenix (Feb. 27). He gave Larry Dixon a real fight in the second round before the Snap-on dragster's tires began spinning and Dixon took the win.
"I had him covered," Herbert commented, noting his better starting line reaction time of .461 to Dixon's .495. "But the track got hot and messed up our tune-up, then the tires started spinning and the engine broke."
Herbert also had engine problems in the first round that resulted in oil getting on the racetrack. New NHRA rules fine the driver $1000 and 10 series points each time his car oils the track during eliminations. Herbert unintentionally became the first driver to be fined $2000 and docked 20 points.
"That's a distinction I certainly didn't want," he said. "It's upsetting to get the fine, and it hurts more to give up the 20 points. I hope we don't see the championship decided by losing points through oil downs.
"We are spending a lot of money to race, so the $1000 bucks kind of hurts your feelings, but you survive. Losing the points hurts, especially when you look at how hard we worked to get them. They're gone and we can't get them back.
"Frazier, Dave Settles and the crew are working to try and stop that from happening again," Herbert added. "The Gainesville track is good, so that should help us."
Herbert expects the 2000 title chase to be close, just like a year ago, when five drivers were within 100 points of the lead with four races to go.
"Tony Schumacher (the '99 champion) and (Gary) Scelzi are off to good starts but I don't see anybody running away with it." Schumacher leads with 210 points and Scelzi is next with 195.