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HERBERT ENJOYING SNAP-ON DRAGSTER'S WINNING PERFORMANCES, WINSTON TOP FUEL CHAMPIONSHIP CHASE MADISON, Ill. - Is Doug Herbert happy to be in the midst of the 1999 NHRA Top Fuel championship race? Yes. Is Herbert busy calculating how many ...

HERBERT ENJOYING SNAP-ON DRAGSTER'S WINNING PERFORMANCES, WINSTON TOP FUEL CHAMPIONSHIP CHASE

MADISON, Ill. - Is Doug Herbert happy to be in the midst of the 1999 NHRA Top Fuel championship race? Yes.

Is Herbert busy calculating how many valuable Winston Series points he'll need at each race to claim his first title? No.

"We aren't really worry about the points right now," said Herbert, who drove the Snap-on Racing dragster to his second win of the season at Columbus, Ohio (June 13). "We're just out there racing. Whatever happens happens. That might be the best way to approach it. We try as hard as we can at every race."

Herbert's victory lifted him within 61 points of series leader Mike Dunn (751-690) going into the Sears Craftsman Nationals, June 24-26, at Gateway International Raceway, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. The event will unfold at night, the first NHRA race run under the lights in three years. Qualifying will be at 4 and 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, with eliminations beginning at 4 p.m. Saturday.

"It's nice to be close to the leader," Herbert added, "We're also getting the other drivers' attention. Our car is running consistently, and my crew chief, Dick LaHaie, has been known to get on a roll around this time of the year."

When LaHaie was crew chief for Scott Kalitta, Kalitta piled up a lot of points during the summer. He won races at Columbus (twice), Topeka, Kan. (twice), Denver (twice) and Sonoma, Calif., on the way to Winston titles in 1994 and '95. The only difference between then and now is that Gateway Raceway has replaced the first Topeka race on the NHRA schedule. The Denver and Sonoma part of the season is just ahead.

Herbert, from Cherryville, N.C., has been a finalist four times this year, winning at Houston and Columbus and finishing second at Gainesville, Fla., and Englishtown, N.J. He defeated Bob Vandergriff Jr. at Columbus with a 4.696-second, 313.00 mph run. Along the way he eliminated Kenny Bernstein (1996) and Gary Scelzi (1997-98), the drivers who've won the last three championships. Herbert's first career win came at Columbus in 1993.

"LaHaie is the key to our season," Herbert said. "He gives me confidence by giving me a good race car. It's right. I don't have to worry about the car's performance. All I have to do is concentrate on my driving."

While LaHaie was searching for the right tune-up during qualifying, Herbert ran a best of 4.711 seconds, putting him 11th. LaHaie found the right combination before Herbert stopped Bernstein in the quarterfinals with a 4.671-second time, the day's second quickest.

Herbert is looking forward to racing at night. "We always ran at night when I was racing with IHRA (International Hot Rod Association, where he won four Top Fuel championships), and I like it. "LaHaie is going to have to deal with changing conditions. Our first qualifying session will be run in late afternoon when it's hot and the conditions are, basically, the worst. Then it cools down. I guess that's why I'm paying him the big bucks."

So far, it looks like LaHaie has been worth every penny.

Doug Herbert Facts:

Age: 31 Hometown: Cherryville, N.C.

Career Final-round record: 3-7 1999 Final rounds: 2-2 Last Win: Columbus, Ohio, June 13, 1999

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

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Gary Scelzi , Scott Kalitta , Dick LaHaie , Bob Vandergriff