Las Vegas: Doug Herbert preview

Herbert, Snap-On Top Fuel Team hope to [arlay luck and good performance into race win At Las Vegas. LAS VEGAS, March 29, 2002 - Doug Herbert isn't thrilled when he looks at the NHRA Powerade Racing Series Top Fuel standings. It's too top ...

Herbert, Snap-On Top Fuel Team hope to [arlay luck and good performance into race win At Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS, March 29, 2002 - Doug Herbert isn't thrilled when he looks at the NHRA Powerade Racing Series Top Fuel standings. It's too top heavy.

Larry Dixon bolted from the starting blocks like a 100-meter dash sprinter on the way to a world-record time, notching two wins and one runner-up finish in the season's first three races. The performance has him leading the pack with 333 points. Kenny Bernstein is second (228 points) and Tony Schumacher third (206). From there it drops to Doug Kalitta at 183.

Herbert, meanwhile, is ninth at 117. He's still carrying the same championship hopes he had two months ago when the season began. But Herbert and his Snap-on Racing team realize that it is time to begin racking up round wins and, in the process, race wins.

And there's no better place to start than at The Strip. No, he's not talking about the one with all the hotels and games of chance. This is the drag racing track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of the Summitracing.com Nationals, April 5-7.

"There's no better place to be lucky than Las Vegas," said Herbert. "Vegas is where the rainbow ends."

So his pot of gold will be the race champion's trophy.

For that to happen, co-crew chief and tuner Johnny West must find a combination that is as consistent as it is quick and fast. Adding to the mix are the unpredictable new Goodyear tires. They work well in cooler weather but tend to become more difficult to predict when the temperatures go up. And early forecasts from Las Vegas say the sun will shine and highs may reach to 80 degrees.

"We need to hit it hard, not only at Vegas, but every race from here to the end of the season," Herbert said. "The guys ahead of us are moving away from us, and that's not good."

West doesn't fault the tires. He does, however, allude to good fortune when he asks, "When is the swing of the arm going to go in our direction? I believe that to win a race a team needs one round of luck on Sunday. After that, you need three rounds of performance. I think our car has been running well."

Luck hasn't been anywhere near the Snap-on crew.

For example, Herbert, the No. 15 qualifier at Phoenix, upset No. 2 Kenny Bernstein in the first round with a 4.622-second, 322.88-mph run. It's his best run of the season. In the next round, computer numbers indicated Herbert was on the way to a similar elapsed time when the blower belt broke and he lost to Clay Millican.

West blames himself for "being way behind" following a first-round loss at the season-opening Winternationals and the hand of fate for Herbert's upset loss to Paul Romine in the first round at Gainesville, Fla.

"We went to the starting line thinking we could run between a 4.68 and 4.70, but I calmed it down a little after we watched some of the cars ahead of us smoking the tires," said West. "We ran a 4.740 (at 312.93 mph), and that was our game plan. But Romine ran quicker (4.732 seconds). We certainly didn't think they would run a low 4.70. They stepped up."

Romine, whose best run prior to that was a 4.862, advanced to the semifinals before losing to Dixon. And, to add to the irony, Herbert is the owner of Romine's Carquest dragster. Romine will be competing for the IHRA Top Fuel championship and is running a limited number of NHRA events.

The tires, West added, "just give us another learning curve to accustomed to. We just have to learn to adapt."

Suffice it to say Herbert, West and the Snap-on team hope The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the place where adaptation and luck converge to bring them a victory.

-sor-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Paul Romine , Doug Herbert , Clay Millican , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Schumacher