Pomona: Herbert ready for finals

POMONA, Calif., Nov. 6, 2000 - As Doug Herbert turns a critical eye toward the 2000 NHRA season, he sees, foremost, a lack of victories. This year didn't come close to matching his 1999 results. Simply put, there weren't many Kodak ...

POMONA, Calif., Nov. 6, 2000 - As Doug Herbert turns a critical eye toward the 2000 NHRA season, he sees, foremost, a lack of victories. This year didn't come close to matching his 1999 results. Simply put, there weren't many Kodak moments for Herbert and his Snap-on Racing Top Fuel team. There were no winner's circle photos or final rounds in the first 22 races, just one year after he had career bests with four wins and two second-place finishes. It has been, he says, very frustrating. "After last year, when we were in the running for the championship until the last couple races, we anticipated we'd have the same kind of success this year," Herbert said. "But we've struggled a bit." However, the Cherryville, N.C., driver - a veteran in the sport yet only 33 - is savvy enough to assimilate the positives and cull the negatives so he can return in 2001 ready to mount a championship challenge. "We're going to take this as a learning experience," he added. "We don't want the same thing to happen again next year. We want to be a championship contender in 2001." Nonetheless, there are still some bright spots to consider in 2000. Saturday he'll line up in the special Budweiser Shootout for the first time since 1992, one of eight Top Fuel drivers who earned the most qualifying points during the first 22 races and are chasing a $100,000 top prize. He races Gary Scelzi in the first round. "Being in the Shootout is a big deal to us because we haven't been in it in a long time," Herbert said. And he should finish in the top 10 for the second consecutive year. He is ninth (892 points) going into the Auto Club Finals this weekend. He was seventh in 1999 and ninth twice before (1992-93). He is the Top Fuel leader in average reaction time (4.80 seconds), seventh overall in average speed (306.66) and eighth in elapsed time (4.719 seconds). "Our car has run pretty well at times," Herbert commented. "It's just that we haven't had very good consistency and we haven't run as good as we needed to run." Then there are the mechanical problems, some of which reminded him of Murphy's Law - whatever can go wrong, will go wrong - and NHRA's fuel and oil-down rules, instituted in January. Which brings us to the one category Herbert leads, albeit very begrudgingly.

The fuel rule limits nitromethane use to 90 percent and created headaches for crew chiefs. The oil-down rule fines drivers for oiling the racetrack - $500 for each qualifying infraction, $1000 plus the loss of 10 points during eliminations. The driver tally going into the Finals shows Herbert as the Top Fuel leader with five race-day oil downs, a loss of 50 points and $6,500 in fines (including three in qualifying). While he agrees something needed to be done to eradicate the oil downs, he'd prefer it didn't include the loss of coveted Winston Series points. "I've never been a big fan of penalties to begin with," Herbert said. "And that's before I knew I was going to get penalized so bad. Believe me, we aren't going out there and trying to blow up $20,000-to-$30,000 worth of engine parts and oil the track. "In eliminations, our only goal is to get to the finish line before our opponent. We don't shut off the engine until we know we're either No. 1 at the finish line or we're going to get beat. Any racer is going to do that."

Unexpected parts breakage created some of the trouble, Herbert pointed out. "We had stuff breaking and coming apart. A lot of our problems can really be attributed to just flat bad luck. We had lifters break, ignition trouble, broken rocker arms, faulty rod bolts that came from the manufacturer that way . . . one thing after another. We even had a brand new crankshaft break on its first run, stuff that's not necessarily our fault.

"I'm happy to be going to Pomona," he concluded, "because it means the season is just about over. When you've struggled all year like we have, that makes it a long, long season."

There is still time to put a positive finish on the year. Winning either the Shootout or the Finals, or both, would suit Herbert just fine - as long as there isn't a fine included in the weekend.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Gary Scelzi