The Great Media Drag Race of 1998!

On July 15, 1998, a group of twelve auto journalists took part in a drag race in Pomona, California, to see who was the best driver of the bunch. Twelve started, but only one person won.

Frank Hawley's cars

I attended the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School in March of 1998. It was a long-time fantasy of mine to drive a dragster, and I was NOT disappointed! My first run down the track, at just 300 feet, scared the living daylights out of me. Nobody ever mentioned that letting go of the transbrake on an 800 horsepower big-block Chevy powered lightweight dragster would cause me to redefine my interpretation of acceleration. Subsequent runs of 660 feet, 1000 feet, and two runs of the whole quarter mile, 1320 feet, made me appreciate just how hard it is to drive a fast drag car and win.

It's not as easy as it looks.

In order to prove this point to magazine writers and television journalists who cover different aspects of auto press, The Mr. Gasket Company decided to invite some journalists to go through Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School, then meet later for a showdown. In my class in March were Mac Demere of Motor Trend Magazine, Dale Wilson of Bracket Racing USA, and Jason Baffrey of TNN's NHRA Today Television program. I was honored to be teamed up with Jason Baffrey as a driving buddy during the second day of the class, which is the day all the driving is done. Your racing buddy helps strap you into the car, and lends words of encouragement (if you have a good driving buddy like I did...). Jason is a Ford guy, and former sand drag racer from Oklahoma. We got along great, since I'm a Ford guy, and my brother and late father are former sand drag racers.

Fast forward to July 15, 1998. It's a barn burner in Los Angeles, with temperatures in the mid 90's. All four of Frank's cars are running consistent times, so determining a good dial-in time is pretty straightforward. You hope. As the day goes on, it appears that the person who leaves first will do the best, as the cars are pretty much even.

The Players

Frank Hawley, me, Jason Baffrey

I drove to Pomona to help my friend, Jason Baffrey, in any way possible. That's Frank Hawley, me, and Jason Baffrey. It ended up that I took notes of the cars' performance, helped get Jason's mind off racing when he got too nervous, and made sure he drank enough water during the day to keep him cooled off. It sure was neat to be able to cheer for a driver you know, rather than just cheering for a racer you've seen on TV. It sure made winning a lot more important.

Me with Linda Vaughn

Just about the time the racing started after time trials and lunch, one of the most recognizable people in drag racing, Linda Vaughn, showed up to cheer on all the drivers. Linda is the longtime spokesperson for Hurst Shifters, which is part of Mr. Gasket now. She was very gracious to have her photo taken with me.

Thanks Linda!

John Force

Another famous visitor showed up: None other than multi-year world Funny Car champ John Force. It seemed that John heard about the race and decided to see how the "button" cars were running. He called them "button" cars because of the electrical button that engages and releases the transmission brake on these cars. John's funny car doesn't have a transbrake, but rather a centrifugal clutch that engages as soon as the driver hits the throttle. I think he had fun watching all the guys who write about him trying to do what he does all the time: Win.

If you subscribe to National Dragster Magazine, you can read more about the race in the August 7,1998 issue, pages 39-40. All the photos are black and white, so if you want color, this website is the place!

Mid track

Anyway, here are a couple of photos of the last race of the day. Since my job taking data was finished, I was able to get a couple of shots of the last race. Todd Veney, in the near lane, got the jump on Jason Baffrey, in the far lane, then beat him to the finish. It was very exciting! As you can see by the scoreboard, Veney knew that he was ahead of Jason, and let up on the throttle near the end to avoid breaking out of his dial-in. That's why his trap speed is relatively slow, and his e.t. is slower than Jason's. Very smart drag racing! I never could understand that part of racing, as all I ever knew was "pedal to the medal, take it as fast as it'll go." Never won me any races, but it sure showed me how much I could crush my dial in!

.The Finish.

One thing I have to say: Let's do it again next year!

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