While there is no such thing as a truly "easy" class at any level in drag racing, many would agree that one of the toughest is the 8.90 index class called Super Comp, a class for many where winning NHRA national events remain a lifelong dream and obtaining just one national championship is a major feat.
NHRA Divisional Champion Gary Stinnett
NHRA National Event Winner Gary Stinnett
For Emporia, Kansas resident and K&N racer Gary Stinnett, who ran out of fingers to count his various NHRA divisional championships on many years ago, when the 2010 season began it didn't seem to him like it would be his year to reach for another national championship in Super Comp.
"With Ray Miller and Luke Bogacki starting off the season red-hot, before I had even fired my engine, I could see that the world championship in Super Comp was out of reach," confessed Stinnett. "I felt it was already over, so I never really thought about it and it was almost kind of a relief.
Those guys had such perfect scores so early in the year, I thought well I don't have to worry about that, I'm just racing to get into the top ten [nationally]."
NHRA Lucas Oil Super Comp World Champion Gary Stinnett
Stinnett, who hasn't missed a season competing in Super Comp since he began in 1989, plowed his way to the top of the heap in NHRA Division 5 Super Comp with semi-final finishes at both Brainerd and Las Vegas and a win in Topeka.
His success would help him claim his sixteenth NHRA Division Championship, although the NHRA history books only show twelve.
"Our division has a Super Shootout Series and if you win at the end of the year and you are division champ, they give you the same trophy, the same jacket, the same money, everything is the same as the other classes, but NHRA does not count those four other championships toward my total," Stinnett pointed out. "So, I tell NHRA all the time, well I have sixteen trophies and sixteen gold cards at home, so while they say twelve I'm, saying I now have sixteen divisional championships."
Stinnett currently holds the NHRA record for the driver winning the most double division championships in the same season by doing so four times prior to 2010. He almost added number five to his record when in addition to acquiring his 2010 NHRA Division 5 Super Comp championship; Stinnett came very close to doubling up again by finishing second in his division in Super Stock.
By the time the season rolled into August, Stinnett went on a winning spree, in his K&N clad dragster, with back-to-back Super Comp wins starting with his victory at the NHRA National at Brainerd and followed it up with the aforementioned divisional win at Topeka.
"I am a hot weather racer," Stinnett claimed. "You can look, I don't race well when it is below sixty. It's cold, I'm miserable and I'm shivering in the car, so I don't drive well. But it could be one-hundred and four, I'm soaking wet and I drive like crazy."
"Plus I'm an engine builder and this time of year I am swamped and I don't get to get out there and start my season until April or May after people like Tommy Phillips and Bogacki have already been out since February kicking butt," he continued. "So it usually takes until June or July until I get my stuff sorted out and then it gets hot. And when it does get hot, it's just very conducive to my driving style."
A track that was very good to Stinnett in 2010 was Brainerd, where he did well at both the divisional and national events.
"I cannot tell you how many races I have won at Brainerd over the years," said Stinnett. "In just my most recent memory, the last four times I have been there, I have been in four final rounds. Won two and runner-up in two. It's just a really comfortable place for me."
As the season continued to play out, Stinnett learned that a shot at the 2010 NHRA National Championship that he had originally dismissed was starting to fall his way and feels his final at Topeka was the big turning point.
"I broke a roller lifter in the semi-final and I heard it when I started it up at the top end to drive back to the pits," he reflected. "I hurried to try and change it, but it was stuck and I couldn't get it out. So I was going to have to run one of my customers in the final and I was going to give up and just let him win it. Until I thought, you know that one round could make the difference in the points. I didn't know when or what, but it could."
"I hammered the lifter back down, put the rocker cover on and limped it back up there," he continued. "I rolled thirty numbers out of the timer, we left and when I came off the stop and ran way out in front of him then I just started whomping on the throttle. We cross the stripe and my light comes on and I had run an 8.90."
That "never-give-up-attitude" moved Stinnett up to third in the NHRA Super Comp National points chase and some light at the end of the tunnel.
"When I went to the Vegas divisional, I knew I had to go six rounds to go past Luke [Bogacki]," explained Stinnett. "I remember when I won the fifth round, everyone started coming over and congratulating me. I told them that I hadn't won it [national championship] yet since I knew I needed to win the six round to clinch it. Well, I lost the sixth round so then I go to Pomona and I have got to sweat out [Edmond] Richardson."
For Richardson to pass Stinnett in the points, he would have to be the last man standing in Super Comp at the World Finals in Pomona.
"Most people were saying, ‘ah, he's got to win the race, not runner-up but win the race'. Well, they must not remember the Edmond Richardson I remember," said Stinnett. "I've been racing with him since '89. He can win any race he rolls into."
For Stinnett, the 2010 NHRA Super Comp National Championship was his before the end of the first round of competition at Pomona, as Richardson fell in defeat to Jimmy Lintz.
Now a three-time national Super Comp Champion, Stinnett reflects on how this year differs for him than previous seasons.
"You know in a way, to be honest I feel like I kind of snuck in and stole one away because 630 points shouldn't win the championship," he admitted. "It sure doesn't feel like it did in '05 when I had 700 points. I kinda feel like I got lucky and got this one by default."
"But, it kinda makes up for the one in 2003 after I had led the points all season and [Jack] Beckman snuck in there at the end and got around me", he added.
Well before any dust settled from the 2010 season, the newly crowned champion was already hard at work on his plans for 2011, which include a brand new dragster for Super Comp competition and a return to the same Super Stock car he has been driving.
"We are going to run the same schedule," Stinnett said of his upcoming season. "We will run the same tracks and the same classes and go out there and try to win another championship."
Stinnett is quick to thank all those who continue to help him in his chase throughout the year, from those who go on the road to the folks at his shop.
"Thanks to Dennis Musch, I don't have to think of a lot of things while we are at the track," he said. "He takes care of it all. My wife Joyce and a couple of guys who come by the shop and help out, Dick Ross and Steve Wilson. Also thanks to my employees who run the business while I'm away, Jason Ruge, Luke Siebert and Ryan Burd."
"I really want to thank Steve Williams and everyone at K&N for all their help," noted Stinnett of his long-term relationship with the company. "The thing I really like about K&N is that Steve, Bob Harris and Greg Boute, they are all racers. They are at the track and they are in our categories, so they know exactly what we are doing and they are not just participants, they are contenders. Steve, for example, could win a championship in any given year."
"Working with K&N is very different than many of the other companies that I deal with, just because of their involvement in our sport," he added. "That means a lot to me and other racers."
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