It may sound strange to anyone who knows even just a tiny bit about sportsman drag racing that phenom driver Dan Fletcher ever had any type of "monkey on his back", after all he just sewed up his 71st NHRA National Event win by taking the Comp Eliminator class a few short weeks ago in Las Vegas.
NHRA National Event Winner Dan Fletcher
Dan Fletcher's 1969 Chevy Camaro
But for Fletcher, one has to admit that he keeps the bar set extremely high for his racing program and his record to date proves that he shows no signs of lowering it anytime soon.
For Fletcher's most recent NHRA National event in Concord, North Carolina, he was back in his own two cars, a pair of beautiful '69 Chevy Camaros decked out in K&N colors, one in Stock and the other in Super Stock. While Fletcher, like any racer, sets out to win in each car they enter, it was in the Super Stock Camaro, where wins eluded him during the entire 2010 season that he may have just been pushing a little extra for.
"If you look at my efforts in Super Stock last year, it wasn't pretty," confessed the multi-time champ. "You know I don't even know what to say. It's not like the car was terrible, we just weren't good together very often, not often enough to win."
The weather cooperated enough for sportsman qualifying on Thursday and Friday's early round eliminations, but that all changed come Saturday.
"Horrible," he reflected on Saturday's conditions. "Lots of wind and rain along with tornado warnings. But it finally cleared up in the afternoon and I managed to guess what the tail wind was going do."
By that time, Fletcher had already made his way through first round on Friday taking out Steven Johnson but would have to wait patiently until after nine Saturday night to face his second round opponent, Roy Hill. "I was .003 on the tree against Roy and I wasn't trying to be that good," said Fletcher. "You know, that's lucky to be that close to turning it red."
Sunday morning would bring round three and another round with a very similar setup to Fletcher's first, getting chased by a car running 8.80's with quite a bit more MPH. "I'm out there peddling before the thousand foot and take two-thousandths of the stripe, guess I was trying to mess [that round] up and didn't quite get it done."
K&N's Fletcher was not only slaying his opponent's by giving them no room at the stripe, he was also ripping the green off the tree compared to the driver in the other lane. "I drove ok. You know I could have easily been red against Roy Hill, I could have easily let Chuck Gallagher Jr. by me by a thou instead of taking two. There's times when those thousandths of a second don't go our way and they just went my way. I drove well, the car worked well and you know taking two thou or giving it up one thou is really no different [perception at the stripe]."
"Those were just decisions where I knew I was going to get to kill enough and get there first," he said of his tight stripe margins. Sometimes you don't know whether to get there first or second. All my races were clear cut and I knew what to do. But just taking two thou was probably too close. There are many times you get down there and you are just on autopilot and you do what you do. There are plenty of times where I screw it up and let someone by me and I almost did there, but I didn't and I won."
With all the different body types of cars in a class like NHRA Super Stock, Fletcher is very aware of each and how one needs to approach how they will race the stripe against them.
"There are cars that is they are wide open they take [stripe] with the tire and if there on the brakes, take it with the nose," he explained. "So it's another randomizing factor that you have to use to decide how much to kill, where am I [on track], so I guard against their nose getting into the beams. Who is it I'm racing, is that someone who's gonna dump and hit the brakes and get their nose in the lights. There are a lot of different concerns in Stock and Super Stock, because you are running so many different cars and different front ends and the way they act at the other end of the track."
Fletcher gave an example of this by citing his quarterfinal round competitor, Mike Saye. "He definitely got his nose in the lights. He went 9.99 on a ten flat at 134, which is too much speed [based on ET] when he should have 131 or 131 and half. I'm 27 on the tree, he's 28. I'm dead-on with a two, killing what I think I need to next to him and he slams the brakes and gets his nose in the lights and gets there eleven thou."
"It was an interesting race," he added.
The tight round with Saye earned Fletcher the all-important bye into final where he would meet up with Ontario, Canada's Gianni Cantusci. While Cantusci was competing in his first ever NHRA National event championship round, Dan Fletcher was now in his 108th, tying 2011 International Drag Racing Hall of Fame Inductee, Top Fuel Legend Joe Amato.
"He had been pretty good on the tree," Fletcher pointed out of Cantusci. "But he missed it a little bit in the final, which was good fortunately for me. I was dialed, I thought, pretty stiff. I was hitting the tree pretty good, the car was running good and I thought the only way I was losing in the final was if I screwed it up by a thou or two at the finish line. Which I am more than capable of doing, I constantly do it all the time, make it too close and screw it up."
"So I dialed something where I could just hold it to the wood," he continued. "Well naturally as I'm chasing him and running up on him, I feel like I've got a little room. I just rolled out of the gas and was ready to go 'bap-bap' on the throttle on the way by. I roll up on him, get outta the gas and the car goes 'BANG-POW', and I didn't have to hit the gas. Something went wrong with like the ignition box right at the finish line. Talk about luck, the car kinda did it for me and I just coasted by for a four-thousandths margin of victory. If I would have had to go another round, I probably wasn't going to make it."
Fletcher odd mechanical failure not only netted him his 72nd NHRA National Event Wally, his first in Super Stock since 2009, but he also ran a perfect 9.280, dead on his dial also grabbing the Perfectly Strange bonus money for Super Stock.
With the Easter Holiday weekend, Fletcher will have plenty of time to figure out whatever strange gremlin that reared its head during the Super Stock final at ZMax in his K&N 1969 Camaro, before his next event in Baytown, Texas and the NHRA SpringNationals April 29-May 1.
"I'm really glad I could get this Super Stock win for all the guys at K&N," he added. "It just felt really good to seal the deal in Super Stock after not being able to do so in that class last season."
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