After an outstanding 2010, Gary Stinnett returned to the trail in 2011 not thinking he had a shot of repeating so soon. He went on to not only deny all other hopefuls when he secured his fourth national Super Comp title as well as adding to his already impressive divisional championship count by winning the LODRS Div 5 Super Comp title, and did so during a season of rather extreme experimentation.
Gary Stinnett warming up the tires before a big race.
"Basically after winning the championship last year, I got a new car and I thought the chances of repeating are like nil," Stinnett explained of his early season plans. "You know it just doesn't happen that often. It's only happened twice since 1986. I just didn't concern myself with thinking I was going to go out there and win another championship. I had all these ideas that I had wanted to try for years, so I thought now was the time to do it."
"So I changed everything; my wife hates it when I do that," he said with a laugh. "I wanted to try a different gear, different converter, and different throttle stop combination. Well I went out for the first race at Dallas and I did go five rounds, but it was horrible. The graph just didn't look good at all."
While most racers may have thought to give up on the experimenting at that point and go back to what they knew was a proven setup, Stinnett did just the opposite. "I thought if that didn't work maybe it was telling me to be going the other way," he said. "So, I changed everything again and went out to a couple of races and eventually, with that combination I won the Brainerd divisional race. The car was just phenomenal."
Now feeling like he had really hit on something, Stinnett left the car in its new trim and went on to his next NHRA Div 5 event at Bandimere Speedway, just outside of Denver, Colorado. "I ended up winning that race, but every round the car was getting worse and worse," he admitted. "I drove well enough and had a couple of redlight wins or whatever and won the race, but I came home and I knew that I was going to need to change everything again."
Gary's office doesn't have the most space, but it has a great view.
Every event during a season has its individual level of importance for a racer's overall season. For the next trip on Stinnett's schedule, it would be one of the most important of the year- a NHRA National event claim at Route 66 Raceway along with the prestigious JEGS All-Stars Shootout. "The car was just Jekyll and Hyde all weekend," he pointed out. "First round I was double-oh on the tree, second round I was double-oh on the tree, then I go fifty. At this point they are calling us right back up for the first round of the All-Stars."
"I know I am paired up with Tommy Phillips in the first round of the All-Stars and I'm thinking to myself, 'Well I just missed it,'" he explained of his reaction time just moments earlier. "I go back up and I'm fifty again and of course that's death with him. So I get beat and all my buddies are telling me there is nothing wrong with my car, that it's just me. But the next morning, for the national event, I go out there and go fifty again although I did get lucky enough that the guy lifted on me and I got around him."
At this point, Stinnett knows he cannot go on hoping that luck will carry him through and he's back to the drawing board. "I go back to the trailer and start changing buttons and delay boxes and solenoids and just everything that I could change and when I went back up for the next round, I went double-oh. I thought 'OK, I fixed it and I'm in the semi-finals against [Kevin] Klineweber and I'm fifty again.'"
When Stinnett returned to his home in Emporia, Kansas following the Chicago race, it would be a lot more than a button or two that he would be swapping out on his dragster. "I changed the transmission, converter, the gear and so on. I was still too hard headed to put everything back to the way it was the year before. I was trying to achieve perfection. I knew what I had last year was good, but it still had flaws. I was like a mad scientist and I was just trying this and this and in the process, I was learning things. You know I've been doing this Super Comp racing since 1989 and I'm still learning things."
Stinnett lining up on the starting line.
Stinnett went on to put a near strangle hold on the class with his back-to-back victories starting with the national event win in Brainerd and then scooping up the divisional win at Heartland Park Topeka- his home track.
"That was the same thing I did last year," reflected Stinnett. "Winning those two races back-to-back; in fact I have won Brainerd [national] three years in a row now."
Stinnett's game plan and outlook on the season now changed from where he was just a few months prior, when the thought of repeating his national championship seemed quite farfetched to him. Now, it was well within reach. "With the Topeka win, I was now in the lead for the world [championship] and it made me start driving differently," he confessed. "You start being a little more conservative and I left that setup in the car. I ended up going four rounds at Indy [U.S. Nationals] and three rounds at Earlville [division event] which gave me my 686 points."
"At that point I got to thinking that all this testing I had been doing and studying, every bit of it, no matter which combination of gear, converter, tires or throttle stop- it all had a flaw," he pointed out. "In other words, there is no such thing as perfection. So for the last race of the year, the World Finals, I just put everything back to the way it was last year. I came full circle and I can tell you that I didn't find anything that worked any better than what I had, but I can definitely tell you things that don't work."
Even though Stinnett was fully aware of how well he was doing on not only the divisional level, but the national level, when all was said and done, he was still quite shocked that he was able to secure his fourth NHRA Super Comp National Championship. "I was like, 'You mean I won, I frickin' won?' I was busy testing all year. I don't mean to say that to insult anybody out there that I can win a world championship and beat everybody out there by fooling around and testing," he said. "I really was truly trying stuff every week."
Gary accepting an award.
Well before the dust begins to settle on the 2011 season, Stinnett has lots of exciting plans in store for 2012 where he will spend his time between not two cars and classes, but four. "Next year I plan to run two divisionals and two nationals in Super Stock and two other divisionals and nationals in Super Street and then probably one divisional and national in Stock," he explained.
He did point out that he will continue to chase championship points in Super Comp, but running for two classes is not something that he cares to do at this time. "I'm going to be fifty shortly and I've been at this a long time," he said. "I do eighty to ninety percent of the work myself and I just don't want to put that on me, especially when we get into the part of the season when we have eight to nine races back-to-back to have to get two cars ready. By breaking it up with the other three cars, it will make a big difference."
A very successful engine builder by trade, Stinnett is quite particular about every part and piece that goes on or in each motor that he builds, including those for his championship winning race cars. Each are protected from the word go, with the full line of K&N air and oil filters. "I think the world of Steve Williams and everybody at K&N," he said. "They have been nothing but extremely helpful for not only my program but all that they do for sportsman drag racing, even down to many of the programs they offer at tracks across the country at the local level. Their products are outstanding and from one to the next the quality is not only unsurpassed but absolutely consistent in nature. You always know exactly what you are getting and with any K&N product, whether it's one of their oil filters or air filters, it's going to be the best there is available to anyone, anywhere. We build seventy to eighty engines a year and every one of them leaves the shop with a K&N oil filter. There is no better way to protect your investment, whether it's for racing or even your everyday driver than to do so by using K&N filters. The choice is quite simple- it's always K&N."
Find K&N products for your vehicle using the K&N application search then use the K&N dealer search to find a K&N dealer in your part of the world.