Surely the thought of being so close to achieving a huge milestone was in the back of his mind when the new season started just a few weeks ago, as K&N's Dan Fletcher came into the 2012 race year with a mind boggling seventy-three NHRA National Event wins already to his name, just two shy from such a huge landmark number of seventy-five. Two races later with two more wins and the New York state native is now just the seventh driver in NHRA history to win seventy-five national events after putting together back-to-back victories starting with a Competition Eliminator win in Pomona and grabbing the Super Stock win in Phoenix.
The New York state native is now just the seventh driver in NHRA history to win seventy-five national events.
Fletcher's first event of the year found him racing in both Stock and Comp Eliminator for the 52nd annual O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals. Where he did very well with the B/EA 2008 Cobalt, his Chevy Camaro Stock Eliminator car was giving him some grief, slowing down nearly a tenth for some unknown reason during round two. "After that happened, I had no idea what was wrong with it and it just had me in a knot trying to go through everything and figure it out," he explained. "So during the course of Sunday night and throughout the day on Monday, since we were delayed getting the race completed, I was still trying to diagnose the stocker while I was running the Comp car."
Where one class win for Fletcher wasn't to be, he could nearly do no wrong in the other. Although Fletcher was hoping to qualify in the seventh or eight spot, he would up ninth since another driver ran the same amount under his index, doing so first gave Fletcher the bump to ninth on the sheet. "All racing is a lucky man's sport and Comp racing is really lucky, because to be quite frank, our car wasn't very good all weekend," he confessed. "Out of eight total runs, we probably made two decent ones. But the way it all shook out, it just played to our favor."
As Warren Johnson would say, there are no bad wins and there are no good losses.
He first sent Tyler Hogan home after fairly close reaction times and taking approximately ten feet of stripe while staying safely within the E.T. he needed as to not take a CIC hit. That set him up to take on Scott Hedlund in round two, who went .047 red to send Fletcher on to what he considered to be his toughest possible matchup of the event. "Probably the best car, best driver of the weekend was my third round with Justin Lamb," Fletcher pointed out. "But by the time I had to run him, he was already beat up eight (.08 CIC penalty) and I was clean. So he had to push the tree and made a bad run."
After the event for the sportsman was delayed and continued on Monday, Fletcher was still clean heading into the semifinal paring with another driver who was carrying a pretty hefty .08 CIC penalty, Ed Sigmon. This round would have the same ultimate outcome for Fletcher, grabbing the win light, but with not having the best reaction time of the pair, costing him his first CIC hit of the event to get the job done at the top end. "I had a bad light, I was seventy on the tree and the other guy is good, so I had to take a couple of hundredths there," he said. "But I still felt pretty good going into the final. That said, our car in B/EA only weighs 2045 and on a radial rear tire on a cold track, it's a handful. On Monday, it was cold and windy and grey and they were doing zero track prep. So it was really dicey getting down the track at best."
"Fortunately the guy in the final turned it red," he added. "This was certainly an ugly win, but as Warren [Johnson] would say, there are no bad wins and there are no good losses."
The Comp Eliminator win during the Pomona event gave Fletcher his seventy-fourth NHRA National event victory and with that, was now only days away from making it seventy-five.
Every race in the sportsman classes is decided by literally a couple thousandths of a second.
During the next event, Fletcher put the Comp car aside to compete in both Stock and Super Stock for the 28th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway. Having a little better success with his K&N '69 Camaro, E/SA entry before bowing out in third round, this time he would be taking his faithful '69 Camaro, SS/AS K&N clad wheel-standing beauty all the way to the history making championship round.
Through each and every round, Fletcher was on fire at the tree, blasting his opponent with the better reaction time. He sent home Tibor Kadar, Kip Martin, and Mike Graham before lining up with Michael Wesolowski and his brand new 2012 Mustang in the two-for-one quarter final round, the winner earning a bye into the final.
Fletcher absolutely nailed the tree with a blazing .009 RT to Wesolowski's less than adequate .103 and when you are racing the likes of Dan Fletcher, giving him tenth on the starting line is most definitely a death sentence. As fate would have it, Fletcher easily turned the huge advantage into a win, earning the single into a final he won't soon forget.
He met up with Riverside, California's, Ken Etter and his '93 Shadow who was having some fantastic lights of his own throughout the rounds and earned his way to the final after taking down multi-time champ, K&N's Peter Biondo in the semifinals with the better reaction time. "That final round was clearly not one of my better efforts," noted Fletcher. "In sportsman racing, in the Lucas Oil Series, everyone is so good, all the classes across the board, all the drivers. There is so much luck involved in every race. Every race in the sportsman classes is decided by literally a couple thousandths of a second. I mean my whole life hinges on a couple of thousandths of a second and it can get to be quite tedious when it's not going your way, but those are the breaks you need."
I race cars for a living, this is my job, my fulltime pay-the-rent deal.
"My opponent in the final, Ken Etter, had been driving really well," he continued. "He had string of teen, teen, teen reaction times, but in the final it was a double breakout race. I was out to hold it wide open and too often when I do that, I don't and I'll still hit the brakes at the end. I was dialed to stick it, I stuck it and I knew I was coming up short. I just said the hell with it and held it wide open and got lucky that the breakout of a thousandth of a second went my way."
"As I said, in sportsman racing today, everyone is so good, their equipment is so good and it's just so hard to win," he added. "I just feel so blessed to have gotten out of there with win number seventy-five."
When asked if it had really sunk in making it to a substantial number of wins like that, "I gotta tell ya, honestly, no," he responded. "I race cars for a living, this is my job, my fulltime pay-the-rent deal. Generally when the win light comes on in the final, what it really means to me is [pauses] oh breathe, there's another month's worth of money, I can survive. But to hit seventy-five national event wins, you know I'm pretty jaded, but seventy-five, that hit me pretty hard. That's quite a milestone and I'm pretty proud of it."
"I'm a one-man band out here and it can be a real struggle. Expenses have gone up over the last few years, contingency winnings aren't quite what they used to be and thank God I have K&N," Fletcher pointed out. "They've been with me for four years and I am very blessed to have them. They are a wonderful company to be involved with and I have to add that knowing every car I race is fully protected by their line of filters, well it says a lot about the quality of each of their products when you are out there putting them through the paces, week-in and week-out. I'm doing this professionally and I have to be able to count on my cars and that's why I just don't have to worry about certain things, because the K&N products are doing their job on my engines."
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