Sentimental favorite Herbert back running Top Fuel — with a purpose

Dave Ongie • Jun 15, 2013 at 2:30 AM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — If you’re looking for a sentimental favorite at the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals this weekend, look no further than Doug Herbert.

Herbert rolled into Bristol Dragway on Friday with an outdated Top Fuel dragster and a crew of friends and volunteers to service it. There was a time when Herbert practically owned Bristol Dragway. Now he’s simply hoping to wake those echoes one more time at a place he used to consider his home turf.

“Before they built the track in Charlotte, this was like my hometown track,” Herbert said. “I had such good luck here in the past, winning six times and just a lot of great memories here.”

Herbert rolled into Bristol back in 1992 with a fledgling Top Fuel team and left with his first professional victory. It was the start of a career that has included three consecutive IHRA world titles.

These days, Herbert runs only a handful of events, but he does so with a purpose. In 2008, Herbert’s sons Jon and James were killed in a head-on collision near their home in Charlotte. Herbert has spent the past five years trying to put a silver lining on that tragedy through his charity.

Herbert formed B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe) to provide teen drivers with an intensive educational course in safe driving. When Herbert lined up for his two qualifying attempts on Friday night, he did so with a photo of his sons on the side of his dragster.

“I had no idea before my sons’ accident that car accidents are the No. 1 thing that kills our teenagers,” Herbert said. “I’m just lucky to be able to do something with that. The last five years, I’ve dedicated a lot of my time and effort to building that charity up and training 10,000 kids, just really trying to make a difference and keep other families from the devastating loss of their kids.”

Herbert entered Friday’s qualifying knowing he had to be good right out of the blocks if he wanted to secure a spot in Sunday’s final eliminations. But given the circumstances, laying down a couple of quick passes was easier said than done.

“We haven’t even started the car in a year. We’ve got a couple new parts and pieces and things change pretty fast in Top Fuel,” Herbert said. “So we’re updating the car, trying to make sure we can at least be competitive, but at the same time, the more things you change, the harder it is to tune the car because you’re dealing with a bunch of variables.

“We haven’t had time to go test and most of the guys working on our car are friends and volunteers. We’re at a little bit of a disadvantage racing against a bunch of guys who do this every week.”

Herbert’s dragster was the first Top Fuel entry to the line during Friday’s first qualifying session. The goal was simple: complete a clean pass and take a swing for the fences under the lights.

“If you go down the track on the first run, then on the night run, which is the big-time, you go up there and you have something to shoot for,” Herbert said.

Unfortunately, Herbert struck the tires on his first pass and had to pedal his way down the familiar strip, sending his team back to the pits looking for the right combination in the night session. His second run was what Herbert was hoping for in his first attempt, and he posted a 3.960 ET that his team will try to improve on today.

Regardless of how Saturday's qualifying sessions go, however, Herbert has already proven an old saying wrong.

You can go home again.

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