When looking at Craig Smith’s top fuel dragster pit area, a person might think the operation is comparable to the big teams sponsored by McDonald’s, Castrol or Budweiser.
Smith has a big-name sponsor in Goodwrench, a beautiful black and silver semi and a professional-looking crew decked out in black uniforms.
Looks can be deceiving.
Smith and his crew are on a tight budget which allows them to run only 10 races a year, including just one NHRA event.
This weekend’s AHRA World Finals at Spokane Raceway Park is one of those races for the Odessa, Wash., native.
“We race with all the money Goodwrench gives us,” Smith said before Saturday afternoon’s rain began, eventually pushing back the night’s schedule. Smith estimates that a weekend of top fuel racing costs a minimum of $30,000 and usually upward of $50,000. One pass down the quarter-mile track runs a hefty $4,000.
But Smith and his crew chief, Don Couch, are building for the future.
“Things are looking better for next year,” Smith said. “Every year, Goodwrench gives us a little more money. It’s just a matter of them getting used to the sport.”
Smith credits former world champion Kenny Bernstein’s long-standing deal with Budweiser - that started more than 10 years ago - as a big boost to the sport.
“That deal started with Bud giving Bernstein $500 for any newspaper article written about them. Now he gets anything he wants,” explained Smith.
One of the biggest problems Smith has faced, besides trying to get the $2 million he believes he needs to run a full schedule, is familiarizing Goodwrench executives with drag racing.
“The decision makers have never seen a dragster in all their lives,” Smith said.
To combat that problem, Smith plans to retire their 1989 Swindahl chassis after this year and buy a new one. The old car will travel around the country as a show car.
To save money, the team has does not have any paid crew members except for Couch. The others volunteer and take time off of their own jobs to help out.
“Our ultimate goal is to do everything out of somebody else’s pocket,” said Smith, who owns potato and wheat farms. “It’s just to expensive for a person to finance his own team.”
Smith definitely has the credentials to make it big in the top fuel ranks. He was the NHRA top alcohol dragster world champion from 1988-1990.
Since he began nitro racing five years ago, his best finish was second at the 1993 NHRA event in Phoenix. At the same race, he recorded his fastest time ever. A 4.87 at 300 mph.
Funny car world champion John Force believes rival Al Hoffmann is letting his frustration show by accusing Force of cheating. Hoffmann claims Force carries some device, either on his body or on the car, that locks up the brakes when the tires lose traction.
The issue came to the forefront earlier this year in Phoenix when Hoffmann demanded NHRA inspect Force’s car after he ran a mediocre 5.30 in qualifying.
The inspection turned up nothing and the next day in the semifinals, Force beat Hoffmann, running an outstanding 5.06.
“He makes these statements because he can’t believe we run as fast as we do,” Force said. “He’s just tired of getting beat for the last four years.”
The pro qualifying didn’t begin until after 11 p.m. Saturday because of the rain delay and wasn’t scheduled to finish until approximately 1 a.m. Today’s pro finals are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Gates open at 8 a.m.
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