Doug Herbert waited two days for what might very well have been the most important 4.526 seconds of his drag racing career, and it was darn well worth the wait.
Herbert, the National Hot Rod Association Top Fuel driver whose team is based in Lincolnton, completed his improbable Cinderella run into the “Countdown to Four” by winning the rain-delayed Toyo Tires Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., on Wednesday.
Herbert came into the final event before the championship field was cut to eight competitors 53 points out of eighth place.
The only way he could advance was to win – something he hadn’t done in 65 races since Chicago in 2004 – and have David Grubnic not make it past the quarterfinals.
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By Monday, Herbert was almost there.
Grubnic lost and Herbert made his way to the final before rain, which first delayed eliminations on Sunday, returned. The teams hung around the race track all day Tuesday, but the rain didn’t stop long enough for any racing.
Finally, just after noon on Wednesday, Herbert got his shot.
“You sit around every week waiting for that first race and it’s tearing your guts out,” Herbert said by telephone. “We had to sit there since Sunday waiting to do this. ...I’ve had the same underwear and socks on for two days because I ran out. But it doesn’t get any better than this.”
Herbert said his team kept tearing down its engine to adjust it for changing weather conditions.
Then, when it came time for the driver to do his thing, Herbert stepped up. He cut a quick .039-second reaction time at the start to take an early lead and finished in 4.256 seconds. Fuller ran 4.709 seconds and was closing at the finish with a top-end speed of 324.98 mph to 323.43 for Herbert, but Fuller could not catch up.
Herbert’s points total is now reset to 2,000, just 70 points out of first place. Drivers will accumulate points over the next four races, beginning at Indianapolis Aug. 29-Sept. 3, and the top four will then have their points reset again for a two-race showdown for the championship.
“They had us dead and buried coming into this weekend,” said Herbert, who had been as low as 16th in the standings at one point this year. “Now we have as much momentum as anybody in the Countdown.”