Where is your car? I have been asked that question at least a thousand times this year. I have to explain to everybody that this new Lincoln IS my car!
My competitors call it the "Stinkin' Lincoln." I call it the "Terminator."
I now have a stepson, Kenny Poppell, who just turned 16 and loves bracket racing as much as me. When I was 16, a friend, Jerry Thomas, taught me the physical and mental skills that it would take to win regularly, year after year, decade after decade, in bracket racing. Now I want to pass these skills on to Kenny. Hence my "new" way of racing-letting him ride along with me.
It's legal, according to the 1998 NHRA rulebook. Check it for yourself-page 180, in General Regulations, under the heading "Occupants." It reads in part: "No more than one person is permitted in any car during any run, except one co-driver permitted in 14-second and slower ET cars; co-driver must be a minimum of 16 years of age."
Now, most people overcomplicate bracket racing. You only need four basic skills to succeed. Number one, learn to adjust your car so you can kill the Tree week after week. Number two, you need to learn how to read the ET slip so you can pick the correct dial. Number three, you need to learn to drive on the top end. And number four, learn that this is a fun sport and if you are doing it for any other reason, quit or it will break you!
About halfway through the 1997 race season, I started dating my future wife, Suzette, and Kenny started going to the races with me. I won my eighteenth track championship then. Even though Kenny wasn't driving, I was already teaching him how to read the ET slip and pick a dial.
We have a full-size Sam Biondo Tree in my home, and Kenny would practice with it regularly. Kenny turned 16 early in 1998 and I decided it would be fun and a great learning tool for him to ride with me. My race car was too fast, so I used what I have, a four-door Lincoln Town Car. We started in Trophy Class, and we won it three straight times, and then started running Sportsman.
I've found from riding with Kenny and others that top-end driving seems to be the hardest to learn. I've had two different people riding with me at the same time with their heads right against the window, and I would still have to tell them who got there first, before we picked up the ET slip.
The week Kenny turned 16, we went to the track and his racing career was on in a 1987 Buick Regal. He drove and was doing great, but had a little trouble staging so he could get a good Tree. We rode together and I made a pass in his car with me doing the driving, and I gave him a couple of more tips about staging. From then on it was all Kenny. Not only did he win his first-ever Trophy Class race, he came back two weeks later and won again. He is currently leading the Trophy Class at L&L Dragway in Walthourville, Georgia. I do not know if he'll win, but if he does, it will be something he can be proud of for the rest of his life.
I was having so much fun driving the Terminator that I just kept on driving it. Earlier in the year I raced at L&L and won. The next day I drove, Kenny and his cousin, Josh, rode with me, and we won at Southern Dragway in Douglas, Georgia. The next day, Sunday, Kenny and I rode at L&L again and we won again. Three in a row! As they say, "Not too bad for what we had!"
All was not hunky-dory in the ride-along world, though. After we won at Southern Dragway with three of us in the car, some of the sore losers complained to the new owner that they weren't coming back unless I drove by myself. They said the riders were spotting for me. With this brain-dead thinking, it's no wonder they can't win.
I race at L&L Dragway on Friday nights and Savannah Drag Strip on Saturday nights. If anybody else would like to ride along, have some fun and maybe even learn a little, come on. I'm easy to find. Think about what a story it would make!
If the proof is in the pudding about this ride-along game, here it is-as of mid-summer, the Terminator currently has a 20-plus round lead in the points at L&L Dragway.
Chip Horton is 43 years old and is an 18-time track champion. His wins have spread across two states, four drag strips, and three decades. His usual race car is his "Trinity" Dart Footbraker. Horton lost his left leg in an off-road accident when he was a teenager, and now races with his right foot.