So, what is that saying about best laid plans. How many of you had plans for 2020 go exactly how you thought they would?....Yep that’s what I thought. Everyone one of us have had our lives turned upside down in some form or fashion. This is a story that sounds all too familiar this year and one we can relate to, but it has a drag racing twist. A twist that shows the silver lining, the light at the end of the tunnel, or maybe more apropos that the dropped cylinder will reignite.
At the beginning of 2020, I received news from a friend that this year he was going to embark on the next chapter in his drag racing life, and would be living the dream that many of us drag racers share; to move up to the professional ranks behind the wheel of a top fuel dragster. Many of you know this drag racer as Joey Haas, the son of nitro wheelman Joe Haas, who could often be seen at nostalgia events around the Midwest over the years crewing for Tom Motry, John Lawson, and Jim Young when he was not behind the wheel of his own nostalgia alcohol funny car or Stephen McClain’s nostalgia top fueler. Joey asked me if I would mind writing an article for him and if Nostalgia Drag World would publish it. I gladly accepted and though the article was to announce the intention of Joey to get his license and make his debut in a modern-day top fueler, not nostalgic in nature, I felt the chronicling of a driver who has worked his way through the nostalgia ranks both from wrenching and sitting in the driver’s seat to making it to the “Big Show” was still a good story for a nostalgia magazine.
After that article was published Joey did get behind the wheel of Terry Totten’s dragster and began his licensing passes at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona. Joey did make a best pass of a 3.95 at 292 mph, but unfortunately was not able to complete his licensing during that session. So, plans were made to complete his licensing after another upcoming NHRA event. And that’s where things began to go sideways, which is never good, especially for drag racers.
It was just after this test session that a fire completely destroyed the shop of John Lawson and all of its contents including his racecars. The Haas and Lawson families have been close for a long time as Joey’s dad, Joe often shoed the “Quickdraw” funny car for the Lawson’s and Joey would help wrench on the car. Another member of that crew, Pete Dove, who was with Joey helping crew on the Totten dragster had gotten his nitro license in the Fall of 2019 with the help of John Lawson. Pete was in the process of building his own ride when this happened, and Lawson gave him the opportunity to come up and see if there was anything that he could salvage.
Then as everyone is aware the world of drag racing came to a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This put a halt on any further licensing and the unknowns of the future came creeping in and lead to much speculation of whether we had seen our last drag race of 2020.
However, drag racers are a resourceful and perseverant bunch. Look no further than the term “pit thrash” and you can find examples of miraculous comebacks throughout drag racing’s history. And as we have learned those comebacks do not just happen in the pits, but throughout all aspects of the sport. And it was during the spring and early summer months that many drag racing organizations started to begin to re-emerge often creating and re-creating new schedules. They developed plan after plan that gained approval for racers to get back to the track and in many cases brought fans back to the stands.
When the NHRA began its drag racing revival at Lucas Oil Raceway Terry Totten and his team including Joey and Pete brought the big show fueler with them and qualified at all three events making solid 3 second passes. Also, during this time Pete Dove had taken the parts he could salvage back to his home where he began converting his funny car chassis into an altered, complete with a Bantam body. Pete would regularly update social media with the progress of his altered, which he appropriately named “Back from the Ashes.” Then on August 8th the “Back from the Ashes” fuel altered made its first hits at Central Illinois Dragway with Scott Shear turning the screws. Two short hits were made including an early shutoff pass that produced a 3.86, 172 mph time slip.
The days and weeks that followed showed just how perseverance can revitalize those dreams that seemed at once to have been lost. Two days after having the altered make its maiden voyage, Joey had the opportunity to get back behind the wheel of Terry Totten’s fueler on a Monday test session in hopes of completing the licensing process. After an Indy rainstorm nearly derailed those chances, the Totten Motorsports team was able to get Joey on the track for one more 3.95 second pass at 271 mph, enough to complete his license.
Two weekends later Joey and Pete flipped roles and now Joey and his dad, Joe, were helping crew on Pete’s altered at the World Fuel Altered Nationals in Eddyville, Iowa. This year happened to be the largest running of the event in its history. There was one qualifying session scheduled for Friday night, August 21st. The altered did not disappoint. On an early shutoff pass the altered screamed to its quickest ET yet, a 3.78 at only 169 mph and was the provisional #1 qualifier of the A Field after the first session. After the final session the “Back from the Ashes” fuel altered was sitting in the 3rd spot ready for the first round of eliminations. Unfortunately, the first round did not go as planned and Pete lost with a 4.19 at 194 mph to a quicker 4.06. As disappointing as that was, it was also a bit unbelievable as the pass was made with the burnout throttle stop still on! Pete and the team asked if they could have a redemption run before packing it up for the evening to see what could happen on a full pass. The staff at Eddyville granted the team one more pass and all in attendance were grateful. First of all, let me just say FLAMES!!! If you have not seen the run look it up on Facebook. The candles were lit for the full 660’ and illuminated the scoreboards with at 3.77 at 215 mph.
Obviously, this was not the original plan, but it’s been a remarkable August for these two and hopefully the coming months will continue this trend. Joey who was supposed to make his NHRA debut much earlier this year now has his name listed as an entrant in his first NHRA national event. And what a way to make your national event debut, in Top Fuel Eliminator at the biggest drag race of the year, the US Nationals. Thanks to his sponsors the Russell Ballew family owned Speedy Drinks, John Hale’s Best of Texas BBQ, Chip Lofton of Strutmasters, Redline Oil, Boninfante Friction, The Barn at Murphey Farm that he owns with his wife Elizabeth, his crew Mark Howard, Scott Fritz, Joe Haas, Joe Pryor, Pete Dove, and car owner Terry Totten, Joey has a consistent car under him and as long as he cuts a light and keeps it in the groove he is going to keep the other teams honest and could be going rounds at the Big Go!
NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - Words by Mike Sopko Jr.
Photos of Joey Hass courtesy of Joey and Jimmy "Buffalo" Hall
Photos of Pete Dove courtesy of Martin Libhart