Problem Child Puts the Hurt on Top Fuel
When drag boat racing fans reflect on the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Series Top Fuel Hydro class of 2012, one word about one boat will be repeated, “domination.”
Owner/tuner “Fast” Eddie Knox, driver Daryl Ehrlich and the Red Line Oil Problem Child crew simply overpowered a strong field of Top Fuel contenders. The season ended with a convincing win by the PC gang at the NAPA Auto Parts World Finals in Phoenix.
A stellar field of Top Fuel Hydros along with 150 world-class drag boats were in the pits, and ready for the challenge. Low 80-degree temperatures and cool, light winds made for spectacular conditions on and off the water. Thousands of fans flowed through the gates for what proved to be the biggest and best race of the season.
The Top Fuel challengers for the most coveted trophy in drag boat racing included rookie driver Jeff Gregory in Jay Haroutunian’s Whiskey River outrigger, Dave Kirkland’s world record-holding Spirit of Texas, Glen Wilson in Joe Cassiday’s Toxic Rocket, Dennis Gibson’s Hot Licks, Bryan Sanders in James Ray’s Tequila Sunrise, and multi-time world champion Lou Osman’s Speed Sports Special with JarretSilvey at the controls and world champion.
Ehrlich, Knox and company set the stage for what was to come. They only needed two of the four available qualifying attempts to lock the number one spot with a blistering 3.422 at 257.290 mph (followed by a great 3.564). While the Problem Child team was now focused on their race day setup, all of the other Top Fuel Hydros faced a wide variety of struggles. Glen Wilson returned to action for the first time in a year (after blowing over backwards at the 2011 Finals) and on his second attempt Friday “submarined” the San Francisco fueler, their weekend appeared to be over. The boat sustained major damage, but as they have shown in the past, the seasoned crew went to work, and miraculously had the boat ready for Saturday morning’s session and ultimately Sunday’s first round of eliminations.
A capacity crowd flowed in for race day and Top Fuel was set to kick things off. Knox elected to sit out the first round (a bye due to the oddly numbered field) leaving six fuelers looking to advance to the semi-finals. Of the six, rookie Jeff Gregory laid down the best lap, a 3.95 at 219 mph pass, and would meet Problem Child in the semis. Bryan Sanders and Scotty Lumbert also advanced. The semis brought everyone to their feet as both contests were hard fought. Gregory scored a .055 reaction and a solid 3.93 at 225 mph only to be on the receiving end of another brilliant 3.54 at 246-mph blast from Ehrlich. Sanders put a tenth on Lumbert at the tree and it took all 1,000 feet for the Spirit of Texas to run him down, but Lumbert turned on the win light with a narrow 3.71 to a 3.85 squeaker over Sanders. The stage was now set as the two best Top Fuel Hydros in the world battled for the World Finals gold. At the green, Lumbert roared from the rope and had three hundredths on Ehrlich, but at the 200-foot mark, the Spirit of Texas tossed the belt, and watched the 2012 world champion Problem Child thunder to another 3.54 at 255-mph crusher. Knox, Ehrlich and team had capped off a dominating year (three wins in five finals).
In other professional-class action, Bob Pizza’s and Joel Webber’s Top Alcohol Hydro team ended the year as they had started, number 1 and number 2. Owner Pizza took home the prestigious World Finals trophy, but teammate Webber took home the world championship. The two What a Tomato boats clashed in a classic final round battle that started with an .010-.042 reaction time advantage for Pizza, and he held Webber off, culminating with a razor thin 4.41 to 4.43 win. Tony Scarlatta had perhaps his worst event of the year in regard to performance, but luck was on his side, and he ended up an unlikely winner over a strong field of Top Alcohol Flat Bottoms. Jimmy Booher and his beautiful Fist Full of Dollars worked his way past 21 of the best Pro Mods in the land, finishing off 2012 world champion Mike Lamb’s Just One More for the World Finals win.
Text by Mark Westfall
Photos by Marty Reger and Steve Drennan