DAN FLETCHER'S RUN FOR 100 IS EPIC
The only NHRA Lucas Oil NHRA sportsman racer to ever sweep the Western Swing, a three-time NHRA World Champion, and a winner in six different categories, (Comp, Super Stock, Stock, Super Comp, Super Gas, and Super Street), Dan Fletcher understands the task which awaits him. The question remains, did Fletcher ever really think he was going to get 100 wins in his racing career?
“No,” Fletcher admitted. “I never really thought too much about it down the road. When I quit my job to go racing, it was just an opportunity to pursue something I truly loved and cared about, and thought I could make a living out of doing. I thought it was something that was a viable enterprise at the time, and it turned out that it was, and it has been a tremendous ride. As for ever getting to 100, I just wanted to get to one. My goal was to get to one, so to have two zeroes behind it is pretty ridiculous.”
While a win is a win when you have the volume Fletcher boasts, there are some which have special significance to Fletcher.
“My most memorable win might very well be my very first win,” Fletcher recalled. “My most memorable group of wins was probably the first swing when I swept the swing in 1994, which was obviously what put me on the map. The most rewarding was probably driving Luke’s [Bogacki] car to the win in Super Comp in Vegas last year. That’s something I had wanted to do for a while, and it was finally nice to check that one off.”
Fletcher has seen many changes come over the course of two decades, especially in sportsman racing.
“One of the biggest changes is that everyone is so good,” Fletcher explained. “I mean when I left Xerox years ago, and I don’t want this to come out the wrong way, but I thought I was decidedly better than most of my competition. In my deal in Stock and Super Stock, the bottom bulb stuff, there were guys who were terrible, but no one is terrible anymore. For the most part everyone is great. Nowadays I’m barely better than my competition, and maybe not at all. A lot of guys who were bracket racers turned into class racers. I mean, that’s what I did. I was a bracket racer who turned into a class racer and waded into a world where guys were more worried about tuning their Quadrajets than they were about leaving the starting line and holding anything and driving the finish line. Now, everyone is a driver.”
While the competition level is at an all-time high, Fletcher points out the rewards are at an all-time low. He also believes the national event experience isn’t what it used to be.
“There is nowhere near the money to be won [at a national event] that there was years ago,” Fletcher lamented. “What kind of a business would you want to be in where the expected revenue is virtually half of what it was twenty years ago? It doesn’t pay. The purse money is the same as it was twenty years ago. You could have nearly sixty decals on the car and win $2,000 from NHRA and $18,000 in stickers and drum up $20,000 when you win a race. How, you’re lucky to dump $10,000. If I didn’t have Peak, Mickey Thompson, K&N, Denso, ATI, and VP, there would be no chance I would be able to do this.
“Expenses have gone up, it costs so much more to operate, and sadly, the luster and the shine of an NHRA national event experience isn’t what it used to be. When you would go to an NHRA national event, the manufacturer’s midway would be huge, you felt special when you were there, and it really was a special time. Partly because I have done it so long, [but] there is no other way to say it, I don’t feel as if we [sportsman racers] are treated all that well. NHRA, because of the economy I guess and because their business has cut so far back, the staff they used to afford the sportsman racer and the track time that used to be afforded to the sportsman racer isn’t there. It just doesn’t seem to have the same fun factor that it used to. “
Interestingly enough, the drive to get to 100 wins is on an equal plain with winning another NHRA series championship, at least it is in Fletcher's world.
“I want to get by Manzo for second,” Fletcher said. “I’m clearly not going to get to Force, but I’d like to get past him [Manzo]. I don’t know if [this is] really going to happen, but I’d really like to win the championship in Stock. I’ve run Stock for like fifteen years, and I’ve finished second, and third, and fourth, and fifth, and pretty much all the other top ten numbers, but I haven’t won it. It kind of sticks in my crow a little bit because I’d like to think it’s something I could have done.”
Fletcher will have his first crack at winning number 100 at the place he last made his way to the winner’s circle, Pomona and the Winternationals. He's entered in both Comp Eliminator and Stock, driving the car he won the 2008 Comp world title along with the same 2014 COPO Camaro in which he won event number 99.
“Clearly I’d like to win it in my dad’s car, the Super Stock car,” Fletcher commented. “That’s the one I would like to win it in, though honestly, I’m not sure that’s going to happen. When I go to Pomona, my son, Timothy, is driving that car and I’m going to be driving the COPO and the Comp car, so I’d like to think I have a chance with one of those two there. As for what track, I really couldn’t give what track, I just would really like my wife or one of my boys at least, or some family member, to be there.”
It can be argued age slows a man. Time is a consideration for Fletcher, but while possibly cutting back is in the cards, don’t expect him to stop racing anytime soon.
“In a few years, I can see cutting back on the NHRA deal a little bit, trying to stay more on the eastern half of the world, and running a ten-race schedule if my sponsors are amicable to that,” Fletcher explained. “I’d like to see my kids do well and keep paying the bills for a few more years. I don’t know how much longer the whole NHRA experience is going to be around for sportsman racers, but I’d like to earn a living for a few more years here before I go work at Home Depot or something.”
In a sense, Fletcher’s drag racing career compares to a game of chess. Each successful move is a victory which gets him closer and closer to the ultimate prize. What happens when he gets there?