Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals
Dunn marks 60th year of drag racing
Pomona, pre-race: The year was 1950. Harry Truman was President of the
Flash forward to 2009 and Dunn, one of the original pioneers of NHRA Drag Racing, will be celebrating his 60th year in the sport. The legendary team owner/driver/tuner began his career as a competitor in 1950 when the popularity of the sport was starting to move from the streets and take hold on local strips throughout
Since retiring from driving in 1990, Dunn's career has continued to flourish as a respected crew chief, technical advisor and car owner. He wrenched cars to numerous victories throughout the '90s including the 1997 Big Bud Shootout in
Last year with Tony Bartone behind the wheel, the Dunn-tuned Canidae All Natural Pet Foods/Lucas Oil Chevrolet Funny Car won the Schuck's Auto Supply NHRA Nationals at
Dunn sat down for a Q&A before heading to Auto Club Raceway for this weekend's 49th annual Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals on Feb. 5-8, the first of 24 events in the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
Your thoughts on starting your 60th year of drag racing. "I didn't even think I'd live to be 60, let alone be involved with something for 60 years. I've seen drag racing going from good to bad, and back to good again. But it's hard to do it now. The fun days were when we'd go to a little match race for four days. Now you've got to have 10-20 guys on the team just to get it started.
"Everybody asks how you can do this for 60 years. I must just really love pain or I'm just really stupid (laughs). It's been good for me because I enjoy working on the cars. I enjoy listening to them and hearing them. Everybody gets caught up winning and is hurt if they don't. If you win a race, that's a bonus. Just getting there and getting them started is the fun part. For example, I won 20 local races one year in my dragster at Irwindale,
Do you remember your first car? "My '40 Ford was the first car I had. I was 14, and my dad asked me what I wanted for my 15th birthday. I said six carburetors; he said okay but you've got to do all of the work, and since then I've been doing all my own work. But everybody did their own work in those days because nobody made anything. You had a manifold and carburetor, and that was it. If you wanted to try something else you had to build it yourself. It was more fun then, too, because you had to put more thought into it. Today, with the rules in place, we're almost like a Pro Stock car.
"The '60s were probably the best as far as a favorite given time period for drag racing. My favorite car was the Dunn-Merritt-Velasko Altered. We ran it two years and only got beat once. We won the Winternationals twice in Gas and then switched it over to Fuel in March and won the March meet in Altered."
What have you done to prepare for the 2009 season? "We bought a brand-new Murf McKinney car and we're hoping that will put us back in the chase. But I always say it's kind of like grabbing at straws. There's no proven car out there, but I walk down through the line and see 18
How does your experience help your team keep up with the other teams? "I still tune mostly by feel and the computer tells me if I'm right or wrong. That's my back-up tool. The new guys do it just the opposite way; they tune by computer and then maybe check it out by feel to see if they're right. The new guys are a lot better with the computers than I am, but I think I'm better than they are with just gut feeling. They haven't had the experience. You don't know until it happens."
Are you excited about the start of another race season? "I enjoy the races and the spectators are great. That's my home away from home. I'm just glad that I'm still walking and still have the opportunity to tune this Canidae/Lucas Oil Funny Car. You've got to know where you are to set your sights. You count your budget, and it takes this much budget to be a champion, it takes this much budget to be in the middle, it takes this much budget to qualify. Anytime we go to the starting line we say we can beat the guy. I've always said that the day I go up to the starting line and say I can't beat him, I'll quit. Racing is racing. If you're racing the No. 1 qualifier and you're 16th, in your mind you're thinking if he runs his perfect race and I run my perfect race, then he'll kick my butt. But that doesn't happen very often side by side."
You've got Canidae All Natural Pet Foods returning as a sponsor on the car and Lucas Oil stepping up its involvement with the team for 2009. "The Canidae folks are all really nice people and the owner's a racer. It's more like a family deal than a business. But he's a smart business man and we've helped them with their message of Responsible Pet Ownership. We talk with them quite a bit and it's a pretty close deal.
"And I've always appreciated the strong support from Forrest and Charlotte (Lucas) over the years. Great sponsors like Canidae and Lucas Oil allow us to keep racing in an increasingly tough and competitive Funny Car class. We've got a great group of sponsors that support our racing efforts."
What are your goals for 2009? "We're going to try to win 24 races this year, but that doesn't happen very often (laughs). Every year there's one of the little independent underdogs that are in the top 10. We had (Jim) Head one year, we had (Gary) Densham last year, (Del) Worsham was No. 2 one year, so I hope it's my turn to get up in the top 10.
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