Advertisement
Share

Nothing Funny About Hofmann’s Run for Record

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are no large commercial decals on the sides of Al Hofmann’s funny car.

Where most of his competitors have lush sponsorship deals that pay the enormous costs it takes to campaign on the National Hot Rod Assn. circuit, Hofmann, 50, pays the bills out of his pocket.

Hofmann and his wife, Helen, who is one of his crew, thought seriously about calling it a career after a mostly dismal 1997 season, which included a serious crash.

They finally decided to take one last fling at winning the gold ring--the Winston world championship.

Advertisement

Friday, in the second round of qualifying for the Chief Auto Parts Winternationals, the crusty old veteran ran the quickest quarter-mile in funny car history, 4.862 seconds.

Tony Pedregon, in the adjacent lane, ran 5.074, fourth fastest of the day, and said, “I thought I was on a good run, but Al just kept going out of sight.”

That gave Hofmann the provisional top spot for Sunday’s eliminations and put him in position to win a $50,000 bonus for a national record, if he can make another run of 4.91 seconds or better during today’s qualifying for Sunday’s rounds.

To set an official record, a time must be backed up with another run within 1% of the fastest run during the same event.

“I can’t imagine someone not wanting to put their name on a car that’s the quickest out here, a car that’s capable of going for the world championship,” Hofmann said as he basked in the limelight. “That’s why Helen and I decided to give [it] one more try. We want that championship.”

Hofmann finished second in 1995, when he was sponsored by Western Auto. Since Western Auto dropped him for Randy Anderson last year, Hofmann has been going it alone.

John Force, the seven-time funny car champion from Yorba Linda, languishes in 12th position with the 5.489-second run at 266.74 mph he made during cold conditions Thursday. His attempt to improve Friday resulted in smoking tires, and he coasted home at 81 mph.

Hofmann winced when he was told it might rain today.

Advertisement

“You bet I hope it doesn’t rain,” he said. “I want a clean shot at that 50 grand. That would mean a lot, a whole lot, to our program. We’ve got enough to make it through the season, providing we don’t have another deal like we had last year at Gainesville.”

In the final round of the Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., Hofmann beat Mark Oswald to the finish line, but before he could deploy his parachutes, the engine exploded and the car caught fire. Unable to see for the smoke and flames, Hofmann veered from the left lane to the right, crashing into the concrete barrier.

The impact broke Hofmann’s arm and he also suffered minor burns. The car was a total loss.

While he was recuperating, Hofmann hired Jeff Arend to fill in for him in the backup car, but when Arend crossed over the center line, negating a qualifying try, Hofmann fired him and hired Cory Lee. That didn’t work out, either, and Hofmann was about to head home to Umatilla, Fla., and call it a career.

Advertisement

Instead, he got back in the car. And at Texas Motorplex, he qualified second fastest, worked his way to the final round and beat Force when the world champion got overanxious and jumped the gun--red-lighting it’s called in drag racing.

“What was most gratifying today was hearing the crowd’s reaction to our run,” Hofmann said. “We’ve always had great fan support. No matter how bad things seem to get, the fans stay with us.

“One night, when we were still thinking about quitting, a fan handed us an envelop. When we got back to the room, Helen opened it and it was a check for $2,000. Actually, $1,934. We checked the name, looked him up and asked him what caused him to give us that exact amount.

“He said he had been saving up his money to restore a 1934 Ford, but he decided he’d rather help us come back this year, so he gave us the money. It’s people like that who make all our work and sweat worthwhile.”

Advertisement

Although it must wait until Hofmann can back it up to become a national record, the 4.862 is a track and event record, bettering the 4.907 he ran here a year ago.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better track,” Hofmann said. “The NHRA did a great job of preparing it after all that rain yesterday.”

In top fuel, Mike Dunn, driving Darrell Gwynn’s Mopar dragster, moved ahead of first-day leader Cory McClenathan to take the No. 1 spot with a pass of 4.590 seconds at 318.58 mph. NHRA historians said it was the ninth-fastest and ninth-quickest run ever.

One of the surprises after two rounds is that Joe Amato, shooting for his sixth top-fuel championship, is still not among the 16 qualifiers. Amato suffered another loss of traction and could only coast through in 7.003 seconds, 17th-fastest.

Advertisement

Warren Johnson, pro stock’s Mr. Reliable, continued his domination at Pomona by improving his elapsed time to 6.973 seconds. If the run holds up, Johnson will be the top Winternationals qualifier for the fifth time and No. 1 at Pomona for the 10th.

Qualifying will continue today with two sessions, at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., to set the 16-car fields for Sunday’s eliminations.


Advertisement