(Scott Bessee photo)

Mr. Hale Goes to Cordova

(The Adventures of John Hale and the Orange Crate Top Fuel Team.)

Two-time DRO Funny Car Champion John Hale and his wife Karen had planned to travel last weekend to the World Series of Drag Racing in Cordova, Ill. With the weekend off from running the IHRA schedule, their plan was simple — hang out with friends and watch the action at Cordova. 

Well, those plans went by the wayside as Dale Suhr, owner of the famed Orange Crate Nostalgia Top Fuel car, approached Hale about driving the “Crate”  in a match race with the Frantic Fueler already part of the show. This could have been the basis of an old Frank Capra movie.

The Crate’s regular driver, second generation racer Dave Hirata, had another commitment with the A/Fuel car he drove in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, and so there was Suhr, searching for a shoe. He found the Hales walking through the pits and inquired with John about driving his front-motored Top Fuel car. Hale, being the racer he is, agreed.There was just one slight issue... well, maybe two.

First, Hale had never driven, or even sat in, a front-motored Top Fuel car before.

Second, he hadn't brought his helmet bag or gear. And after all, why would he? It was only supposed to be a relaxing weekend with Karen.

Thus, the first order of business was to round up a fire suit, helmet, gloves, boots, and shoes — all the paraphernalia necessary to safely make a pass in a front engine Top Fuel dragster.

A visit to Tony Pedregon’s yielded shoes and boots; Jimmy Young had a spare helmet, Kyle Wurtzel had a fire suit that fit, and the rest of the needed items came from Brian Stewart. Hale was on his way.

The team went through the warm-up procedures, and, as the car started, Hale learned was that with the headers being so close, the driver gets a small nitro bath! Educational!