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Interviewed by Ted Yerzyk
Photos by Jeff Burk

ick LaHaie is arguably the most respected crew chief in the Top Fuel ranks, if not all of NHRA drag racing. The Michigan native raced to five wins en route to the NHRA Top Fuel title in 1987, driving his Miller dragster to the crown with the help of just his family.

After 33 years behind the wheel, LaHaie has spent most of the past 14 years tuning for the likes of Scott Kalitta, Doug Herbert and Larry Dixon. The Dixon/LaHaie tandem aims for their third NHRA Top Fuel championship in four seasons as the Miller Lite team looks to rebound from last season’s sixth place finish. At the 2005 season-opener, LaHaie tuned his first 4.4-second elapsed time when Dixon blasted his Miller Lite dragster to a run of 4.496-seconds at Pomona Raceway. He then tuned Dixon to a career-best ET (4.481-seconds) a few hours later at the historic Southern California drag strip.

After LaHaie tuned Larry Dixon to a win at Las Vegas--which was Prudhomme’s 100th win as a driver and team owner--DRO asked the legendary driver/tuner and former NHRA Top Fuel World Champ a few questions. As usual Mr. LaHaie answered with directness and candor.

Under ideal race conditions, are mid-4.40s at 335 mph the maximum performance that we’ll see with the current rules package?

LaHaie: I think that 335 mph is close to the max speed because of the rev limiter. I don’t think there is a limit to how quick we can go, it’s just figuring out how to do it. At Pomona this February, [Tony] Schumacher ran 4.44, so we have the capabilities to run as quick as Doug Kalitta did with the 4.42 at Chicago. We are dealing with a tire that we have to work around. The 1430 tire isn’t as forgiving as some that we’ve run in the past.

Does the 8400 rpm rev limiter mandated by NHRA and built into the MSD ignition system act as a form of traction control?

LaHaie: The retarder retards [the timing] at four seconds into the run, so it’s maybe going to affect the car for half-a-second. If you smoke the tires, it’s going to happen in the first part of the race track and the rev limiter won’t even come into play. It won’t really help the traction if it comes into play four seconds into the run. The rev limiter is programmed to retard [ignition timing] at 8400 rpm. At that point, I don’t think you need to worry about it being a traction control issue. It limits the maximum rpm at a certain point and time in the race course. We’ll work around it like with other issues. Alan Johnson proved that you can run 335 mph with it on the race car. We just have to take different approaches to running the car.


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