The Red Bay drag racer becomes only the second driver in history to accomplish the feat.
Red Bay resident and race car driver Jeff Strickland has become only the second driver in NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) history to win two national championships in the same season.
Strickland recently capped the 2016 season by winning the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series national championships in both the Top Dragster and Stock Car classes. He won the Top Dragster class in the second Las Vegas Lucas Oil racing divisional series, and then secured the Lucas Oil Stock championship in the third round of eliminations at Pomona Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.
The only other time a driver has won two championships in the same season was 1994, when Scotty Richardson won titles in the Super Comp and Super Gas classes. The odds of a race car driver winning one championship in a season is 1 in 18,000, so imagine the odds of winning two in a single season.
“There are thousands and thousands of racers that run in NHRA, and I know there’s a stat on how many racers win one race in their lifetime,” Strickland said. “That stat is one-and-a-half percent of all racers win just one race. To win a championship, that statistic is even smaller, and to win two in one year,” he said before trailing off, taking in for a moment the gravity of what he has accomplished. “Scotty Richardson, a good friend of mine, is the only one to have done it out of the millions of people who have tried since 1951.”
Strickland finished the season with 610 points in the Top Dragster class, 22 points ahead of second place finisher Matt Driskell, to claim the 2016 title. In the Stock Car category, Strickland finished with 656 points for the season, eight points ahead of Brad Burton.
No one knew that the historic double win Strickland pulled off in Gainesville, Fla. to begin the season would foreshadow what was to come at the end of the season.
At the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals on March 20, Strickland pulled wins in the Top Dragster and Stock divisions on the same day. He became just the 20th NHRA driver to win two races at a national event.
Midway through the season, Strickland saw that winning a championship might be a possibility.
“We had gone to Topeka, Kansas, in July or August and had a really good race,” Strickland said. “At that point we were in the lead by 100 points. For someone to get past that would have been difficult.”
Even then the championship wasn’t guaranteed.
Late in the season Strickland said he had concerns he might not be able to pull off the feat. Strickland kept struggling to finish races, and holding off Driskell looked to be his biggest challenge. Even though he had a lead in points, Driskell was finishing the season on a hot streak, posing a serious challenge.
He said the pressure to win the Top Dragster title was greater than it was for the Stock Car race.
“After I won the top dragster in Vegas, I was like, ‘finally, I can breathe,’” he said.
He followed up the Las Vegas win with the race at Pomona, where Strickland, driving a 2015 COPO Camaro for the Gray Motorsports team, was able to edge Burton to seal the second championship.
Strickland, along with other championship winners, was honored and was among the speakers at the Lucas Oil Series championship banquet. In an interview with the NHRA’s The Sports Report, Strickland said he dreaded having to give the speech more than having to stage either of the race cars.
Now, Strickland goes into the offseason looking ahead to next year. One thing he isn’t looking forward to is being in the spotlight. The secondgeneration racer prefers the confines of his “dungeon,” the auto repair and sign printing business he operates on Highway 19 with his father, Don. However, when next season arrives, the small-town Alabama driver who has made his place in history will not be changing much about his style or what motivates him.
“A world championship is not something I set out for when I go racing,” Strickland said. “When I set out to go racing, I go out to win each individual race. And if you win enough races, then you look at the points and go, ‘I’ve got a shot.’”