"We met during an Aluminium Shower"

This picture was taken on Friday 11th November 1999 at Pomona Raceway at the Winston/Auto Club NHRA Finals meeting for 1999. The driver is the Snap On Tools stand-out Doug Herbert who was being tuned at the time by Dick LaHaie. Right after the green light, there a major ignition failure which then caused this nuclear-strength engine explosion captured in the picture. It happened around half a second into the run and parts, both large and small, were flung way up into the air and thrown over a huge circumference covering both sides of the track, including the stands near the start line and even into the pits. There were some minor injuries but none too serious, thank goodness. Over on 'our' side of the track (spectator side), people all around were hit by shrapnel, although I myself was not. I did, however, keep my eyes on two large objects coming in our direction and these turned out to be the blower rotors which came out of the heavens and entered the tarmac just a couple of inches to the side of the TV cameraman's feet on this side of the track. This didn't do his nerves any good at all and he took himself off to recover and it was nearly 20 minutes before he could be persuaded to return to his post. I have never, before or since, seen an explosion like this. The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) owned and copyrighted picture can be seen just here. Courtesy of KingNitro's website, here's a fan holding up Doug's Barrel valve right after the explosion. That would really have hurt if it had hit you!

The upside of this explosive incident is that it catalysed the formation of new friendships. The picture was taken by Rick who was down from San Francisco with his friend Marcus. On this trip to Pomona, I was there with long-time pal and racing buddy Sean and we happened to be sat right across the aisle from where Rick and Marcus were located. In situations like this, when something 'happens',  I always find that you speak with those people immediately around you and so it was with Rick & Marcus. We chatted for some time about the explosion - Rick was hit in the chest by a piece of something but he was okay. The conversation we struck up set obviously stuck a chord, because we met up several times over the rest of the meeting. Just before Sean and myself set off back to LAX we exchanged email addresses and numbers. Here we are, nearly ten years down the line and we have become firm friends. We've met at the races 12 or 14 times thus far and communicate all the time via phone, email, text & forum. Every time I've been to the races in the 'States, we've hooked up and enjoyed our racing. We are great fans of Nitro warm-ups in the pits, though. However, those thick nitro clouds, sometimes from 4 or five cars starting at the same time, were beginning to get to me. In typical fashion, Rick solved the problem. At the next race we met, Rick was wearing a cheesy smile and proudly produced two tear gas masks (out of fresh air?) and the nitro problem was solved. Since then, I have bought my own mask which I try to get 'soiled' as often as possible! The last race in the US that we did together in the USA was the NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet City, Illinois, June 2003. We had such fun, as always and we then planned to go to the 50th Anniversary US Nationals at Indianapolis in 2004, which promised to be a blast. This did not come to pass, unfortunately, because I was taken ill after returning from the Veidec Nitro Festival at Mantorp, Sweden in August 2004. Rick, bless him, changed all his travel plans for Indy to come to visit me in England and then to witness the European Finals at Santa Pod, which he thoroughly enjoyed. He also got his first taste of a British Bacon Buttie (to die for!) and has vowed to be back soon.

In fact, we love our Nitro warm-ups that much, we adopted the 'just-for-fun' handle 'The Notorious Nitro Gang' which, of course is plastered all over our emails, letters, ruck-sacks and anything else that doesn't move! This is an excellent picture of 'the gang' and was taken courtesy of Sean's partner, Maggie. This was when we were at the Winternationals meeting at Pomona raceway back in 2001, when we witnessed rookie Top Fuel racer Darrell Russell win his first professional race for owner Joe Amato. This picture was taken in the shade of the stands on what was a roaster of a day in early February.

Click on picture to enlarge