- Bill Stephens
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Doug Herbert knows what it's like to be a Top Fuel champion. The second generation racer, whose father, Chet Herbert, has been a drag racing and performance parts pioneer since the sport's earliest days, won four IHRA championships during his long association with that sanctioning body.
But an NHRA championship in drag racing's senior league has eluded him throughout his Top Fuel career.
For 2005, Herbert is positioning himself to make a powerful push toward his first POWERade title with a two-pronged realignment of his Snap-On Tools team, based in Lincolnton, N.C. This week, Herbert announced he has hired veteran tuner Rob Flynn to replace his previous crew chief, Ed "The Ace" McCulloch. And while Flynn begins to settle in with Herbert's outfit -- which includes long-time Herbert tuning expert Jim Brissette -- plans are under way for Doug Herbert Racing and Joe Amato Racing to join forces and create a double-barreled assault for the '05 championship.
Flynn has a long resume of tuning experience and came into his own in 1997 when he called the shots for Whit Bazemore's Team Winston nitro Funny Car. Since then, he has served as crew chief for a number of upper echelon teams including those of Del Worsham, Cruz Pedregon, and most recently, Bob Vandergriff Jr.
"We were impressed with what Rob accomplished with Vandergriff," Herbert said. "That team was not running with a bottomless budget and they were still able to make the car competitive. That says a lot about the crew chief. Rob is a guy who has a real knack for tuning and his enthusiasm makes him an even more valuable member of this crew."
The decision to team up with Amato, whose talent pool is built upon the extensive tuning abilities of Wayne Dupuy and the driving skills of young Morgan Lucas, makes sense for both operations. They both should gain advantages from sharing data and exchanging ideas. Flynn and Dupuy have worked together in the past and the new tandem bears tremendous potential.
"Wayne and I have great respect for each other," Flynn said. "We work well together and we both share the same work ethic to win. Team chemistry is vitally important to what we do and that helps create a winning attitude. A top five season next year would be the kind of goal that would lift everyone on the team."
For Herbert, it all comes down to having the best team he can assemble and going to the racetrack on Sunday with the belief he can win.
"I go into every race thinking we can win," he said. "If I didn't feel that way I'd quit right now. I'm pretty sure that confidence is going to go up even more with this team. We're making positive improvements every day and I just can't wait for the season to start."
Bill Stephens covers the NHRA for ESPN and ESPN.com.
Doug Herbert has made changes within his Snap-On Tools Top Fuel team that should increase his odds of making a title run.