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Connolly glad to be back; ready to shake up Pro Stock

4/29/2008

COMMERCE, Ga. -- If the old saying, "Youth shall have its way" is indeed true, vivid proof of that enduring proverb can be found in the Pro Stock pit area of Victor Cagnazzi Racing. And its name is Dave Connolly.

In a category where most of the players are 35 or older -- and more than a few are 40 or more -- Connolly's youthful energy and precocious skills behind the wheel of his race car are valuable elements in keeping the younger generation of drag racing fans engaged in the sport.

Last year, Connolly came within a handful of rounds of winning his first POWERade championship, suffering a disastrous redlight in the season's final race to help hand the title to his teammate, Jeg Coughlin Jr.

This year got off to a rocky start for the 25-year-old racer from Elyria, Ohio, when his team missed the first five races on the schedule while Cagnazzi sought a new sponsor. With the recent signing of Charter Communications as Connolly's primary sponsor, Connolly made his return to the POWERade ranks this past weekend at the 28th Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Atlanta and he was totally psyched about getting back to work.

"This is fantastic for me and the team," he said after qualifying sixth and barely dropping his first-round matchup to Kurt Johnson. "It was driving me crazy sitting out the first five races, and I tried my hand at some Super Stock racing, but that didn't really fill the void. We're really happy Charter has come onboard for this year and I'm hoping they'll be staying with us for a few more years after that."

Connolly and his father, Ray, are a perfect example of how drag racing provides a bridge between generations and gives them a common passion and competitive activity to exploit together.

The elder Connolly is an accomplished sportsman racer while Dave is a former Division 3 Super Gas champion and banked an E.T. Bracket championship before that. When not racing the Pro Stock Chevy Cobalt for Cagnazzi, the two Connollys can usually be found racing at high-dollar bracket races or various NHRA divisional events somewhere in the country.

"This situation at Cagnazzi Racing is as good as it gets," said Dave Connolly. "Vic has a great engine program [one of Cagnazzi's powerplants launched Ron Krisher to the No. 1 qualifying spot last weekend] and Jeggie is a super role model for me. He won the championship last year to add to his other two, so I know racing with him helps to make me a better driver.

"Even though we missed the first five races, we can still make the Countdown to One with some round wins and hopefully some race wins between now and the U.S. Nationals when the top 10 drivers advance."

Cagnazzi shares Connolly's optimism.

"Anytime you have two drivers like Jeg and Dave on your team, you know you have a better than average chance of winning the championship," said the former Pro Stock Truck racer with a long history of involvement in the sport. "I know how anxious Dave was to get back into his car and we made it a major priority to get a deal done for him as soon as possible.

"Charter is very excited about having a foothold in the NHRA and now it's up to us to make their investment pay off."

And should Connolly close the gap between himself and those older fellows currently leading the POWERade points -- Jason Line, 38; Coughlin, 37; Greg Anderson, 47 -- youth might have its way in a category where age and experience aren't quite ready to step aside.

Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com.