CLERMONT, Ind. -- The year was 1982 and although Frank Hawley was the NHRA points leader at the wheel of the legendary Chi-Town Hustler, few people were aware that his car owner and crew chief, Austin Coil, was on the verge of quitting the tour when the team rolled into Indianapolis Raceway Park for the U.S. Nationals.
Coil, who this week returns to IRP as crew chief on the world's quickest and fastest Funny Car, John Force's Castrol GTX Start Up Ford, was in his first full NHRA season in 1982 after 15 years on the match race circuit where he and his car commanded top dollar.
Racing for a season-long championship was something new to the Chicago native and, by the time the tour reached Indy, he was out of parts, out of money and, seemingly, out of options.
By his own calculation, he needed to win the world's oldest, largest and richest drag race just to pay for gas to get him and his team to California for the season's last two events at Fremont, Calif., and Irvine, Calif.
Unfortunately, he and Hawley didn't win that year. In fact, after qualifying fifth at 5.885 seconds, the "Hustler" was beaten in the very first round when it slowed to 6.383 against Tom McEwen's Corvette. To make matters worse, Billy Meyer won the race and passed Hawley for the Funny Car points lead.
Nevertheless, Coil recalls that 1982 race as the most memorable of all the U.S. Nationals in which he has participated.
"We were trying to scrape by with enough money to hopefully continue to chase the world championship," Coil said. "And although we failed miserably in the race itself, we were fortunate enough to win the first ever Big Bud Shootout (the Funny Car bonus race now called the Skoal Showdown).
"That $25,000, which is what they paid at the time, is what funded our effort and allowed us to contest the rest of the races," Coil said. "Probably no one knows it, or believes it, but for sure we were broke leaving Indy and if it wasn't for that $25,000 check, we were parked.
"(If we hadn't won the Shootout), the Chi-Town Hustler would of probably never been world champion, Force probably would have never hired me and history would have been a lot different."
Indeed it would.
Hawley went on to win the championship, not just in 1982, but also in 1983. As a result, when an aspiring young owner/driver named John Force went looking for someone to run his operation, Coil was the name at the top of his list.
Since beginning their collaboration in 1985, Coil and Force have won 13 championships and 118 tour events including Mac Tools U.S. Nationals titles in 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2002.
Moreover, they have dominated the race now known as the Skoal Showdown, a Funny Car bonus race that pays a $100,000 winner's purse. They won in 1987, 1990, 1993, 1996 and 2000 and were runners-up six other times, losing in the final round the last two years to team cars Tony Pedregon and the Castrol SYNTECR Ford in 2003 and Gary Densham and the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford in 2004.
OTHER FAVORITE INDY MEMORIES:
Bernie Fedderly, co-crew chief with Coil on the Castrol GTX Start Up Ford:
"Winning (Top Fuel with fellow Canadian) Terry Capp and the Wheeler Dealer car in 1980. We kind of stumbled our way through. I think the first one is always the sweetest. The next best, I think, was winning last year with (Gary) Densham and Jimmy (Prock and the Auto Club Ford Mustang). The two-fer (victories in both the Nationals and the Skoal Showdown). That was great."
Dean "Guido" Antonelli, team leader and chief mechanic on the Castrol GTX Start Up Ford:
When we had the gold Mustang (1998), the seven-time world champ car, and we were in second place (in points) behind Capps. Second round, he had lane choice. We were in the bad lane. Everybody wrote us off. I think John killed him on the tree, we beat him and went on to win the race and take the points lead and never looked back."
Jimmy Prock, crew chief on the Auto Club of Southern California Ford:
"(Last year's double-up victory) was pretty much my fondest memory of Indy. How do you top that? To me it felt so good to do good (at Indy). Because when you don't do good there, I think you feel a little more disappointed than you probably do anywhere else."