Fri, 22 Nov 2013, 08:41 AM
By Bob Frey
Photo copyright 2013 Auto Imagery, Inc.
Jeff Hefler celebrates Summit Racing ET
Here's a major understatement, it takes a lot to win an NHRA event. When you think about the
thousands of racers who have competed at NHRA national, divisional and regional races for the past
fifty-eight years, and then when you look at how many have actually won a race you will see, I
believe, that the number is relatively small. Many racers will tell you that they are racing simply
for the joy of competing against their fellow racers. Some, like the great Warren Johnson, one of
NHRA's top ten drivers, have always said that they enjoy just making their "stuff" go faster than
the other guy. Dale Armstrong, another of NHRA's top ten drivers of all time, echoes WJ's
sentiment. "I just liked making my car go fast and the driving was always secondary," he once told
me. And even though driving wasn't the highlight for either of those two they were both very good
at it and their cars usually did go faster than the competition. Today, however, there is a new
breed of racer, one who has actually been on the scene for years but only recently, thanks to
Summit Racing Equipment, got to race for a national championship. As you know, in bracket racing
it's not how fast your car can go but how consistently it can "run the number." And being a good
driver, that is, getting your car off the starting line with a good reaction time is also key to
the success for any bracket racer, and in recent years there aren't many who have been able to
combine those two talents better than Jeff Hefler.
I wrote a story three years ago about Jeff when he won the Summit Racing ET Series national
championship, and while several racers have been to the Summit ET finals more than once there are
only a few who have won it more than once, and when he was there in 2010 Jeff was the first and
only driver to ever qualify for the championship race in two classes in the same year. "The Summit
ET Series championship really is a big deal," Jeff said. "Sometimes you don't realize how cool it
is until it sinks in a few days later." And this year the entire season took on special meaning for
Jeff since he was racing the same car his father won with at Pomona in 2002, and the same car in
which his dad won class at Indy a year ago in one of
Jerry Hefler (far lane) defeated Leon Robertson
in the 2002
his last passes down the quarter-mile. "Dad had cancer and we lost him about two years ago," Jeff
said. "He was a guy who raced back in the late 1960's an early 1970's and he won a lot but he had
never gone to Indy. Well, when he was sick a couple of his friends, Mike Braswell and Norman
Marsden, took him to Indy in 2011 and he won his class with the Impala and he did it on a holeshot.
He had a .004 reaction time and won the race and he was so happy. For all he had done in his racing
career that was probably the highlight and I can't thank Norman and Mike enough for helping out."
For a guy like Jeff who has raced and won a lot, and that's putting it mildly, you might think that
winning the Summit Series national championship for a second time would be old hat, but it wasn't.
"I think just the fact that I was racing dad's car, the same car he won with eleven years ago, and
the last car he drove down the track, I think that made it special. I'm not a real emotional guy
but I have to tell you when that win light came on it was one of the best experiences of my life."
It also capped a six week span in which Jeff did just about everything right. "Yeah, I've had good
streaks before but nothing like that," he said. "I actually won six 'Wallys' in six weeks and I
only went to the track five times." He did that by winning a couple of National Dragster Challenge
events at his home track of Texas Raceway along with the Division 4 Summit Series title and the
national championship. He also won a rained-out and re-scheduled event where they were giving out
'Wallys,' and oh yeah, he won that day in two different classes. "They also offered $1,000 to
anyone who could win in two classes at that race so I won trophies and cash and it doesn't get much
better than that."
For Jeff, who has been racing and winning for over twenty years, spending time on the track is in
his blood. His father raced and his brother, Jeromy, still races, although he has kind of gone off
the deep end lately. "Yeah, he's in to circle track racing now and he does that a couple of times a
week. He's crazy!" Jeff added. "But I think he may do a little more drag racing next year." Whether
his brother races more or not is uncertain, but one thing that is for sure is the fact that Jeff
will be out in force again in 2014. "I intend to race about the same schedule as I did this year
and I'll try for another championship at the bracket finals." By the way if you're keeping score,
Jeff has won eight Division 4 bracket championships including several that were held before the age
of the national championship race at Pomona.
There was one little departure for Jeff in 2013 and that was the fact that he did some racing in
Competition Eliminator. "Brad Klein has an engine business and he contacted me about driving his
Comp car and, thankfully, we were able to put a deal together." The team, with their "Dream Chaser"
2010 Chevrolet Cobalt, did very well this year and they ran quick enough to run under the national
record. "Brad has raced cars for many years in a variety of classes and all have carried the name
'Dream Chaser,' Jeff said, "We ran it a couple of times in Top Sportsman just to shake it down and
then we had a good run at the Noble point's race. We ran under the record but hurt the engine a bit
and didn't get to back it up. I'll tell you, Brad builds really good engines and that car was a lot
of fun to drive." For a guy who has already won NHRA national events in Super Stock, Stock and
Super Gas, the chance to add a Comp title to his r?sum? was something he couldn't pass up. "I hope
we get to do more of it next year," Jeff said.
Jeff Hefler defeated Gary Hairfield
in the Sportsman final.
The fact that he had been to Pomona before had to help Jeff in his quest for a second championship.
"The first time you go you are a little intimidated, and I have to admit that you're also feeling
pretty good about yourself. After all, you just won a bracket finals race and here you are at
Pomona. Well, let me tell you, when you come out of the staging lanes and see all those people it
can be intimidating, especially for some of the guys who have never run at a national event before,
but I just tell myself, don't be nervous, let my opponent be nervous and I guess it works." I guess
it does, that and the fact that Jeff had three reaction times of .014, .015 and .019 and ran right
around his dial in all three rounds. "I got a little break in round two when I won on a
double-breakout," he said. "But that's all part of the game."
The game has been good to and for Jeff Hefler, and the fact that he won a second Summit title and
did it in his father's car may be the highlight of a very good career. But make no mistake about
it, he will be back in 2014 and try for a "three-peat" at Pomona, and who knows, if he doesn't
qualify for the Summit Series again he just may be there in Comp Eliminator. "I've been very
fortunate," Jeff added. "I believe that if you surround yourself with good people and have the
support of your family and friends it's hard not to do well." With the success that he has had it's
hard to argue with that philosophy, isn't it? Another thing that's hard to argue with is the fact
that his father sure would be proud of what Jeff did this year.
NHRA: 10 Most Recent Entries [ top ]
Dec 08- Drag Racing Champions Jeg Coughlin Jr., Erica Enders Return to Chevrolet
Dec 06- Team Kalitta Announces Driver Changes
Dec 05- Operation Appreciation (Day 4)
Dec 04- Operation Appreciation (Day 3)
Dec 01- Operation Appreciation (Day 2 Continued)
Dec 01- Operation Appreciation 2016 (Day 2)
Nov 30- Operation Appreciation 2016 (Day 1)
Nov 25- One-on-One with NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Champion Ron Capps
Nov 24- One-on-One with NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Champion Jason Line
Nov 23- One-on-One with NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Champion Jerry Savoie