Fri, 31 Dec 2010, 09:16 AM
It's A Mental, Fiscal and Mechanical Thing
By Bob Frey
Photo copyright 2010 Auto Imagery, Inc.
Competition Eliminator has been part of the NHRA scene for as long as Top Fuel. In truth, it has
been around even longer. There have been 688 races that included Top Fuel and 690 that have
featured Competition Eliminator. Most people are familiar with the great stars of the dragster
class, with names like Garlits, Amato, Schumacher, Dixon and others being household names among
drag racing fans. Those same fans, however, may be hard pressed to name some of the early greats
who visited the winner's circle as a Comp Eliminator champ. In that group are such stars as Tony
Nancy, Pete Shadinger, Chico Breschini, Don Enriquez, George Montgomery and so many more. Among the
contemporary winners are Larry Pritchett, David Nickens, Todd Patterson and David Rampy to name
just a very few. If you win in Comp you have accomplished a lot in this sport, and while a lot of
those who I just mentioned won races not all of them won the national championship. To do that you
have to have a good car, a good driver, a great team and, some will say, a little luck. The 2010
Lucas Oil World Champion in Competition Eliminator had all of those ingredients as he put together
one of the best years in class history.
Al Ackerman, from Saddle Brook, NJ, is the 2010 champion and he did it in style. His 717 points are
second only to the very impressive 718 that Bruno Massel put up last year, and his margin of
victory, 127 points, is the largest in the history of the class. And all of that success comes from
a car that only has four cylinders and 176 cubic inches. "I've been running in the F/ED class since
about 1995," Al said. "I've had this car since 2005." When asked why he chose this particular
combination he added," It was really for financial reasons. When I came back to racing, after
taking a few years off, I wanted to race but I didn't have a lot to put into the car, so I found
the least expensive way to get into Comp." He has made that decision and that investment pay off
handsomely. In 2010 Al had a season that most racers just dream about. "To be honest I never
thought we would win the championship. I always hoped we would and I always thought we could, but
you know, it's not easy to win a championship in any class, especially Comp." Al said that the
little idiosyncrasies of Comp are what make it so exciting and challenging. "There's a lot of luck
involved, like who you end up racing, how the ladder breaks out, who hit their index before you
race them and things like that."
Ackerman vs. Lou Ficco Jr.
in Brainerd final.
That "index" thing is something that Al had on his mind when he mapped out his schedule for 2010.
"It's tough to race when you have a fast car," he said. "You go to those 'mind-shaft' tracks with
great conditions and you're more worried about hitting the index than you are winning the race. So
we started later this year than usual and went to some tracks where we thought it would be hot and
humid and it worked out." Among those tracks were the divisional race in Cordova and the national
event in Brainerd. "When we won the Cordova race it really gave us some momentum," he said. "It
gave us some points on the divisional level and renewed our confidence. And then when we went and
won Brainerd we knew that we had a shot at winning it all."
Ackerman celebrates Indy win.
For a man who has raced as long as Al has, and he goes back to some of the early days at Island
Dragway where he raced against some of the top drivers in the sport, there has to be some turning
point, some moment during the year that made the difference between just racing and winning. "I've
been asked about that a lot," Al said. "And it has to be the articles in National DRAGSTER. Bruce
Deveau writes a column called 'The Racer's Mind,' and in it he talks about different things and
different approaches that people take toward everything, racing, life, you name it. I read several
of his articles and he talked about the mental approach to racing. How if you put a lot of pressure
on yourself it can hurt your performance, and if you relax a bit, well, you can do better." After
reading that Al says that he went to the races with a completely different attitude. "I went to the
track and said I'm going to have fun and enjoy myself. If we qualify that's good, if we win a round
that's good. But if we don't, we still enjoy the experience. Now I don't know if that was the
single reason why we won but I will tell you that it made a difference."
Ackerman vs. Bruno Massel
in Indy final.
Once he had the mental part of it down all Al had to do was concentrate on the track and not make
any mistakes. "We were pretty fortunate to have the car running well this year and limit our
mechanical troubles. I got a pretty good handle on the clutch set-up this year and that really
helped, too." Stringing together back-to-back national event wins in Brainerd and Indy didn't
hurt, either. At Brainerd, working with an all volunteer crew, Al beat a very good field that
included Lou Ficco in the final round. Then, in Indy, the most grueling of all races for
Competition Eliminator teams, Al made it through the sixty-four car minefield only to find the
reigning World Champion, Bruno Massel, waiting for him, and when the champ fouled out it paved the
way for Al to get all the points he would need to win the Lucas Oil crown.
Once he had competed at the maximum number of races allowed for points, Al decided to go West and
race in Las Vegas and Pomona. "We didn't do real well at either of those races," he said. "In fact,
we broke both times. But by then I knew we had the points to win it and I just wanted to have fun.
Plus, my sons and my family all got to come out and see us race and that was the biggest thrill of
all." Now that's saying a lot for a guy who just won the World Championship, but it's also keeping
everything in its proper perspective, and as Al says, that's the key to a wining combination, both
on and off the track.
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