In just his third year in Top Alcohol Dragster, Dan Page topped the wide-open East Region, where six different drivers have won the championship in the past six years (including the Division 1 era) and everybody was in it to the end again. "People race for years and never win a championship, and we got one," said Page, who built the chassis, the same A/Fueler team owner Arthur Gallant drove to the national championship in 2002. "A lot of people would love to drive this car. Arthur knows what he's doing, and the potential is there to win any race you go to. It's unbelievable to get into something that's run this good for this long with a team that's this good at what they're doing."
"The whole year was a blur," Page said of the rugged East Region, where enough cars to fill two Top Alcohol Dragster fields regularly show up for events. "After a while, the races all start to run together. I have to think about it to remember which one we won [Maple Grove] and which one we didn't qualify at [Lebanon Valley]."
Page won Maple Grove on Memorial Day weekend, missed the cut at Lebanon Valley, then rallied for back-to-back final-round appearances at the last two Eastern events, at New England and Cecil County. "We're there to win - that's what it's all about - but any time you get to the final it's a good thing, and we got to three," Page said. "We just struggled with consistency."
"It bounced back and forth so much that we really weren't thinking about winning the championship - at least I wasn't - until the end of the year," said Page, who qualified No. 1 in Richmond but got beat first round, then went to the final at New England despite starting from the bottom half of the field. "Everybody loves to be No. 1 and it's cool to say you did it, but how often does the No. 1 qualifier actually end up winning? We were No. 1 in Virginia this year. Last year, we didn't even qualify there, but when you've got this many cars showing up every time, some really good ones are going to be on the way home before first round. Since they went to the regional format, this is a way tougher deal. I wasn't that surprised that we DNQed once - it could have happened more."
Finke did it twice (Gainesville and Maple Grove) but also won twice (Lebanon Valley and New England) to finish in second place. Seventy points back, in third, fourth, fifth, and six place, respectively, Jackie Fricke, McPhillips, Bourke, and Karen Stalba all were within one point of one another.
Bourke won the Gainesville opener over McPhillips, and Randy Meyer won Richmond over Dan Mercier. At Maple Grove, Page set low e.t. of eliminations (5.32) in the semi's and ran about as quick, 5.34, in the final against Bill Reichert, who had dominated that track for years. Page set low e.t. by a tenth with a 5.42 in the first round at New England Dragway but dropped the final when Finke retook it with a 5.41. At the pivotal Cecil County closer, where Nos. 1 and 2 qualifiers Finke and McPhillips both went out first round, Page took command with his third final-round appearance of the year, setting low e.t. of eliminations (5.43) but slipping to a 5.70 in the final to lose to the No. 8 qualifier, Stalba.
Still eligible for one more regional start, Page and the Gallant team headed to Bowling Green, where they set top speed during qualifying but went out in the first round. The title went back to Massachusetts with Gallant and Page when Finke, racing the same weekend in Topeka, lost in the semi's, but Page isn't sure if he'll be back in the seat next year.
"Somebody else is supposed to be driving," said Page, who's not at liberty to divulge her name. "Either way, I hope it works out for Arthur because he funds this thing himself. Anybody could've driven that car this year. It's not like I saved all these runs, and when it goes down the track all by itself like that, the guy turning the screws is the one who's really making it all happen."
If Page isn't driving next year, he'll be tuning a Pro Mod, possibly one on the NHRA circuit. "One way or another, I'll be out there," he said. "To me, tuning and driving are just as satisfying. I'm not done - just maybe for now. I'm never going away."
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