Wed, 26 Dec 2007, 12:52 PM
He's The Champ....Again!!
By Bob Frey
Photo copyright 2007 Auto Imagery, Inc.
Bill Walsh. Blaine Johnson. Rick Santos. Prior to this year, in the annals of the Top Alcohol
Dragster class, those were the only three drivers ever to have won the season's championship in
consecutive years. Bill did it three times, winning in 1984, '85 and '86. The great Blaine Johnson,
along with his brother, Alan, was the champ four years in a row from 1990 thru 1993, and, at that
time there wasn't a more dominating team in the country. And, as we all know, the success of any
team is finding its strengths and weaknesses. After trying his hand at driving for a while, brother
Alan wisely turned the handling chores over to Blaine who did rather well behind the wheel of the
family car, while Alan, for his part, became a pretty good tuner. OK, so he became a great tuner.
Meanwhile, a few years after the Johnson clan stepped up to Top Fuel, Rick Santos became the
benchmark in the class when he, his dad, Norm Grimes and a very talented team won the championship
in five straight years from 1997 to 2001. Now, Bill Reichert gets to add his name to that very
short and distinguished list since he added the 2007 Lucas Oil World Championship to the one that
he won in 2006. And the way his car ran this year he would have to be considered the man to beat
again in 2008. Maybe.
Bill Reichert wasn't perfect this year but he wasn't far from it, either. He got off to a blazing
start, winning five of the first nine races that he attended and making it to the final round at
seven of those events. In the end, he put up 750 points, just slightly fewer than he did last year
(775) but he still won the championship by a comfortable margin over the second-place finisher,
Thomas Bayer. During the course of the year he also recorded the run of the year, a staggering
5.103 in a win over Duane Shields at Houston Raceway Park. In fact, of the four runs that he made
at the Houston event in eliminations, his slowest pass was an opening round 5.258, a run where he
also went over 282 miles per hour. The following rounds consisted of a 5.217, the 5.103 pass
against Shields and a final round 5.157 win over Spencer Massey, a run that also netted Bill a
thundering top speed of 284.75 miles per hour. That run was, and still is the fastest run in the
history of the Top Alcohol Dragster class. "That was, for us, the perfect race," Bill told me. "We
often talked about things that we would like to accomplish, and winning a race, qualifying number
one and setting both ends of the national record has always been on that list. You don't know if
you'll ever do it, but you like to try."
Reichert and team celebrate win.
Besides winning consecutive championships, Bill has something else in common with Rick Santos. In
Rick's last championship year, 2001, his team faced some changes to the rules that necessitated a
complete overhaul of their car. In Rick's case, it was weight, in Bill's case it was the percentage
of nitro. "When they went from 97 to 96 percent nitro in the middle of the year we didn't know how
it was going to affect the car," he said. "We went to the divisional race in Norwalk and ran well,
but it was about sixty degrees there and the weather was a big factor in our performance." It took
Bill a few races to figure out the new combination but, in the end, he still had the best car in
the class from a performance standpoint. During the course of the year he set low elapsed time at
five national events and top speed at four while recording the three fastest times in the history
of the class. "It was a pretty good year," Bill said in a classic understatement. But racing in the
alky dragster class wasn't always easy for Bill.
In the beginning of his dragster career, from 1992 through 1999, Bill, his wife Gloria and their
son, Andy, ran one of the best supercharged cars in the class. Then, in 2000, they switched to the
fuel injected, nitro car. "We just thought it would be the way to go in the future. Of course,
after that first year, we weren't so sure that we made the right decision." The record shows that,
at the eight national events that the team went to in 2000, they won a grand total of four rounds.
And, to make matters worse, they failed to qualify at the last Division 2 points race of the year.
"We went to Bristol needing to make the show to finish tenth in the division that year," Bill said.
"If you're not tenth, you have to pay to get into the events and that's a big thing. Well, we
didn't qualify at that race and didn't make the top ten in the division. That was a long, quiet
ride home." Still, he added, he thought that they had made the right decision. "Jeff Wilson came
up to me after the year and asked me what I thought and I told him that I was determined to make it
work." And he did. In fact, one of the keys to Bill's success is the determination that he has, the
determination to make his car the best in the class. "I knew I could do it, and I knew that if we
stuck with it we could make the car work." Another thing that has been a major factor in Bill's
success over the past few years is the fact that he has learned how to make the car run in the hot
weather. "You can't win if you're not competitive at half the races you go to. We couldn't seem to
get the car to run when it got hot outside and that was at about fifty percent of our races. Well,
we worked that out and now we can be competitive at any track under any condition. My son, Andy,
who doesn't come to all the races now, is a huge help with the car. We talk between every run and
every round and he gives me his input as to what to do. Since he isn't at the track he doesn't get
caught up in the emotion of the moment. To him, it's all black and white, he looks at the numbers
and tells me what he thinks. He's such a big part of the team." And so is Bill's wife, Gloria, who
is there with him at every race and enjoys the racing as much as he does.
With two consecutive championships to his credit Bill Reichert may be looking at making a major
change next year, a change that has nothing to do with the tune up of the car. "I am seriously
looking at putting someone else in the car," he told me. "We're really close and it looks like it
might happen." Bill did have Lindsey Wood drive the car last year at the Division 2 race in Georgia
and he said that it was a weird experience. "I didn't know where to stand on the starting line and
I just wanted to make sure I didn't get in anybody's way. It was strange." But, he admits, the
timing may be right to make the change now. "You have to look at it two ways. You can make a change
like this when you're at the top of your game and you have the opportunity to put someone in the
championship car, or you can wait until you've fallen off a bit, but then you don't have as much to
offer someone. It's not an easy decision but, right now, it looks like I'll be tuning next year and
not driving." Whatever happens, the competitors in the TAD class know one thing, they'll still have
to go through or around Bill Reichert if they want to win the championship next year.
Over the years Bill has had the support of some fine companies, like Bar's Leaks and their Rislone
brand, Lane Automotive, All Star Performance Products and NGK. "It makes it a lot easier to have
the support of these great companies and all of them have told me that they are solidly behind me
no matter what I do next year," he said. "I'd like to add some more sponsors and I think I have
something nice to offer them." Yeah, like a couple of national championships and the best car in
the class. If I were a sponsor, that's the kind of team I would like to be on....and not racing
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