I was watching the tape-delayed final eliminations at the NHRA’s Summit Racing Equipment Nationals on FS1 from the lovely track in Norwalk, Ohio, that’s operated by the Bader family. Naturally, I came to my feet when the Top Fuel dragsters were running down their elimination ladder. The final round in Top Fuel was a stunner: Not because Steve Torrence walked away with the Wally – something he’s accomplished with metronome-precise frequency this year – but over the guy he beat to do it. The runner-up in Top Fuel was none other than Pat Dakin, a name that usually requires some deep digging in the history books to uncover.
Dakin is from Dayton, Ohio, and is a part-time runner in the Top Fuel ranks. He’s one of the sport’s dwindling number of living links to drag racing’s memorable pass who’s still competing. At Norwalk, Torrence bounced back from a late-round loss at Bristol, Tennessee to slap a .001-second advantage on Dakin at the tree, holding on for the win despite Dakin turning a strong 3.90 elapsed time in front of his hometown crowd. Dakin has, seemingly, been around forever. I remember watching him with my friend Bob Kelly during the NHRA Summernationals at Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, during the 1970s. If you dig far enough back in the history books, you’ll learn that Dakin placed second to Shirley Muldowney when she won the first of her three National Hot Rod Association Top Fuel world championships in 1977. More recently, Dakin was injured during a violent 1998 blowover crash at Heartland Park Topeka during a run against Doug Kalitta. Dakin, who’s now 73 and runs Commercial Metal Fabricators in Dayton, took a 10-year layoff after that harrowing crash, but he’s back now and he’s competitive when he chooses to run, having advanced from the No.14 qualifying spot at Norwalk. Know what they say about how old guys rule? Let’s give a tip of the hat to this one.