Herbert's already proven he's a winner

September, 19, 2009
09/19/09
6:05
PM ET
CONCORD, N.C. -- The bid for the 10-week-old puppy, an adorable mixture of Chihuahua and chocolate Lab, had reached $1,200.

"Going once!" the auctioneer yelled. "Twice …"

A voice from a table just off the stage bellowed, "Ten thousand dollars!"

Jaws dropped. The room at nearby Lowe's Motor Speedway went quiet before erupting into applause for NHRA Pro Stock driver Allen Johnson for his generous bid. The applause got louder when Johnson gave the puppy to a woman who had been eyeing it all night.

Whatever happens to Doug Herbert in Sunday's eliminations of the Top Fuel dragsters at zMax Dragway, hosting the first round of the NHRA playoffs, it won't top that moment.

That Herbert is a threat in the final is almost as much of a surprise as Johnson's bid at Thursday night's fundraiser for B.R.A.K.E.S., a program Herbert started to educate and train teenage drivers after his two sons were killed in a car accident last year.

Herbert is the only Top Fuel driver among the top 10 -- 16 make the eliminations -- that isn't competing full time this season. He has driven in only one other event after losing sponsorship last year because of the tough economy.

He actually topped the speed charts for most of Friday's qualifying rounds, falling to third at the end when Larry Dixon and Antron Brown posted faster times.

Herbert will enter elimiantions with the fifth fastest speed, 312.06 mph.

"We can win it," Herbert said as he stood next to his trailer that has "2010 sponsor wanted" on the back. "I don't have any doubt about it. When we have our act together, we can beat anybody out there."

Herbert was a winner before he arrived at the track, not far from his Lincolnton, N.C., home. His fundraiser brought in enough to help expand even further his program, which works to spread understanding that automobile accidents are the No. 1 cause of teen deaths.

That Herbert has done so well at the track is an added bonus because it has brought more attention to the name "tiwi" plastered on the hood of his lime green-colored dragster.

Herbert partnered with tiwi earlier this year after a meeting with CEO Todd Follmer, who developed the device that helps parents monitor how fast their teens are driving and keep track of where they are. It also warns if they are breaking the speed limit, driving too aggressively or have their seat belts off.

With a 16-year-old who already has been ticketed going 92 mph, I can appreciate the value.

Herbert was introduced to Follmer, who lost a teenager close to his family, by John Bickford, the stepfather of four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon.

This weekend is the first time they have put tiwi on the car. The faster Herbert goes, the more exposure it gets.

"They are just tickled," Herbert said of tiwi.

Herbert is tickled as well. A four-time IHRA champion, he is racing this weekend with one full time team member. The rest are former employees now working at NASCAR organizations from Richard Childress Racing to Hendrick Motorsports.

They took the day off in the midst of the Cup playoffs that begin on Sunday in New Hampshire to help Herbert.

"Everybody is coming by here saying, 'Who is doing your car?'" Herbert said. "Well, I am."

The beauty of the NHRA is a part-timer such as Herbert can put together a winning car, something you hardly ever see in other forms of motorsports. The beauty of this weekend for Herbert is he doesn't have the pressure of the playoffs looming like Brown and Dixon because he's not in the NHRA's Countdown to 1 playoffs.

"We're just out here to win the race," he said. "There is zero pressure on us."

That doesn't mean Herbert doesn't want that pressure again. If this weekend helps him land a sponsor for a few more races this season or full time next year, he'll be back for every race.

As much as he enjoys working with NASCAR legend Ray Evernham on breaking the land speed record, running his auto parts and screen printing businesses and B.R.A.K.E.S., going 300 mph is his passion.

"I'm a drag racer," Herbert said. "I want to race. I've got it all figured out except the sponsor part."

He's also a winner, no matter what happens on Sunday.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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