Chad Head wasn’t intending to run for NHRA’s Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future rookie award in 2013.
What began as a Thanksgiving gathering in 2012 at the family’s home of his dad, Jim, quickly became an offer he welcomed to drive his father’s race car and join the family business of Head, Inc.
Head was then team manager for the famed Al-Anabi Racing team of the Top Fuel championship winning organization led by Alan Johnson with drivers Del Worsham and Larry Dixon.
Fortunately, his former boss, Johnson understood and supported his move.
Now given the option to drive, the young Head literally jumped at the chance after much success piloting a nostalgia Funny Car and testing the family-owned race car in Las Vegas in the fall of 2012.
He didn’t join the 2013 Mello Yello tour until the third race of the year at the Gatornationals at the Auto-Plus Raceway, but was so looking forward to working and learning from his dad after successful preseason testing.
“It’s not one certain thing, just a lot things happened fast,” said Head about his rise to Funny Car cockpit in 2013. “The opportunity to work with Dad and getting to work with all the crew guys was pretty awesome. Looking forward to doing it all again in 2014.”
It didn’t take Head long to proceed in his driving and in his third race, the Dollar General 4-Wide Nationals, raised plenty of eyebrows at zMax Dragway when he raced to the No. 1 qualifying position in the Funny Car ranks with a pass of 4.014 seconds along with a speed of 315.19 mph.
“After all we learned from the earlier races; everything kind of just clicked,” smiled Head. “It was a great pass for us at Charlotte and it all worked out for the best. Earlier in the season, there were some different weather conditions we faced and were still fighting those same issues with the car at Gainesville which we cleared up testing on Monday.
“When we got to Charlotte the weather conditions were very close like they were when we were testing at Palm Beach. We got down the track nine of the 12 times there. We knew the car was capable and I needed to hold on and keep it straight.”
Once Chad became more acclimated in the seat of his Head Racing Toyota Camry notching more laps every event, the natural lure to getting behind the wheel of the family’s 8,000 horsepower Funny Car became apparent.
“Yeah, it was something I wanted to do,” said the younger Head. “It’s a challenge and I like a good challenge and driving a Funny Car isn’t easy. Every run is different and every run is hard. It presents new challenges and it’s kind of like golfing as in anything you’re competitive with and I want to get better at it.”
That’s the tie to his racing heritage after watching his father, Jim race for many years. He is one of four nitro drivers to ever to win the U.S. Nationals in both Funny Car (1984) and Top Fuel (1997). Chad saw all the happenings on the track and learned from him how to stage the car and how to race.
Now sorting through all that computer data after a pass is another segment of teacher passing along to his student his tuning expertise of what makes his car run so quick.
“With him, it’s always make the run and then get back to the trailer to look at the computer before I make any comment about what happened on the pass,” said Head. From there we communicate what I thought happened on the run. It can produce some tense situations when you only have 75 minutes between rounds.
“He’s taught me a lot of the ins and outs and dos and don’ts. For the many times I struggled, he was very patient. He did a very good job of showing me how to drive and race.
“We had some great success at Charlotte and obviously, had a great day at Reading; that was fun. But that’s just on one day. You can’t count on it every time. You could go out the next day and fall flat on your face. We just feel fortunate to have the luck on those days to go to the finals. Not very many people get that opportunity. To do well on the track would be our judge. “
One racer that has been Chad’s friend for years is his former teammate at Al-Anabi Racing, Del Worsham, the 2012 Top Fuel champion. He was the one that turned down the ride in the Head Racing nostalgia Funny Car and told owner, Jim Head that Chad was going to drive the car.
“Racing Del Worsham is my favorite, win or lose,” said Head. “He’s one of my best friends and to be racing against him is always special. In head-to-head rounds, he has two wins to my one and I need to get even!”
The competition level in nitro Funny Car is extraordinary and a driver’s potential is expected to be met on raceday. For Head it’s has been tough not having the experience of his own to draw from and every run has been a new encounter for the now sophomore driver, Head noted some unforeseen circumstances that have occurred this year.
“Every time the car locks up at half-track and makes a full run, it’s scary,” said Head, the Atlanta Dragway’s track speed record holder of 314.19 mph. “Most of the time when our car locks up and the clutch is welded together, for sure one tire is off the ground and sometimes on rare occasions both tires are off the ground. Then you can’t steer. We’re working to keep the front end down better.
“When it’s trying to go fast, you know it and can just feel it. The finish line is coming up and you either have the wheel cranked one way or another to keep it straight. When it doesn’t respond, it definitely gets your attention real quick.”
Lately over the holidays, Head has been watching his waistline and in an attempt to not only make his race car a little lighter for next year by himself dropping a few pounds, but is also looking at lining his pocket by a cash incentive by his car owner (Jim) that hinted he has the fattest driver on tour..
His initial weigh-in was 219 pounds and his goal is 199.9 pounds by Jan.16, the first day of testing at Palm Beach.
“I’ve cut out starchy foods, beer, and carbs to lose the weight, and when I climb in the car for testing, I’ll be more than happy to relieve my car owner of the burden of him saying it couldn’t be done!” said Chad proudly now weighing 209 lbs.
After his first year on the NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car tour now in his rear view, he’s looking onward to 2014 and wants to be a regular competitor every race he enters.
Head Racing’s plans are to run 19 of the 24 NHRA Mello Yello races in 2014 and would be full-time with the right major sponsor alignment.
“Just getting the opportunity to drive is fun to know,” said Head. “I’m trying to get better with my driving, better with my staging, better with my reaction times, keep the car in the racing groove and working harder to improve our performance.
“Those are my goals in 2014 and I’m going to try to be successful as best as I can, get better with interviews, make a serious run at gaining sponsorship and continue to do all we can to win.”