RACER SPOTLIGHT: Icons That Never Become Household Names
Meet Dan Fletcher the most winning driver in NHRA history preparing to give a sample of fuel to a tech inspector after a round win. Dan is a great example of a true icon of the sport that will never become an iconic household name.
Every sport has its superstars. Some of those super stars transcend beyond their sport and weave their way into mainstream life as we know it. I do not play golf, nor do I follow it, but I’ve heard of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Tiger Woods to name a few. But what about that one golfer who is out there winning everything and is still unknown to the masses? Switching gears to motorsports, I don’t follow Nascar, but I’ve heard of a couple guys named Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. But again, what about the hundreds of other winning and successful racers in the sport? Narrowing the focus a little further, let’s talk about a sport I am truly passionate about – Drag Racing. In fact, not only am I passionate about it, I participate in it and am well versed in its history.
As with any sport, to get to a professional level you have to be good. Not just an ordinary good, but the “best in your class” kind of good. In Drag Racing, it takes more than just supernatural skill and a genius engineering mind to get to that level. It takes a boat load of money! The prerequisite of skill and genius have to be backed up with results. It is this person who gets sponsors to financially assist them so they can pursue their passion and represent that company at the same time. But first, to get to that elite level it takes your own hard-earned money, time, and sacrifice for companies to even consider sponsoring you. The sport of Drag Racing has a plethora of iconic superstars whose names have transcended their sport and are recognized throughout the world. Names like Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, “Big Daddy” Don Garlitz, Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney, and a current icon, John Force.
This is what the Meyer family calls home the majority of the year. All the creature comforts you need and a complete rolling workshop behind it.
Let’s talk about the thousands of racers around the world who are consistently winning weekend after weekend. Are they not also true champions of their sport? Most of them are unknown in their own sport, yet alone transcending into popular media. Then there is a small group of elite-level competitors who are well known within their industry, but once they leave the racetrack are simply known as Bob the mechanic, Joe the plumber, or Lisa the accountant. For some odd reason I like to follow the elite-winning nobodies, learn how they achieved that level of excellence and what it is that keeps them winning year after year.
Perhaps the absolute best example that Drag Racing has to offer is an unknown man outside of the sport named Dan Fletcher. Dan has become the winningest racer in NHRA history, with even more wins than the previously mentioned icons. Yet Dan has not been recognized (as he should be) by the world. I’ve had the honor and privilege to sit with him numerous times at the race track and pick his knowledge-filled brain. Dan is not just a great racer, he is a great human that is gracious to his fans and exhumes the very word champion in all that he does.
I am not sure whether this was Randy the dad, the crew chief, or the car owner giving Megan some last minute advice before pushing her into the water box. Whoever it was, they went on to win that round in decisive fashion.
Another one of these unknown legends is a man named Randy Meyer. When you win in your car, you are skilled. When someone else wins in a car that you tuned, you are a genius. When you raise children who are winning in cars you built, you are a mentor. In my opinion Randy holds all three of these titles. Skilled, genius and a mentor.
In 1983 at the young age of 25, Randy got into racing Top Alcohol Dragsters. He built his own frame and went on to win the world championship in his first year. Fast forward 37 years, and Randy has achieved greatness in his sport. He has not only won his share of world championships, but he has raised his daughter Megan to pilot his Top Alcohol Dragster and also win a world championship.
Pulling the intake and head off of one of our cars is a huge task. This is just another Sunday for Randy as he inspects a cylinder wall.
I had the honor and privilege to sit with Randy in his hauler at an event and get to hear his story of hardship to success. I particularly enjoyed learning about the many risks he took along the way that helped him climb his ladder of success. Having a daughter of my own, I had some selfish questions to ask him about getting his daughters involved and how he feels tuning them to 250 mph passes.
This is a true racing family. Randy may be the crew chief, but his wife Mary is elbows deep in wrenching on the dragsters between rounds. Watching the amazing husband / wife team work side by side was inspiring. It's no wonder Megan and her sister Rachel are achieving greatness in drag racing. With parents like that raising you and teaching you about the value of hard work, anything is possible.
I watched the family on and off for two days and was impressed with just how active they all are in the pits. Randy, his wife Mary, and daughter Megan, along with the rest of their crew, never stop between rounds. He is definitely a master conductor leading his orchestra. As a matter of fact, his wife was in charge of the clutch and passed on that skill to her daughter Rachel. Megan started out as the bottom end tech and has evolved into the team manager, bringing a fresh new approach to sponsors, graphic design, and social media. However, I did see Megan that weekend checking fuel and getting her hands dirty working on her dragster as well.
In a family race team everyone must wear many hats. Besides always piloting something extremely fast, Megan started out as the bottom end mechanic between rounds. Now you can find her doing whatever is necessary in the pits helping her team. That can include working on her dragster, managing the overall marketing and social media presence of her team, and taking the time talking with fans and media people like myself. Here she is doing some wing maintenance getting ready for her first pass of the weekend.
I had to ask Megan how she would best describe her dad as a crew chief. Her response was, “stern, extremely focused, business minded, always a teacher and gracious to his competitors.” I even ventured out and asked all of the top alcohol dragster competitors what they thought about him. As I surmised from my time with him, there was nothing but high praise spoken about him and his team. He is always available to anyone who needs advice, tools or parts.
So racing is for Father and son teams? How about Mom and daughter ripping into a top alcohol engine while dad orchestrates the perfection called chaos?
Because of his expertise, proven success, and stellar reputation, Randy has earned corporate sponsorships from NGK Spark Plugs, Lucas Oil, Meyer Truck Center, Technician.Academy, GUNK, Weld Racing, Aeromotive and a host of others enabling him to not only pursue his passion for racing, but to field a multi-car winning team. Two of his three top alcohol dragsters are piloted by his daughters Megan and Rachel. Megan won the NHRA world championship last season and is in hot pursuit of trying to repeat it. She will of course have to get by her teammates Rachel and Julie first. The only problem with that task is Randy is responsible for tuning all of those dragsters. He sets all of the cars up equally, leaving the win in the hands of the driver and the mercy of the parts they use.
The car is set and ready to launch. I wanted to capture the moments that Randy and Mary share before and after each pass. It was cute how they gather next to each other and anxiously await their daughter to push the envelope of 250 mph.
I wanted to share this private moment of Randy in the solitude of his mobile shop as he turns off the chaos of the day and makes his car safe for his daughter.
Before ending our interview and leaving the air conditioned mobile home on that hot day, I asked Randy if he missed getting behind the wheel of one of those rockets. Without hesitation he gave me a very nonchalant and simple, “no.” I even pushed the question a little further and asked if he would ever take a test hit in one. He replied with another, “no.”
Left - I found it both surprising and impressive as Randy sat back and let his team prepare his daughter Megan and her rocket for a pass down the track. To me, this was a sign of trust in your team and true leadership. Right - The fire breathing beast is back together and is getting warmed up in the pits. Randy is a true master conductor as he orchestrates calm precision during the craziness that lives between championship rounds.
My fellow gearheads the way I see it, Randy is completely comfortable and at home wearing his crew chief hat. I have shared with you many times that I prefer the process of building the car over driving it. The thought of wrenching for my daughter would be a dream come true. The Randy Meyer dream is one that we should all aspire to. Let’s just remember to do it with as much class and professionalism as he did. Will this incredible icon of his sport ever become an iconic household name? Chances are he will slide under the radar on this one, while leaving a legacy that few will ever come close to achieving.