73-year-old Pat Dakin nearly scores NHRA Top Fuel shocker at Norwalk

Pat Dakin fell to Steve Torrence in the final round of the NHRA Top Fuel event at Norwalk, Ohio.

For the first six races this NHRA season, the Top Fuel class had six different winners.

As for the past six, Texan Steve Torrence has won all but the one at Bristol, Tennessee, which Mike Salinas grabbed from him two weeks ago by 0.0177 of a second in the final round. Torrence atoned for that by winning at Norwalk, Ohio, last Sunday, giving him victories at six of the past seven events. That matched his streak that started at the outset of the 2018 Countdown at Reading, Pennsylvania, and ended with his runner-up finish at the 2019 season debut at Pomona, California.  

But maybe the most talked about dragster driver this week was a man who hasn’t won since 1973, who hasn’t won a Top Fuel national event final in the United States, who hadn’t even been to a final round since 1998 and whose last victory came almost 10 years before Torrence was born.

He’s Pat Dakin, the 73-year-old whom Torrence defeated last Sunday in the final round upstate from his Dayton, Ohio-area home.

Dakin was a powerhouse in the 1970s in the midst of his 20-year partnership with Gary Rupp. Dakin was runner-up in the 1977 Top Fuel championship chase to Shirley Muldowney. He won twice in Montreal, in 1971 and 1973. But he suffered a skull fracture and shattered hands and wrists in a 1998 blowover accident at Topeka that knocked him out and knocked him out of racing for 10 years. He underwent a dozen surgeries for those injuries.

Dakin’s perspective, he said, is that “the lower your number is in points, the more it cost you. So it’s a ridiculous chase. It’s silly. And the expense of these things … this all comes out of my pocket. It’s not worth it. No … it’s crazy. I’ve got better things to do than this.”

Aww, sometimes he doesn’t. The owner-driver of the Commercial Metal Fabricators Dragster clearly enjoys being part of the scene — especially knowing his Scott Graham-led crew has a reputation for racing tough, despite fewer appearances.

Because of his schedule, Dakin said, “We’ve got a lot of time to prepare for it. It’s all preparation.” His team of mechanics, only two of whom are full time, “can turn this car around — as long as there’s no major damage — in 40-45 minutes, every time,” he said. Except for new cylinder head specialist Dustin Cowen, Dakin has had the same crew members for about seven years.They all know what they’re doing, and they don’t make any mistakes. They’re just really, really good,” he said.

Dakin is active behind the scenes. He offers his dragster to Spencer Massey so Massey can keep his Top Fuel license fresh. And last June, he provided it for Corey Michalek to use when making licensing passes to step up from the Top Alcohol Dragster class. And new Top Fuel team owner Brandon Welch said he received lots of sage advice from Dakin and Graham in his transition from the Funny Car class in the past year.

Massey said Dakin “has the same mindset as myself. He wants to have fun. He wants to come out here with his group of guys and run his race car and enjoy life, smelling nitro.”

It’s a satisfying outlook, for Dakin said the races “are all the same. It’s generally the same players, and 90 percent of the time it’s the same winners: the high-dollar, more corporate people. They expect people like me to go out there and ruin their day, which is what I’m here to do. There’s nothing that I like better than taking one of the big dogs out.”

He didn’t take out Top Fuel’s biggest dog at Norwalk. But he had fun trying. And he’ll be back in a few races to try again.

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