Competition Plus – 2023 NHRA WINTERNATIONALS – POMONA NOTEBOOK – FRIDAY NOTEBOOK
HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED – Sometimes a fantastic idea goes a little sideways in the shakedown period. And that’s what happened in the Jim Campbell-Jeff Diehl Funny Car alliance for last week’s NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series race at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Ariz.
First an engine stud broke, preventing Campbell from making the lone Friday qualifying run. Then on Saturday, in the only pass Campbell did attempt, he launched and shut off the engine at about 200 feet. That pass was disqualified because the NHRA Tech Department ruled the car was too light. Campbell missed the chance to run in the third overall and final session Saturday, thanks to a mishap in the staging lanes.
That’s because the race car banged into the tow vehicle, cracking the body. Because the team was late getting out of the pit and heading to the starting line for Q3, Campbell was in the cockpit. Normally, a crew member rides in the car as it is being towed to the staging lanes. The team lined up in the incorrect lane, then got in the assigned lane. But for an unknown reason, the tow-vehicle driver moved forward again, then abruptly jammed on his brakes. Startled, Campbell reached for the brake inside the race car but didn’t grab it in time, and the car hit the tow vehicle.
He was inserted into the field as the No. 16 qualifier, but he was unable even to stage the car. That gave top qualifier Bob Tasca III a solo pass into the quarterfinals.
After all that, Diehl is competing in his own car once again this weekend at the Lucas Oil Winternationals at Southern California’s In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip – and even said Friday, “We’re going to run 3.99 tomorrow.” Campbell said he plans to rent the TTS/TYW Engineering-sponsored flopper later in the season, when he’s more comfortable in the car after it’s been customized to fit him.
“It’s a brand new team, so it’s Jeff Diehl’s team, which was nice enough to let me lease their car to run the Arizona Nationals,” Campbell said. “Everything was redone. It was made for Jeff to drive. The car is fitted for him. We tried to make some adjustments because obviously Jeff’s much taller than I am, and he’s about 65 pounds heavier. So we made the adjustments we needed to make. But again, it’s an all-new program. Their car is brand new. They had a lot of work done on it, so we’re super excited.”
The next time he leases Diehl’s car, Campbell said, “I’ll be more comfortable in the car” once some changes have been made. “But we did a great job of trying to get me seated in the car within the time limits that we had. And so it’s just one of those unfortunate incidents.
“I apologize to everybody and anybody. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes,” he said.
“Jeff and Leeza were wonderful in giving me the opportunity to drive their car, and I appreciate it so I could keep out here,” he said, announcing that he has “started my own team. So there is Jim Campbell Racing, LLC.
Campbell is renting his ride “until I get the funding to get my own team. So I’ll be running with a few teams this year, not just Jeff Diehl, but a few teams that I’m going to be running with.”
He said that in Arizona, “obviously, we had some unfortunate incidents with a head stud being broken, and it was just an unfortunate incident as we were pulling into the staging lanes. You have a tow driver that I’ve never ridden with, and I’m in a car that I haven’t spent much time in and stuff like that. We got pulled up. We were in a little bit of a rush, but that’s OK. It happens.
“We know that in drag racing, we got up to just the back of the ready box, and they had stopped. And this was really – just being honest – while I was wiping my face down and stuff like that. I figured at that point they would probably unhook the car and push me into it. And the driver jerked a little bit, which jerked the car. I didn’t catch it in time, and it ran into the back of the tow vehicle.
“It’s my fault, because I’m the operator. When I’m in that Funny Car, I’m supposed to be aware of everything. And it was just one of those things that just got caught off guard. It’s my fault on the driving side,” Campbell said. “We’re a team effort, and Jeff and I, we talked about it, and we got everything fixed and everything rectified, and we’ll do a better job next time. But like I said, it’s just one of those unfortunate things. I’ve been towed a thousand times, and they’ve towed him a thousand times. It was just a miscommunication, just a mishap that happened, and I thank them for everything that they’ve done for me. And I love Jeff and Leeza, and I love Diehl racing. I love the whole team. And it was just an unfortunate incident.
“We had a broken engine stud, so that was unfortunate. We couldn’t get that out, so we missed that run,” Campbell said. “So we were already behind the eight-ball a little bit. Then we went out and made a squirt at it, and it went left, so I clicked it off. That took the green light, and unfortunately, we got thrown out for being underweight. Again, Jeff weighs 65, 70 pounds more than I do.
“So it was just one of those things that when everybody’s brand new together, stuff happens. It really does. There’s no other way to put it,” he said. “But it’s my job to control that Funny Car at all times.
“It was just a little bit of bad luck and a little bit of stuff. But again, I just want everybody out there to know that obviously I know how to drive a Funny Car. I’ve been towed a thousand times. They’re obviously a good Funny Car team. They know what happens, and this was just an unfortunate incident. And I can tell you one thing that I can guarantee, it will never, ever, ever happen again.”