Dave Connolly finished in the Powerade Series top five for the fourth consecutive year in 2007 and competed in the inaugural Countdown to Four and Countdown to One in the NHRA's first-year playoff system.
His five wins in a row, from Reading, Pa., through Richmond, Va., tied him for second place for the most consecutive wins in Pro Stock. He also posted a career-best time and speed in 2007.
After enjoying one of his most successful seasons Connolly almost didn't have a ride this year. His sponsor (Torco Racing Fuels) decided to discontinue sponsoring drag racing teams in 2008, a move that caused him to miss the first five races.
"It was a last-minute deal," Connolly said. "We were getting everything ready at the shop, getting prepared for the 2008 season. We got word the second week in January they were not coming back. That put us in a tight spot.
Dave Connolly did a burnout in a Pro Stock race this season. Connolly will be among the drivers at Brainerd International Raceway this week for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals.
"We're very fortunate that we did get a sponsor (Charter Communications). Three months is a small amount of time to find one. I'm just grateful for what we've got. It was kind of heartbreaking to be out of the seat the first five races.
Connolly is sitting on the playoff bubble as he prepares for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, which begin Thursday at Brainerd International Raceway. He is 52 points ahead of 11th-place Warren Johnson and 46 behind ninth-place Ron Krisher.
At the last event in Sonoma, Calif., Connolly used an .012 reaction time to edge teammate Jeg Coughlin in the final, 6.628 to 6.627.
"We felt we were in pretty good shape with a new motor," he said. "At first we didn't even get on the track, and our problems snowballed. But a bad week turned into a good weekend. The car made some good runs and by Sunday everything felt right. I just had a good feeling going into it and things worked out."
Height/weight: 5-11, 190 pounds
Hometown: Elyria, Ohio
Sponsor/car: Charter Communications Chevrolet Cobalt
Crew chief: Tommy Utt
Career wins: 19 in Pro Stock, 2 in Sportsman
Career final rounds: 33 in Pro Stock, 3 in Sportsman
Career best ET: 6.573
Career best speed: 209.95 mph
Connolly recorded his first victory at Brainerd in 2004 and won here again two years ago. He hopes the natural order of progression means he will be in the winners' circle Sunday.
"(BIR's) definitely been great to us," he said. "It's one of the most fun stops on the tour. I definitely have a lot of memories of that place. I've got two wins there, we've always had a lot of luck there. We're excited about coming back.
"Charter Communications has an office in the area. I will be up there Tuesday doing office visits and going to a (Blue Thunder) baseball game so I will get to enjoy Brainerd a little longer."
Connolly said his first win at BIR was special because he got to share it with Eric Medlen, who won the Funny Car title at BIR in 2004. Medlen was killed in a test session in 2007.
"It was definitely a race I will always remember," Connolly said. "Not only was it my first win but I was kind of getting over some big stuff in the road, defeating Greg Anderson in the final.
"We had run against him in so many finals before finally picking up my first win. It seemed like he was beating us down and beating us down. We finally got by him at Brainerd."
In 2006, Connolly defeated Jason Line for the Pro Stock title at BIR.
Drag racing continues to mourn the loss of Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta, who was killed at Englishtown. Connolly knew Kalitta more as a family man than as a counterpart.
"Any time you lose a fellow racer it's definitely not good for anybody," he said. "I felt for Kalitta and his family. It touched me in the sense that he got into drag racing with his father. They grew up together at the race track like me and my dad (Ray) did. If anything happened to either one of us it would be heart-wrenching to deal with."
Connolly lives about 20 miles from Kalitta in Florida.
"It wasn't but a few months ago I saw him and his kids at a local car wash," he said. "I would see him more as a father rather than from the racing aspect of things.
"I couldn't have imagined growing up without my dad. I feel terrible for Kalitta's kids. The NHRA has done an excellent job of and trying to make sure it doesn't happen again.
"Drag racing is a dangerous sport. We all know the risks that go into it. (The danger is) something you try to block out or try not to think about."
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
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