Let’s start with the math: 1,320 feet, 10.07 seconds, .000 reaction, 131 mph and third place in the international competition. Despite the serious numbers, the math doesn’t add up to the experience Andy Closkey had running the quarter mile in Memphis at the IHRA Tournament of Champions.
“The only thing that would have felt better was to win the whole thing.” Closkey said.
“To go and be there at that level, when you consider everyone else had to do the same thing to get there, with one person coming from each of those divisions, when you beat them it’s like beating hundreds and hundreds of other people. Its a tremendous feeling.”
I can’t even imagine what it would feel like getting to the final round or winning it. I was in the car doing a pretty big cheer when the light would come on.”
The trip came at the end of a successful racing season for Closkey, the mechanics teacher at Correlieu.
There was a month, however, between his season and the time he sat back down in his car, staring down the strip and listening to the lumpy idle of his V8.
But all the nerves and the month of inactivity was forgotten when he got back in the car.
“It was good,” Closkey said.
“I probably knew this, but once I’m in the car and the seat belt’s on and I’m in the whole process – doing the burn out and staging – it’s just another day at the office. It feels like I hadn’t been out of the car.”
On the test day before the big show, Closkey took the car out and said it settled into a rhythm, running 10.07 seconds down the quarter mile nearly every time, repeatability that he was happy with. He made a few small adjustments, as most of the work had been done before hand and was ready for the competition.
Then the next day it rained. And it rained and rained. Then, just to be contrary, it rained some more. It rained until they decided to put off the races until the next day.
He did get one pull in on the day, marking a .000 reaction time, which means he reacted to the christmas tree light turning green in less than one-thousandth of a second.
So while Closkey was in the car, staging or doing his burnout, he was fine, but as soon as he got out of his office chair, the nerves would pick up again and he checked, then rechecked all of the little details, making sure everything was perfect on the car just to make sure everything was perfect again.
The next day qualifying began, with racers qualifying based on their reaction time, or the time between the green light and the car jumping forward. Closkey came out of the qualifying round in fourth.
“So we set up for the first round and I was unbelievably nervous,” he said.
He lined up against Chuck Powell for his first round. Powell made a mistake off the line, while Closkey pulled clean, winning the race.
In the second round, Closkey edged out Ray Wade, playing catch up for a bit longer than he had hoped.
“I caught him just a little bit later than I wanted to and stayed ahead of him for the win,” Closkey said.
With those wins under his belt, Closkey was one of four drivers left in the tournament.
“I actually started thinking at the point, looking at who was left ‘I can do this,’” he said.
But Closkey’s next opponent would be his most difficult. Closkey knew Pollard was going to be difficult, but in the end, it was every person’s greatest enemy that took down Closkey – his own self.
“I was concerned about him. I put too much emphasis on who I was racing, which was probably my undoing.” Closkey said.
“I was too concerned and didn’t focus enough on what I needed to do in terms of starting. I was late with my reaction time and that was the difference.”
Closkey lost by .0023 of a second, putting him out of contention.
Pollard would go on to win his next race, the finals, to finish first overall. That put his competitor in the final in second, while Closkey dropped to third.
Coming so close to being world champion this year, as soon as Closkey got out of the car all his supporters who followed him down came up to him, saying ‘don’t worry, you’ll get them next year.’
Closkey however, wasn’t so sure.
“The planning, the doing, the racing and the stress, all of that stuff, I was exhausted at the end. So right away I said no, I’m not doing this again. I can’t do it,” he said.
But what looks like an insurmountable climb from an exhausted state of mind begins to look a little easier as time goes by.
“As you rest up and you think about it and you get fired up again, it makes you want to go again and have another kick at it. And not make that mistake again,” he said.