While Rick Petruzzi is trying to break the bank this season by winning the Dunn Tire Raceway Park IHRA drag racing Top ET season championship, he will not have to clean out his own bank account to do it.
Each week, in an era of high-dollar tow rigs and enclosed race car trailers, Petruzzi arrives at DTRP with the 1994 Dodge van he calls "The Bachelor Suite". On board the open trailer he tows behind it is his trusty 1987 Ford Mustang that he has raced for many seasons.
Yet, due to the relatively lower expenses associated with bracket drag racing compared to other forms of motor sports, a racer like Petruzzi -- who at 49 has a family to support and a very limited racing budget -- can compete and win.
Petruzzi leads the Top ET standings at DTRP with just two weeks of racing left. He has amassed 1,110 points while Pete Maduri Jr. is second at 1,020 followed by Jan Winkowski/Tom Wieczorek with 1,000.
Petruzzi has won many races over the years and earned the 2000 Pro class championship at DTRP. During his years in the Heavy class he placed eighth or better in points each season. He won the Race of Champions at DTRP in 1996 and at Norwalk, Ohio in 2000.
"I love to race but I have a wife and kids to support so I don't have a lot of money to spend on racing," said Petruzzi of North Buffalo. "Fortunately, depending on how fast you want to go and how much you got to spend, there is a class for everybody in bracket drag racing.
"When I first got involved in the Street class many years ago, I drove my street car to the drag strip to race it. Of course if I broke it, I had to have it towed home. Once I got the car faster over the years and it was not street legal anymore, I had to do something. So I bought a tow bar for $25 and towed the car to the track with my Jeep."
As time has gone on, he has upgraded somewhat. His van has an air conditioner stuck in the back window, a DVD player, a bed and a few other "luxuries".
"It's my home away from home when I'm at the races," laughed Petruzzi. "This past weekend I was racing in Pittsburgh and stayed in my van."
Petruzzi does receive some sponsorship assistance from Foxy Delivery Service, Bison Plate Glass and Tom's Performance, as well as pit crew help from Amy Glomb and Scott Baron.
Drag racing is more affordable than stocks mainly because bracket drag racers use the same tires for many weeks and don't usually get into the expensive crashing that stock car teams do.
Entry level drag classes do not feature custom chassis or engines, as many stock car classes have. Specialized drag racing chassis and engines are reserved for those in the faster and more exotic levels of the sport.
"You know, anyone can drive a street car to the track and if they pass tech then they can drag race," stressed Petruzzi. "Street drivers drive their cars to work and school and around town all week and then come and put that same car on the drag strip on Friday nights."
It should be noted that unlike stock car racing, where everyone gets paid from the race purse for taking the green flag in a feature, bracket drag racers often do not get purse money unless they finish in the top four spots in their class.
Some drag classes have more than 50 cars and the promoter gets an entry fee from each car. When only four spots cash it makes bracket drag racing potentially lucrative for promoters. They take in a lot of back gate pit entry money with a minimal payout.
Petruzzi is proud of his accomplishments although he is equally appreciative of the level of competition his opponents provide.
"I'm not going to say I'm the best driver because I'm not," said Petruzzi. "I'm no better or worse than anyone else. This area has plenty of good drag racers and if you don't do well in any round of racing, they're going to beat you and you're going home early. I'm glad it's this way because winning and perhaps getting championships means more when the competition is tough.
"This season I have only one win but have been winning a lot of rounds. In the past it was either feast or famine but now, I am winning many rounds. The points add up.
"When this season started, after a few weeks, I was about 14 rounds out of the lead but as the season has gone on my competitors have kind of fizzled a little bit and I've still been winning rounds.
"The number of rounds we race over these last two weeks will depend on how many cars show up. But I figure if I can just win three more rounds over these last two weeks I should get the championship. But these will seem like the toughest three round wins I've ever had to win. We'll see."
Drag racing continues at DTRP at 7 p.m. Friday. For stock car fans, the rescheduled final day of last weekend's rain postponed US Open Weekend, featuring the Sunoco Race of Champions Modified Tour 100, the Late Model 75, the Linda Tasca Memorial Street Stock 50, TQ Midget 25 and a non-point SST Sportsman 35 will get the green flag at 1 p.m. Sunday at DTRP.