Words by Bobby Bennett and Photos by Alex Owens
Dan Fletcher is thankful for many things these days, but this week he's grateful to have a job still doing what he loves - drag racing. Each season, the job keeps getting harder and harder.
Thanks to Chip Lofton, the champion of drag racing's little guy, Fletcher is racing another season on the tour while most of those he's shared the limelight has either retired or quit.
"Chip Lofton at Strutmasters has been kind enough to step up and back my Super Stock program, as the major sponsor," Fletcher said. "And an associate on all the other cars."
Fletcher, who represented the Peak for seven seasons, was one of the race teams affected when Old World Industries dropped their sportsman sponsorships.
"They treated us great for seven years," Fletcher said. "It's the same deal as when I lost the Summit deal. A different management team, a different deal, and they just want to undo everything that the previous regime did and do their own thing. It's the whole world of social media, and digital impressions can be bought so much cheaper than actual brick and mortar. It's just. It's hard to make it work anymore."
It's moments like this that remind Fletcher just how blessed he's been to remain afloat in a complex world of professional sportsman drag racing.
"I've been very, very blessed in my whole career that since 1997, I've had actual real corporate sponsors, from Valvoline to Summit to K&N to Peak, and now Strutmasters," Fletcher said. "I'm getting older, and I'm a little bit tired, and sometimes it's hard to press on. I remember putting my shirt and tie on and walking into Summit to make a sales pitch, 20 years ago. You get a little bit tired of begging people for money these days. But with that said, I've got no other choice other than to beg for money because the truck needs diesel, and the bills still have to be paid."
Fletcher watched as the grind recently forced David Rampy to retire. He's a driver for whom Fletcher has much respect.
"I got to be honest. Everything he said is true," Fletcher admitted. "He's older than I am and been doing it longer than me. But when I started out, this was wonderful. It was magical. It was once whimsical. It was emotionally rewarding. It was financially rewarding. And dude, it's just a grind. It's a grind trying to survive.
"Like him, I don't come from money. Racing's afforded me a great living, and it's been a great career, but I'm not sitting on any pile of money or anything."
With the Super Stocker sponsored by Strutmasters.com, Fletcher confirmed he's got irons in the fire for his dragster to race 16 national events, and the Chevelle to race the big money bracket races. His Nova and '69 Camaro Stocker are open for sponsorship as well.
Fletcher counts his blessings for a myriad of product sponsors who help him remain on the cutting edge.
"This is all I really know to do what I'm doing for right now," Fletcher admits.
As grind gets tougher and tougher, Fletcher admits he's making a move aimed at lessening the load.
Fletcher is planning a life-changing move soon as he prepares to relocate from upstate New York down to the Greensboro-Raleigh area of North Carolina, a hotbed for sportsman drag racing. It's a move he wanted to make 25 years ago.
"Up here it's just the travel costs, the taxes here. I just can't afford to live here anymore," Fletcher said.
As Fletcher sees it, the easier he can make life away from the track, the better. He believes drag racing is tougher today than its ever been.
"It's not even close. It's brutal out there right now," Fletcher explained. "You look down Drag Race Central and in Stock and Super Stock at how well people drive. There's no easy mark anywhere. Let's put it this way if I was 29 years old or 30 years old and going to quit Xerox to go drag racing at this point 22 years later from when I walked out of Xerox, 0% chance [I'd do it ]. Less than zero. There's no way you can even feasibly even think about doing that.
"Don't take it the wrong way, but I was decidedly better than most of my competition back then. Now I'm not. Everyone's good. Everyone drives. Websites like Luke's [Bogacki] website teaches people driving strategies at the finish line. Everyone's cars are good. No one's cars are junk. Everyone's cars repeat. I feel like about the only way that I can be better than my opponents is to work harder.
Just like Rampy, Fletcher, for the first time in 25 years, didn't win a national event.
"Just put in more time, and I don't even want to say it a lot because then people started doing that too. But I spent an inordinate amount of time studying the live timing and all my opponent's numbers and trying to just do all my homework on them. And I just try and do every little bit of extra work a man can do to give himself an edge. And it's just, it's tough dude. It's really, really tough."