“They’re all special – but the more you win, the more everyone else wants to beat you,” Rupert said in September. “My guys did a great job – we kept our heads up through the lean times, and the rest of the time we tried to keep our mindset that anything could happen. We worked hard to be stress-free and keep our composure. Everyone else is pretty tough – you never know when your next win will be. We go to every race with the intention of winning, but everyone else has that same intention.”
Indeed they do. Despite taking No. 1 qualifier honors at five of the season’s six races, Rupert won only twice but raced in five final rounds. Couple two wins with three runner-up finishes in six races, and you have a formidable assault on another championship.
Rupert opened the season taking top-qualifier honors at the IHRA AMSOIL Nitro Nationals in Orlando but was eliminated in the first round. The team appeared to find its form at the IHRA Good Vibrations Texas Nationals fueled by Sonoco qualifying third and racing past Bruce Litton, Mike McIntire and Shawn Bowen on the way to the winners circle.
“San Antonio was one of those races where lane choice was critical, and we were lucky to stay in the left lane the whole night,” Rupert said when looking back on the season. “After going out so early in the opening race and Shawn (Bowen) and Mike (McIntire) doing so well, I was thinking, ‘Man, this isn’t really the way to start the season.’ Then we get to the second race, and we were able to close the gap a little bit…..maybe we have a chance at this thing.”
Despite the Texas win, the IHRA Presidents Cup Nationals fueled by Sonoco was a repeat of Orlando – No. 1 qualifier followed by a first-round exit. Maybe the team hadn’t found its form. Perhaps they had more questions than answers with three races remaining in the season. Perhaps not.
The next weekend at the Mopar Canadian Nationals presented by Williams Racing, Rupert started the stretch that carried the team to the title. He was the No. 1 qualifier and defeated Steve Nichols and McIntire before losing to Mark Sanders in the finals when a mechanical failure stopped the team dead in its tracks - literally.
“The car ran well all weekend in Grand Bend, and I think that’s where we took the points lead,” Rupert added. “I figured we had a really good chance to beat Mark in the final, but this is drag racing – there’s a million ways to lose. The thing rolls through the water box and quits. We’re thinking we can win, but then we don’t even get to run the final round.”
After taking the points lead with the semifinal win over McIntire, Rupert grabbed yet another No. 1 qualifier at the Mopar Rocky Mountain Nationals presented by Good Vibrations in Edmonton, Alberta. Like the previous race, the Littlefield & Rupert team raced to a runner-up finish and extended its points lead to 18 over second-place Bowen; the top-four drivers would enter the last race separated by just 49 points.
The Northern Nationals featured an epic championship battle that came down to the season’s final pass. Rupert was flawless in Michigan; he was the No. 1 qualifier for the fifth time in six races.
The Yorba Linda, Calif., driver saved his best, literally, for last as he set the national elapsed-time record in the final, took the 20-point bonus, won the race and clinched the championship by a surprisingly-comfortable 69-point margin courtesy of Bowen’s semifinal loss and his national-record bonus.
“I am so proud we were able to pull it off with such stiff competition,” Rupert said. “I’m proud of everyone on the team: Frank and Brenda Rupert, Dave Schwartz, Brad Littlefield, Al Perkins, Eddie Vanderwoude, Craig McKee, Jon Estep, Tom Squires, Jennifer Rupert, Nickolas Rupert, Richard Bays, Lee Littlefield, Cami Beck and Paul Summers. And thanks to Lucas Oil for making it all possible.
“We always try to keep improving. I’m a realist – I know at any time, someone could figure something out and start blowing my doors off so you have to try to stay ahead of the pack. That’s our mindset.”
Article by Rob Goodman