Clint Thompson doesn't know what he likes better – Top Alcohol Funny Car or Pro Mod. So he runs both, fielding an Alcohol Funny Car in NHRA competition and driving Don Carter's MBR-powered '68 Camaro in Pro Extreme on the ADRL tour.
They're about as similar as a hairbrush and a can of soup, and as Thompson quickly discovered, a Pro Mod car requires a much gentler touch on the wheel than a Funny Car, which sometimes has to be manhandled to keep it in the groove.
"You get out of shape in a Funny Car, and when you get off the throttle, usually right you're back under control," Thompson said. "A Pro Mod keeps going for another three- or four-tenths of a second, and the next thing you know, the back end's trying to come around. And you don't get any warning."
So, which does he prefer?
"I still love my Funny Car," Thompson said. "It's my first love. Getting back in my car is a relief sometimes because I've probably made close to 2,000 runs in a Funny Car and I don't have to think about what I'm doing every time. In a Pro Mod, I still have to go over the order of things, the process. But driving a Pro Mod is really good for your ego because it's not an easy car to drive. It's a completely different experience, and I really like that torque converter. Push the button, mash the throttle, let your hand go, and the car takes off like a rocket. You get maximum G's immediately, not at the half-second mark like with a Funny Car. Then, it's like riding a marshmallow – it just feels mushy. You don't turn the wheel until you have to, and if you have to, it's probably time to lift."
In Pro Mod, or Pro Extreme as it's called on the ADRL circuit, Thompson just started driving this year. In Top Alcohol Funny Car, he's one of the more successful drivers of this century, with three NHRA national event titles in five final-round appearances, six divisional victories in 14 final-round appearances, and a Top 10 finish in the 2010 national standings. Last year, he just missed, finishing 11th.
Thompson, 46, has been racing some kind of Funny Car for more than 20 years now, starting in the late 1980s, when he bought a used Monza.
"I put my big-block Chevy with a Tunnel Ram in the car, bracket raced it, and ran it in CIFCA (California Independent Funny Car Association, which ran off an index)," Thompson said. "The first car I had that was built just for me was in about 1996. I started running divisionals and the Seattle national event every year. Back then, I'd count how many cars were pre-entered to see if I should even bother going.
"I remember my wife Danette saying one time, 'Why are we even here? You know we're not going to qualify.' But if you leave it in the shop, you don't learn anything. We even ventured down to Pomona once or twice in those early years, but we were almost embarrassed to show up."
Racing in the Pacific Northwest, home to some of the best Alcohol Funny Car racing in the country, Thompson progressed from perennial first-round punching bag to being competitive to being a legitimate contender to becoming a national event champion.
"I cut my teeth racing Bucky Austin," he said. "For the longest time, I'd qualify last, race Bucky first round, and lose. Then I'd qualify a little better, run him second round, and lose. Finally, at Mission (in 2006), I beat him in the final, and it was almost better than my first national event win."
Things began to turn around about 10 years ago when Thompson began his association with Bob Miner.
"I ran Seattle, qualified 15th or 16th, got beat first round, and blew up the motor in the process," said Thompson, who retired from the car business and is contemplating his next business venture. "The Miner brothers had come on the scene with their engine, and I approached them a couple of times and got nowhere. I was about to give up. When they quit in 2004, I bought their car turn-key and told Danette, 'If I can't do anything with this car, it's time to quit because it's obviously me and my tuning ability that's the problem – not the race car.
"We won our first race that year at a points meet in Montana and ran the table at Seattle the next year – No. 1 qualifier, low e.t. and won the race – and I owe whatever success I've had to the patience of my wife and the teachings of Bob Miner."
Thompson has since won two more national events, in Sonoma in 2006 and again in Seattle in 2007. In 2010, he just missed what would have been his greatest win ever, dropping a close final to Frank Manzo in Charlotte, 5.57 to 5.58. Right now, he's in the middle of a four-race tour: Richmond for the ADRL race, Chicago and Norwalk for NHRA national events, then Martin, Mich., for another ADRL meet.
"I'm really liking this ADRL deal," Thompson said. "I already loved running my Funny Car, so I don't know which one is better. I love 'em both."