To fans, races are won and lost by drivers, but drivers know the real truth: drag racing is a team sport. Chris Foster may be the one who's handed the trophy at the end of the race, and it's his name that's listed in the NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car points standings, but at Foster Racing, he is but one man on a 10-man team.
"We all spend a lot of time on this car," said Foster, who won the Division 3 championship last year and the Norwalk regional event last month. "My dad and my stepdad are both semi-retired and put in a lot of time on it. My dad spends five or six hours a day working on the car and I'm here after work till midnight every night, and that really makes a difference. A race car is just like a wife – it likes lots of attention."
Foster first attracted national attention in 2009, when he won his first NHRA event and, ultimately, that year's Division 3 title. He began his Funny Car career in the Midwest Funny Car Association, racing off of a 7.50 Index, and progressed to UDRA in 1996, to IHRA in 2001, and, in 2006, to NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car competition, where today he is a two-time Top 10 driver, a two-time Division 3 champion, and a seven-time winner on the Lucas Oil Series tour.
"I always knew we'd end up in NHRA eventually," said Foster, 43, a mechanic who works on everything from passenger cars to semis when he's not working on his race car. "With IHRA, you could see what was going on. They cut the fields in half, and it all just spiraled downward from there. Say what you will about NHRA, but they still have the best game in town – the best tracks, the best racers, the best everything."
Just three years ago, Foster was still chasing his first NHRA title. He broke through at the Division 3 event at Route 66 Raceway in Chicago, knocking off former Division 3 champ Mick Snyder in the final. A month later, he edged Andy Bohl in the Columbus final in a match that ultimately would decide the division championship.
Bohl built up a lead and had the title all but locked up when Foster and crew made the long tow to Noble, Okla., for their last divisional of the year, needing to win the race to take the Division title. There, Foster beat Lance Van Hauen in the final in the most stressful round of his long career.
"The pressure was on," said Foster, who recently signed a major associate sponsor, Curry's Transportation Services, which will get his team's car from event to event in style in a semi wheeled by a professional driver. "I knew I had to win that round to win the championship, and it just had to happen. That wasn't one run for a trophy; it was one run for two trophies – one for the event win and one for the division championship. I was exhausted when I got out of the car, jumping up and down and, to be honest, crying a little. It was just a roller coaster of emotion."
It was that year, 2009, that crew chief Will Hanna joined Foster's Iowa-based team.
"Will is a good team leader, I think because he used to be in the military," Foster said. "He helped us straighten out our program and got our car running good. He's really helped us, and I think joining our team has really helped his career. We have all the same people at the track with us for every race, and everybody except Will (who lives in Texas) is not just there to help us at the track; they're right there at the shop with us, putting in a lot of time."
Foster made the quickest run of his career at the 4-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, a 5.54 that was low elapsed time of the first round for a field that included Frank Manzo, Mickey Ferro, and Paul Gill. This weekend, Foster will be one of the favorites at his home national event track, Route 66 Raceway, for both the national event title and the JEGS Allstars race, which he'll be participating in for the first time.
Win or lose, the Foster Racing team will be right back in the shop after Chicago, going over the car from one end to the other and working together to get it prepared for the national event in Norwalk, Foster's favorite track, where three years ago he made it all the way to the final round and barely lost to Manzo, leaving within a few thousandths of the 15-time world champ and running within a few hundredths of him.
"As soon as we get home, that car is out of the trailer, and we're working on it until the minute we leave for the next race," Foster said. "People come by all the time and ask, 'Man, is that thing ever all put together?' Yeah, it is – right before it goes back in the trailer."