Author: Waldron, Steve
Date published: May 21, 2010
From brackets to Top Fuel, Randy Meyer has been building, tuning, and driving dragsters for more than 30 years. Since building his first Top Alcohol Dragster in 1983, he has won two national championships, one as a driver and one as a car owner and tuner; nine NHRA national events, six with three different drivers; and four NHRA Division 5 titles, last year with rookie Dan Kracht driving.
"I've got a variety of trophies," said Meyer, who, since 1999, has fielded one of the Top Alcohol Dragster class' most potent A/Fuelers. "I've been [Division 5] Driver of the Year and Mechanic of the Year, and one year when my wife made our uniforms, we won the Best Appearing Crew award. I think the only two things I haven't won are Best Appearing Car and Best Engineered Car."
Back behind the wheel of his A/Fueler after guiding Kracht to the Division 5 title and a respectable 12th-place finish nationally last year, the Spring Hill, Kan., racer will be looking for the first NHRA national event win in his home state at the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka, where in 2003 he won both the national and divisional events with driver Alan Bradshaw en route to a national championship.
"Drag racing has been good to me, but I've paid my dues," said Meyer. "Nothing's been handed to me. I never went to college. I graduated high school and went to work, and everything I have, I've earned. I've done it my way, and when it's good, it's very good, and when it's bad, there's nobody else to blame."
Meyer began his drag racing career in 1979 with a homebuilt front-engine dragster that he bracket raced until 1983.
"I bought a wrecked front-engine dragster chassis because that's all I could afford at the time," said Meyer. "I went to a junkyard and got some pieces and built a motor and transmission and started racing on the local level. I did that until 1982. At that point, I decided that bracket racing wasn't for me. I wanted to go faster and race heads-up, so I got out of bracket racing and built my first Top Alcohol Dragster."
Meyer won the AHRA championship in his first season and competed in NHRA and AHRA events until 1987.
"I think the highlight was when I won the championship my first year with a homemade car," said Meyer. "I didn't have a car from this guy and a motor from that guy, just pieces that I scrounged together. I didn't have a lot of money, but we had a lot of desire and a lot of fun."
After the 1987 season, Meyer decided to give Top Fuel a whirl, but a lack of funding and the all-too-frequent conflagrations that resulted from that seriously curtailed his success.
"In the later part of 1988, when Billy Meyer ran AHRA, I was racing Eddie Hill at Texas Motorplex and had a bad crash," said Meyer. "That was kind of a turning point in my life. I kind of settled down after that. I met my wife and started my own business. I continued to race Top Fuel until 1995, when we had our second daughter. There just wasn't enough time between trying to grow the business and raising two daughters, so I took a break from racing for about three years."
Meyer, 52, who owns and operates Meyer Truck Center in Olathe, Kan., specializing in towing and recovery equipment, returned to racing in 1999 with his first A/Fuel Dragster, setting the stage for his most successful years of racing.
"We had a rough time for a few years trying to find something that worked," admitted Meyer. "It was a real challenge back then. You couldn't just buy a tune-up like you can today, not that I would have even if I could have. Everybody just kind of did their own deal, and it took a long time for us to figure things out."
In 2001, Meyer broke through for his first NHRA win at the Division 5 race in Earlville, Iowa. The following season, with Gary Ormsby Jr. in the seat for 14 races, Meyer won his first NHRA national event, in Columbus, Ohio, and just missed a top 10 finish. Meyer also tuned Ormsby to the two quickest runs in Top Alcohol Dragster history and first in the teens, a 5.135 at the national event in Topeka and a 5.172 at the national event in Chicago.
"It was kind of weird watching my race car go down the track without me in it, but it worked out really well," said Meyer. "Gary did a good job driving, and it freed me up to tune the car a little better. When you've got to drive it, tune it, and make all the decisions, that's a lot. That deal kind of put my name out there, and since then, I've had quite a few other people drive the car."
Of those who have sat behind the wheel of Meyer's A/Fueler, no one has had more success than Bradshaw. After winning the Division 5 championship with his own blown alcohol dragster in 2002, Bradshaw teamed with Meyer for the 2003 season and helped deliver Meyer his second championship, winning four national events and runner-upping at another in 17 races. In a nine-race span from April 27 to Aug. 17, they won six times, including national event victories in Topeka, Seattle, Sonoma, and Brainerd. Meyer also tuned his Bradshaw-driven dragster to the fourth- and fifth-quickest runs in class history, a 5.194 at the national event in Houston and a 5.207 in Seattle.
"If I can make the car run good and I've got a good driver in the seat, I'm very comfortable with that," said Meyer. "It's all about dollars and cents. If I can make it work and not drive, that makes a lot more sense to me than paying for it out of my own pocket. Besides, I don't get as excited about driving as I used to. Years ago, the car seemed much faster. People ask me what it feels like to go 270, and I tell them it's just like driving down the road. I've done it so much it just feels natural. It's not a super thrill anymore. If I can go out there and outrun somebody, whether I'm driving or not, it makes me feel good, and that's why I'm here."
Meyer returned to the driver's seat in 2004 and stayed there until 2007, winning Division 5 championships in 2004, 2005, and 2006 and placing third nationally in 2004 and 2005. He won his first NHRA national event as a driver in Englishtown in 2004 and won the same event a year later. He won his third and only other national event as driver in Gainesville in 2007.
"Any national event you win is special," said Meyer. "My goal is to have a Wally from every racetrack. I have a pretty good start, but there are a few I've had trouble conquering. That's one of the things I'm after, but my goal right now is to go out and have some fun. I'm not worried about points or any of that stuff. The two years that I ended up third, I led the points for a long time, and the pressure kind of got to me. I didn't do very well at the last couple of races, and I went from first to third real quick. It took a pretty good toll on me, so I decided it wasn't worth it. If it happens, it happens, and that's kind of the way I race now."
Meyer turned over the driving duties to rookie Diana Harker and her twin sister, Kate, in 2008, when he again proved his mettle as a tuner, guiding the Australian siblings to two wins in a combined four final-round appearances. Diana, who drove the car at 14 races and finished a respectable 11th nationally, delivered Meyer his third national event win in Englishtown, and Kate, who drove at just three races, was runner-up in Dallas.
"We missed some of the division races because Diana had the Dunkin' Donuts sponsorship and we had to be other places, so we didn't do as well as we could have," said Meyer. "But she was the first non-American female to win a national event, which I didn't even know at the time."
Meyer took Kracht under his wing last year and guided the first-year driver to a win and a runner-up en route to the Division 5 championship and a runner-up in Brainerd and 12th-place finish nationally. Kate Harker and Meyer also spent some time behind the wheel last season, and in 11 starts, the team averaged a semifinal finish or better.
"I won three straight division titles when I drove, but when Gary drove, and Alan drove, and Diana drove, we never won the division," said Meyer. "Even when we won the [national] championship, we didn't win the division, so the first time that I won the division with someone else driving was last year with Dan."
This year, Meyer is back behind the wheel and leading the Division 5 standings. He runnerupped at the Division 2 race in Atlanta in his season debut and most recently posted a semifinal finish at the Division 5 race in Great Bend, Kan. But Meyer isn't the only racer in the family. His daughters, Megan and Rachel, both compete in NHRA's Jr. Dragster program, and Megan recently licensed in Super Comp.
"Since 2001, we've managed to win at least one race each year," said Meyer. "I don't know if we'll get it done this year. We're just going to run a limited schedule and spend a lot of time with the Jr. and Super Comp cars. If everything works out in Super Comp and she enjoys it, you might see Megan in my car in a couple of years. Hopefully, the economy will be better and we can find some money for her."
With both daughters racing, Meyer's wife, Mary, plays a pivotal role in keeping all four cars running, as do crewmembers Ted Lake, Stacey Lindensmith, Dan Olson, Matt Rhia, and Craig Schmidt.
"A lot of it just goes back to being around good people," said Meyer. "My wife has been with me and supported me the whole way, and she still goes to the races and works on the car. Sometimes when I'm racing, she takes the girls to their Jr. races, so she's very involved."
As for 2010, Meyer will continue to do double duty until he can find a driver.
"I've got some people who have inquired about doing a couple of races, but nobody who has enough money to do the full season, so we're not under any pressure to win anything or prove anything," he said. "I just want to keep my name out there and try to have a little fun, and if we're lucky enough to get a win or two, then that's a bonus." ND