Elite matchups get driver's motor racing Drag racing: Columbia businessman Bob Weickgenannt finds happiness gunning his Funny Car from 0 to 300 mph in 5 seconds.

September 19, 1998|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Bob Weickgenannt is a little bit like Superman.

One day, he is the mild-mannered president of Starcom, an award-winning design and building company in Columbia; the next, he is wearing a driver's suit and drag racing NHRA Nitro Funny Cars.

"He's racing with the "big dogs," drivers like John Force and Cruz Pedregon, the sport's elite.

And when Weickgenannt snuggles down in his cockpit today in an effort to continue to qualify for the 14th Annual NHRA Pioneer Electronics Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa., he'll be a very happy man.

"I always qualify well," he said. "You have to. You don't get a second chance. It's a cruel sport in that respect. You make a mistake, and it's over. But I like that it's your responsibility. There is nothing like it."

It seems Weickgenannt, 40, has always liked tough sports.

Born and raised in Rochester, N.Y., he started as a hockey player.

He played in the mid-1970s in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League alongside future NHL Hall of Famer Mike Bossy, who would help the New York Islanders to win four Stanley Cups.

Weickgenannt eventually played hockey at Colgate University, where he earned a degree in economics in 1981.

"My business has been slowed down because of my pursuit of racing," Weickgenannt said. "But I knew at age 15 that I wanted to be in drag racing."

After college, he began turning what had been a hobby into a passion.

He's been driving 17 years now, supported by his wife, Betty, who makes up the other half of their B&B Racing team.

He has climbed from the lower hobby classes, racing at Maryland International Raceway, to the upper minor leagues of Top Alcohol Funny Car ranks since moving to Maryland in 1985.

Last year, he stepped up to the Nitro Funny Cars, to the major leagues. B&B has a crew of nine, including himself and his wife. Only crew chief Keith Platt is full time.

In his first season, Weickgenannt drove his Tenneco, Velux, Variform Avenger on a limited schedule and finished inside the Top 50, at No. 45.

This year, again running a limited card on a budget that is about 5 percent of a major team's $2 million, he is achieving his new goal of being ranked in the Top 20.

Going into the Keystone Nationals, he is 19th and has his eye on the last spot in the prestigious Castrol 4-second club, which recognizes the first 16 cars to clock a sub-5-second run.

"It's important to do it at this race," Weickgenannt said, noting he will not be at the next race in Topeka, Kan., where the track is fast. "If we don't do it this weekend, someone else very well may out there."

Yesterday in opening-day qualifying, he finished 10th, with the Avenger reaching 268 mph in 5.25 seconds.

He has been close. In Columbus, Ohio, in June, he ran a best-ever 5.11-second elapsed time at a whisper under 300 mph.

Betty, who recognizes the initial rush that comes when her husband blasts off from the starting line, usually cautions him. She remembers her response that day in June shocked both of them.

"I always say, 'Be careful, " said Betty, who was home with their two children, Carly, 3, and Casey, 7, in Marriottsville that day. "But when he called and he'd gone 299.6 miles an hour in just over five seconds, I said, 'Did you stay right on it? Did you stay on it?' He couldn't believe I was saying that.

"But I know how much he wants it," she said. "I know how determined he is."

To pursue their dream, Weickgenannt keeps following his basic philosophy. "Our goal is not to win a race [right now]," he said. "Our goal is to qualify and win a round . It's a step-by-step-by-step process."

Pub Date: 9/19/98

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