The difference between winning and losing in drag racing is measured in thousandths of a second. That comes down to an inch or so at the end of a quarter-mile.
Which makes Bob Glidden's record in the pro stock division all the more remarkable.
Glidden, driving a 1987 Ford Thunderbird, has been fast qualifier at 21 consecutive National Hot Rod Assn. national championship events, dating back to 1986. And after two of four qualifying sessions for Sunday's Winston Finals at the Fairplex track in Pomona, Glidden is on his way to No. 22.
His elapsed time of 7.408 seconds at a top speed of 187.77 m.p.h. Thursday was still the best after Friday's round. Both are event records.
Two more sessions today will set the 16-car field for Sunday's eliminations.
"We haven't won it yet," Glidden insisted after Friday's round, when his car veered off course and he shut it down.
"The more we win, the tougher it gets. General Motors is tired of chasing Ford, and the guys in the Oldsmobiles, the Chevies and the Pontiacs are all working overtime to catch us. GM is spending literally millions of dollars trying to beat Ford. It's my job to keep the T-Bird in the winner's circle. It's become not me against another driver, but me against General Motors."
Glidden clinched the season championship and its $50,000 point fund bonus two weeks ago in the Fallnationals at Phoenix when he won his 59th NHRA event. It was his eighth title--no one else has ever won more than four--in a career that began in 1972, when he left his job as a line mechanic at an Indianapolis Ford dealership to race full time.
Glidden has remained loyal to Ford, his first love, most of that time, but even in another make he proved unbeatable. In 1979, after winning 32 straight races in a Ford Fairmont during an undefeated 1978 season, Glidden stunned drag racing followers by switching to Chrysler and a Plymouth Arrow.
Nothing changed. Glidden won seven of nine races and another championship. The following year, he went back to Ford and won again, including a record nine events in a row--the last five of 1979 with the Plymouth and the first four of 1980 with the Ford.
No other driver has ever won the championship in different makes of cars.
The soft-spoken Glidden, 43, doesn't see his success as personal achievements.
"There's no secret; it's a total team effort," he said. When Glidden speaks of team, he means family. His wife, Etta, who has been with him since his first race in 1972, is the crew chief. Their sons, Bill and Rusty, who began attending races in their diapers, are the crew.
"In pro stock, all the work is done at the shop, not at the track," Glidden said. "If you don't arrive ready to race, it's too late. Apparently, when we win, it means we have done a little more homework. Bill and Rusty are the ones who keep us running so strong.
"We're always looking for some place to pick up another two- or three-thousandths (of a second) on the others. It's not just in the engines. We're continually changing the chassis, aerodynamics, sheet metal, body work, anything to pick up some time. It's a never-ending situation."
In the Cajun Nationals at Baton Rouge, La., Glidden kept his qualifying streak intact by a minuscule .005 of a second over Bruce Allen.
NHRA officials estimate the difference as no more than a couple of inches.
This season, in addition to being the top qualifier at all 13 events, Glidden has reached the final round nine times and won seven, including five of the last six. He also set NHRA records of 191.32 m.p.h. in the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis and 7.352 seconds in the Chief Auto Parts Nationals at Texas Motorplex.
"Winning (the championship) for the eighth time was just as rewarding as the first one, or any of the others," he said. "But just because we've won the championship doesn't mean we'll let down here at Pomona. We handle every race on an individual basis, and we want to finish the season a winner."
Glidden has had great success on the Pomona strip, where he first won the Winternationals in February 1975. He has won six Winternationals and two Winston Finals, in 1984 and 1986, on the same track. He also won the Finals in 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1980, when it was held at the old Ontario Motor Speedway.
Top fuel dragster driver Joe Amato and funny car driver Mike Dunn set track speed records in Friday's qualifying runs.
Amato, the 1984 champion, broke his own mark with a run of 279.50 m.p.h. Last year, he ran 274.22.
Darrell Gwynn, however, has the fastest qualifying time with a track-record 5.142-second run. Amato is fourth at 5.260.
Dunn, in an '86 Oldsmobile Firenza, ran 274.13 m.p.h. to break the funny car record of 268.65, set by Mark Oswald last February.
As in top fuel, however, Dunn is not the top qualifier. Ed (Ace) McCulloch, Larry Minor's driver from Hemet, did 5.510, also in a Firenza.
Qualifying will be completed with two sessions, at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., today.
Eight top fuel drivers, headed by Amato, will also compete today for a $50,000 first prize in the Cragar-Weld Wheel Classic, a three-round shootout independent of the Winston Finals.