Who is the winningest driver in all of drag racing? Is it Dick LaHaie? Don the Snake? The Old Man? Bob Glidden? Rickie Smith?
Well, there's a guy down in Jesup, Georgia, by the name of Chip Horton who gets our vote. He's the winningest hot shoe we've ever heard of.
Oh yeah? So what's he won?
Okay, for starters, his 12-second "Trinity" Dodge Dart Heavy/Sportsman bracketeer has captured 11 track championships in a row, spread between Vidalia and Savannah, Georgia, Drag Strips and Jax Raceway in Jacksonville, Florida.
He has come in second at the last four NHRA Firestone Center Line E.T. Racing Series championships at Moroso Motorsports Park, and had 30 out of 33 first-place finishes in 1987, bringing his total to more than 500 overall firsts (that's right, five oh oh) in his 16-year racing career. He has also been in every Division 2 Bracket Final since '76, and at times has had a five-straight-win streak, a four-straight-win streak and a three-straight-win steak at Jax and two three-straight-win streaks at Savannah.
That's an overall win record of 70 percent; not bad for a 33-year-old racer whose car weighs 3180 pounds and is nearly 20 years old, and who lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident when he was 17.
He stages with his right heel on the brake and his right toes on the go-pedal, and he is so good that his 'trees rarely get above a 5.03. A typical racer? Un-uh. Not this Georgia cracker.
"I work at winning and have a good attitude. If I win, I won't run my mouth unless the Ford and Chevy people ride me to it, 'cause I'm usually the only Chrysler racer around," he says, grinning.
Horton, a print shop and office supplies manager who lives with his new bride, April, on 200 acres of family property, began racing on the street around his south Georgia home, but quickly found that traffic tickets and not trophies were the only things to carry home for that effort. His first real race car ride was in a friend's old Stock Eliminator machine, followed by a 318-powered, two-barrel bracket bomber and then his present mount, a 340 Dodge
Dart that has run a best elapsed time of 12.36.
He doesn't particularly care for going faster ("Takes too much money, and besides I'm not a mechanic," Horton says) and consistency isn't that important, either ("All I care about is a good tree and being able to run close to my dial-in," he says). And doing the same thing each and every run doesn't win races for him, "especially if the track is hooking good one time and slick the next. I have to drive each race differently," Horton says.
His choice of race car certainly isn't typical. His '69 Dodge A-bodied Dart, named 'Trinity" after the old quick-draw, shoot-'em-up movie series of the same name, was once a tow car for a bunch of fellow racers. Horton bought it complete and in need of a major fender straightening for $600 in 1973, and except for a distributor and carburetor change two years later, a "hotter" Cam Dynamics hydraulic cam and a minor engine rebuild in 1980, the .030"-over, 10-to-1 engine has remained essentially the same ever since. "I dropped the oil pan last year 'cause the oil pump went out, and that's the only time it's been touched recently," Horton confesses. The spark plugs are three years old.
He even runs the carburetor, a Holley 750 double pumper, with the back two barrels disconnected. "Launches better that way," Horton says. The only things that keep the car from being street legal are the llx15x29" No.9 Firestone slicks on an un-narrowed, Zoom geared 4.56-ratio rearend, a beefed-up 727 trans and TCI racing converter, and the Hedman Hedders. Horton even eschews a roll bar and fire jacket, because the car runs so slow. "Don't need 'em," he says.
But he does win in it, and he has that winning down to a science. If, say, Horton races at a track with a short rollout, he'll let the air out of his tall Firestone 8.40-by-15" front tires until his reaction times come around. He'll air them up and give the brake pedal a couple of extra pumps if he's late on the Christmas tree or the track has a long rollout.
And Horton is sold on the hard-launching Dart. "I honestly believe that Chrysler built a better car -the rear springs, the whole suspension set-up, everything makes the car leave better. I've got the best car, period. It launches unbelievably round after round. I once broke the frame after a dry hop," he says. His 60-foot times are always around the 1.80-second range, and
Horton would rather have a hard-launching car than a more consistent one.
Drag racing is not all that Chip Horton does. Come Sunday afternoon, when his weekend of racing is over, he'll barbecue or fish or hit the woods with his three-wheeler or his specially-built VW dune buggie, the one with the hand throttle built from an old motor scooter clutch and handle. "I enjoy life," he says.
But March through late November, Chip Horton and wife April will be at the drags on Friday and Saturday nights, hammering away at those track championships. For this year, he's setting his sights on beating Florida bracket great Tim Butler for a 13-straight championship win. "I'm going for two track wins this year," he says.
It'll be in his old standby, the "Trinity" Dodge. 'I'll sell it when I see dirt in my face," Horton said. "And that means 'till death do us part."