Fresh off a victory at Mission Raceway in his most recent regional start, Joey Severance will be a huge favorite at this weekend's regional in Woodburn, Ore. He's the defending Top Alcohol Dragster winner, the reigning Division 6 champion, and just missed winning the 2011 national championship. Oh, and he's a co-owner of Woodburn Dragstrip and obviously knows the facility better than anyone who'll line up against him.
"This track is a seven-days-a-week job," says Severance, who does everything from plunging toilets to handling souvenir sales to prepping the all-concrete surface. "It's a lot different, being on this side of things. Instead of complaining about not getting paid enough, now I'm complaining about how much money we have to pay out."
It was Severance who collected the Top Alcohol Dragster winner's check in each of the past two seasons at Woodburn, but nothing could have prepared him for the phenomenal success that he and his dad, Joe Sr., one of the original heroes of Pro Comp, had everywhere else last year. They entered seven divisional events, reached the final at all seven, and won five, including Woodburn.
"It was our best year ever, by far," says Severance, who won five in a row at one point, including the Seattle national event. "We did so much better than we ever thought we would. It was a little disappointing not to get the championship in the end, but it was a thrill to still have a shot at it on the final day of the season." Though he finished fourth, Severance was the only driver other than Duane Shields, who won the title, still contention on Sunday at the Finals.
Winning it all was never a consideration when the 2011 season began, but as the year progressed and the wins piled up, the Severances made a late-season decision to go for it. "In the back of your mind, you always hope you have a chance, but it probably wasn't until we won the fifth divisional that we really started to think about it," says Severance, who also won the Spokane, Seattle, Medford, and Las Vegas divisionals. "We didn't even decide to go to Dallas [for the Fall Nationals in September] until the Saturday before the race. We didn't do any good there, and then we realized that it was a little closer to drive all the way to Reading than it would have been to drive home."
So, instead of turning west out of the Texas Motorplex, the rig headed east for the 1,500-mile haul to Reading, where Severance quickly showed the East Coast's finest exactly why the low-budget team from the Pacific Northwest had been making headlines all year. Before that weekend, the furthest east that Severance had ever raced (except for one trip to Chicago for the Jegs Allstars race) was, believe it or not, Las Vegas. "We're West Coast guys," he says. "Seattle, Pomona twice, and Vegas twice – that's usually our national event schedule."
In his first appearance on the eastern seaboard, Severance knocked five-time and reigning world champ Bill Reichert out of championship contention on a semifinal holeshot with a .001 reaction time, his second .00 in a row, and the quickest (5.26) and fastest (271.30 mph) run of his career. Another .00 would have given Severance a final-round victory over Mike Kosky, who scored for the first time since 1999, but he had "only" a .017 light and Kosky put up his best e.t. and best reaction time of the event to win by four-thousandths of a second.
Aside from doing more with less than probably any Top Alcohol Dragster team in the country, Severance, 42, is known for his double-0 lights. Sometimes, the only way he loses is on red-lights, and they're not -.250 or -.300 guesses – they're usually -.00s. At one point last year, he red-lighted five times in a row, including all three qualifying attempts at Mission. Translation: he's so fast that he can red-light without anticipating the light.
"I don't know what to say; I guess it's just focus," Severance says. "The yellow light flashes, and I leave. I drove Terry DeLaVerne's Alcohol Funny Car once a long time ago and got beat on a holeshot in the first round and figured I'd better get a little better on the Tree."
"Better" doesn't adequately define it. Nobody in Top Alcohol Dragster has a quicker left foot. Joe Sr. even slowed down the clutch linkage, like they do in Pro Stock Bike, and Joey still sometimes is too quick for his own good. "It's not all me," Severance insists. "My dad has some great ideas about how to get the car to react, and this thing always leaves hard. We've had 60-foot times down in the .890s."
Joe Sr., who works for master chassis builder Brad Hadman, is a two-time national event champion in Pro Comp (at the inaugural Mile-High Nationals in 1978 and the 1979 Winternationals) and was runner-up at the 1978 and 1979 U.S. Nationals and the 1979 Fallnationals.
A broken rear end after an .890 60-foot time in round one at the penultimate race of the season, the Big O Tires Nationals in Las Vegas last October, is the round that, more than any other, cost the Severances the 2011 title. "That one hurt – that was going to be a good run," Severance says. "We didn't win the championship, but the thing is, right down to the last day of the season, we had a chance. What more could you ask for?"