NORWALK, Ohio (November 11, 2013) – Sometimes you just have to stop and ask yourself, what the heck am I doing?
That was the question racing through Graham Foster's mind as he packed up his beautiful bright red 1968 Camaro and made the 2,500 mile haul from Fort St. John, British Columbia to Memphis, Tennessee for the Summit World Finals at Memphis International Raceway.
Foster left more than a week before the race itself to assure that he would make to the track in plenty of time. And by Sunday night, that 5,000 mile roundtrip tow was made completely worth his while as he escaped a grueling competition in IHRA's premier doorslammer class to claim the 2013 IHRA Top Sportsman World Championship.
"Let's just say it took us a while to get here," Graham said with a laugh. "We left last Friday and let me tell you, when you are filling up on fuel, it really makes you think about the trip. But once we got here, it was all worthwhile. Even if we didn't win a round, it was worth it. We got here and had fun and that is what this sport is all about."
But Foster's long drive and championship victory wasn't the end to this story. No, once at the track Foster ran into a few issues with his car and was forced to turn to the racers, a collection of drivers that regularly compete thousands of miles from his hometown, and ask for help. And the response that he got, well, not even Foster could believe.
"I was blown away by just how friendly and helpful everyone was. From the IHRA crew to the racers, everyone was willing to lend a helping hand and let me tell you, that really saved our weekend," Foster said. "We had a few issues with the car. We had to change out a flex plate, find a transmission cable and eventually change out the entire transmission. It was a bit of a struggle, but we had a lot of help from fellow racers who came to our aid. They all pitched in and made our weekend possible. It is like one big family out here and that is what makes this sport different than any other."
Once Foster got the issues worked out on his car, he went to work on Sunday eliminating many of the same drivers that helped keep him in the competition. His first two rounds included wins over defending Top Sportsman World Champion Mike Thompson and Division 4 heavy hitter Kamron Wright and ended with a showdown with Warrenton, Virginia's Mike Koontz and his 2000 Chevrolet S-10.
With the championship on the line, Foster nailed the tree with a .005 light and ran a 7.618 second pass at 176.42 miles per hour on a 7.58 dial to take the win mere inches at the line. Koontz had a .098 light, but came storming back on the top end with a 7.619 on a 7.61 at 176.84 mph in the runner-up effort.
"It is hard to believe that we won. It was a pretty tight race. We were both dialed in pretty close, so I just went out there and did my job and thought that as long as the car works, we are good," Foster said. "It repeated and everything fell into place. After it really sunk it, I kept wondering, did I just do this? It was pretty exciting."
Foster added wins over Wright, Thompson and Jim Cairnes to reach the final, while Koontz recorded victories over Rick McDonough and Mark Payne in the only class to go five rounds on Sunday.
Amazingly, Foster's car worked like a charm with four out of his five lights on the afternoon zeroing in on triple zero. He had lights of .002, .005. .007 and .005 with a .022 throw in during the semifinals to help propel him to the win.
Top Sportsman Final – Mike Koontz (near) vs. Graham Foster
"Everything went bout as smooth as could be. There really weren't any surprises and the track was great. Really the only issue we had was that we lost our crew chief after the first run because he had to fly back," Foster said. "But we had everything setup and we didn't have to touch the car after he left. It just worked and took us all the way to the win."
Now, after 30 years behind the wheel, Foster will take the coveted No. 1 with him back to western Canada where he will be the most targeted racer in the country as the Top Sportsman representative for the IHRA.