Tommy Phillips entered the 58th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals with little to prove. The sportsman racing icon already had 24 NHRA national event “Wally” trophies lining the shelves of his Forney, TX home, and additional hardware from 29 Lucas Oil Division series wins and 7 NHRA Division Championships. Nonetheless, following a weather-delayed stay in Indianapolis that ended nearly two full weeks after it began, Phillips returned to Texas with the biggest victory of his illustrious career; the U.S. Nationals Super Comp title.
After arriving in Indianapolis back on Monday, August 27, Phillips drove his familiar K&N Engineering/CBS ArcSafe backed Super Comp and Super Gas entries through the preliminary rounds of competition that were held on the event’s long established Labor Day weekend date. He advanced to the quarterfinal round in both categories (an accomplishment in itself), as final eliminations were set for the traditional U.S. Nationals Monday finish on September 3. Persistent rains forced NHRA officials to postpone the conclusion of the event for nearly a full week, however, pushing final eliminations back to September 8-9.
“The weather certainly created a logistics issue for everyone involved. It was a bit of a hassle, but it wasn’t that big of a deal for me personally,” explained Phillips. “Let’s be honest, I’m in the quarterfinals of both classes at the biggest event of the season; I would do whatever it took to make sure I was there for the conclusion.”
Phillips was scheduled to fly home following Monday’s eliminations; the postponement simply forced a return flight the following weekend, and meant that his K&N/CBS team would spend the week in Indianapolis.
When eliminations resumed on Sunday September 9, Phillips first squared off with fellow Division 4 racer, Jay Bunce in a quarterfinal Super Gas matchup. There, Bunce would best Phillips with an excellent .007 and 9.907, ending his hopes of an unprecedented Indy double.
“I could give you a detailed explanation of how I lost that round, but the bottom line is that Jay did a great job and made an excellent run. The biggest challenge for me was to stay focused and positive: I was in the staging lanes for Super Comp just minutes after that loss.”
Phillips caught a break in the quarterfinal round of Super Comp when Todd Kujawa fouled away a perfect 8.900 E.T. That advanced him to a semi-final matchup with young Joey Hughes, the son of Jim Hughes, owner of Hughes Performance, a longtime sponsor of Phillips’s racing team. Phillips posted a stellar .011 induced 8.908 to dispense of Hughes’s .015, 8.933. That set up a final round tilt with 2-time defending NHRA Lucas Oil Super Comp Champion Gary Stinnett.
“I didn’t really think about it a lot coming into the final, at that point I was just focused on what I needed to do to win the round,” said Phillips. “But I do have mixed feelings about racing Gary in the final. Obviously, I have a ton of respect for him as a racer – you don’t win four world championships unless you’re a great racer – and we’re good friends. So on one hand, he’s definitely not the guy you want to see in the other lane at any time; much less the final round of the biggest event on the schedule. On the other hand, it’s kind of exciting to be honest. I mean, you’re racing the best of the best at the biggest race on the planet. From that standpoint, it’s actually pretty neat.”
Phillips won the battle of Super Comp standouts by besting Stinnett on the starting line .015 to .020, and at the finish line: 8.905 to 8.935.
The victory fulfilled a lifelong dream for Phillips, and allowed him to mark off one of the few remaining goals on his personal checklist.
“Honestly, the two accomplishments that I had set up on a pedestal were a U.S. Nationals victory and an NHRA World Championship. I don’t know if I’ll ever win the championship, it’s evaded me about as many ways as I could imagine, but now I can say that I’ve won Indy. No one can ever take that away from me!”
Phillips credited his equipment and racing team for his success. In addition to major backers K&N Engineering and CBS ArcSafe, Phillips and his Philco Race Services team receive support from Sterling Volkswagen of Abilene, Robert and Wynette Hudgins of Lee-A Inc., Art and Randy Zunker of Team Beyond Reason Motorsports, Brett Patterson, and Duane and Heidi Robison. He also credited Sunset Racecraft, Hughes Performance, Lucas Oil Products, Hoosier Racing Tire, TNT Supercars, and VP Racing Fuels for their role in his winning combination. Keep up with Tommy’s racing exploits by friending him on Facebook: Tommy Phillips.