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Frank Hawley is hard to categorize. He’s a two time NHRA Funny Car world champion, he’s the founder and president of the world famous drag racing school that bears his name, he does consulting for racers and race teams and has made himself into a student of such diverse fields as psychology, neuroscience, physiology, biology and any other field from which he can draw knowledge to pass on to his students and clients.
Alex Rogeo has written elsewhere in this issue about the experience of taking the two day super comp class at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School. But we wanted to know more about the man himself, where did Frank Hawley come from, how did he succeed in drag racing, why does he know all of the things that he knows and how did he become such an expert in the science of driving a drag race car? We got to chat with him on the phone at his home in Gainesville, Florida.
: How did you get involved in drag racing?
Frank Hawley: I went to my first drag race when I was nine, one of my sister’s boyfriends took me to the races and I thought it was amazingly cool. I remember the two guys I saw race and I became friends with them in my adult life—they had front motored top fuel cars that I thought were just spectacular. I have kind of an obsessive personality and this [drag racing] was like, I want to do that.
I remember my first racing magazine—it was at the grocery store, Car Craft magazine. I probably still have it—I have several thousand magazines that I’ve bought over my life time. I remember my mom telling me, “Whew, at fifty cents for a magazine we’re not buying those things very often.”
I got whatever drag racing information I could, they didn’t have any television coverage back then so magazines and the local race tracks were where I found out about it. There were several local race tracks and my dad became interested because I was interested and we got to know everybody and we got involved in racing and with the racers and hanging out at the shops. When they’d go to the races I’d go along and help out, that sort of thing. When I turned 16 a lot of the local racers where saying I should get a car and go racing. So we bought an old front motored dragster and we started racing.
: And this was at home in Ontario, Canada, right?
HAWLEY: Yes, my first run down the drag strip was at St. Thomas Dragway just south of my home town, London, Ontario.
: How did you make the leap from doing that to meeting Austin Coil and driving the Chi-Town Hustler?
HAWLEY: Years and years of starving and misery. My parents helped me as much as they possibly could and we were doing pretty well. We ended up with an alcohol funny car and there were lots of places to race. We were racing in the United Drag Racing Association (UDRA) based in Chicago and they used to pay pretty well and with winning some races we kept it going for a while but we just ran out of money and that was it, we were done.
I sold everything I had and jumped in my truck and drove to California and thought I’d get a job. Not as a driver, I didn’t have any expectation of that, but with one of the teams. By this time I could do a little bit of everything on a car. I stayed in my truck for six or seven months over the winter. A friend of mine was staying in a condo and while there was no room for me there I could shower and then go hang around the race shops during the day. I finally got an offer from a guy in Denver to help him with his nitro car; it didn’t pay anything but provided room and board. So I headed there and worked there for a couple of months.
In the mean time, Pete Williams who had been driving the Chi-Town Hustler for a few years quit and a friend of mine called me. He said, hey, there’s a job opening for the Chi-Town Hustler. I said, they’re never going to hire me and my friend responded, you never know. So I made a resume and sent it to Austin Coil. I knew a lot of folks in Chicago because of the UDRA. I called as many people as I could that I knew out there and told them that I was looking for this job driving the Chi-Town Hustler and could they put in a good word for me.