2004 Lucas Oil Top Alcohol Funny Car champion Cy Chesterman
by Bruce Dillashaw, National DRAGSTER
A new, lightweight, responsive Pro Start chassis; a cohesive, veteran crew; an innovative nine-finger lockup clutch; and a multiple-event-winning start to the season propelled Cy Chesterman to the best year of his career, in which he not only won his first Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Top Alcohol Funny Car championship but his second straight Division 5 title.
The Coca-Cola and bottled-water facility owner from Sioux City, Iowa, ended Frank Manzo's seven-year reign as champion of the supercharged methanol-burning Funny Car class. With 786 points, Chesterman outscored second place Jay Payne (who led in points for most of the year) by 57 points or about three rounds, while Manzo finished third with 700 points.
"Everybody that races has the dream to win the championship, and when it happens, it's pretty amazing," Chesterman said. "It takes a little while for it to soak in. You know during the year, in the back of your mind, you have a shot at it, but you know a lot of things have to go well for it to happen."
Chesterman and crew chief Dan Huchtmeier, along with veteran supercharged-methanol tuner Les Davenport, longtime crewman Jeff Flythe, and Chesterman's pilot/crewman Mike Kibby, opened the year with wins at three of their first four starts - the national events in Gainesville and Las Vegas and the Division 5 Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event at SRCA Dragstrip. In between was a semifinal finish at the national event in Houston.
As a teenager Chesterman, now 57, briefly raced an altered around his Sioux City home before earning a business degree from Morningside College and turning his attention to the family Coca-Cola bottling business and the raising of two sons, Cy Jr. and Jay, with his wife Karen. Both sons are now partners with Chesterman in the Coca-Cola operation. In 1992, with his sons grown and the businesses a success, Chesterman returned to drag racing after a 25-year layoff with a doorslammer in Super Comp. He and Huchtmeier moved up to Top Alcohol Funny Car for the 1993 season. Chesterman finished in the top 10 nationally from 1995 through 2001 and finished third last year. Chesterman has never finished worse than fifth in Division 5 since his first year in 1993, posting five second-place finishes and two third-place finshes to go with his four first-place finishes.
Despite Chesterman's strong start to the 2004 season, Payne had an even better start. Except for Doug Gordon's brief lead after the first Las Vegas national event due to Gordon's semifinal finish in Pomona and back-to-back wins at the divisional events in Phoenix and Tucson, Payne led in points until late August. In Brainerd, Payne's last opportunity to earn points at a national event, Chesterman beat Payne in the final round. Two weeks later on August 28 in Topeka, Chesterman defeated Kirk Williams in a Division 5 final round for the third time in 2004 to take the points lead permanently from Payne. Chesterman said defeating Payne in the semis at that race was one of two high points in the year for him because he knew it gave him a virtual lock on the championship. The other high point was his two straight national event wins to open the year.
The low point for Chesterman, who bannered two of his bottled-water brands on his car during the year (Chippewa Spring Water on the sides and Glacier Clear on the hood), was NHRA's banning of the nine-finger lockup clutch. After a couple of the new-style pressure plates that Davenport invented and AFT manufactured came apart, Huchtmeier and team had to revert back to the six-finger pressure plate that everybody else in the class was using. The nine-finger allowed for a softer clutch engagement early in the run before it locked up more solidly than the six-finger downtrack. The lockup feature also kept the engine rpm lower than the six-finger had.
"We had no recent data on the six-finger clutch and had no time to test," said Chesterman, who nevertheless won the divisional event in Brainerd with the old-style clutch the week after a second-round finish at the national event in Topeka with the nine-finger.
Chesterman, who also counts as his hobbies sailing in the Bahamas and snow skiing with his wife as well as windsurfing and fly fishing, rounded out the year with a semifinal finish in Dallas and a second-round showing in Chicago. In the 12 events Chesterman entered, he failed to reach the final round only four times - all four at national events - and was undefeated in the five Division 5 events he entered. Chesterman defeated Bob Newberry in the final round at the Mac Tools NHRA Gatornationals and Mark Woznichak at the NHRA Summitracing.com Nationals, before stopping Payne at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd.
"Everybody in the class wants to win the national championship, but we don't go out with that as our sole focus," Chesterman said. "We go out to win races, have a good time, and enjoy ourselves."
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