Feature: Alcohol Funny Car Driver Paul GillJune 14, 2012 · 0 Comments
Paul Gill doesn’t look around to see how everyone else does things. Doing it his way has made him one of the leading Alcohol Funny Car drivers of the past 15 years, with multiple national event titles and five divisional victories since the late 1990s.
Just don’t look for him in the Top 10. Gill doesn’t run enough races to contend for championships – doesn’t particularly want to. He hasn’t finished in the top 15 in years, but nobody else with national rankings like his over the past 10 years – 16th, 29th, 39th, 35th, 49th, 34th, 33rd, 30th, 27th, and 17th – was a legitimate contender to win every race he entered. Gill was.
Just last year, Gill ventured west to the back-to-back-to-back events that close each season – the Big O Tires Nationals at Las Vegas, the divisional race there, and the NHRA Finals at Pomona – and set low e.t. at two of three, just missing the 5.40s at Pomona with a 5.50. The week before that, he had a very tough field that included national event winners Jay Payne, John Lombardo Jr., Clint Thompson, Doug Gordon, and Steve Gasparrelli covered by almost a full tenth of a second.
“When the car runs good and you’re somewhere that you don’t usually race, that’s the kind of thing that really means something to me,” says Gill, who runs Gill Metal Fab, a metal-fabrication company, and ModuLine, a modular-aluminum cabinet business, in Brockton Mass. “I can’t dedicate my whole life to racing – I have a business to run – so when you feel like you have the respect of other racers, it’s pretty nice.”
Gill is one of just seven Alcohol Funny Car drivers to have run in the 5.40s, and one of the first – he did it more than five years ago en route to a runner-up finish at the Gatornationals. He just hasn’t parlayed that performance into as many wins as he probably should have by now.
Take his most recent outing, at the Maple Grove Raceway regional event over Memorial Day weekend, for example. In brutal conditions, when no driver other than Frank Manzo ran in the 5.60s all weekend, Gill ran .60s in every qualifying session and both preliminary rounds of eliminations only to slow to a 6.07 in the final against Manzo, who considered himself lucky to win with a tire-shaking 5.83.
“I really thought I was going to beat him that time,” says Gill, who had taken out Manzo in their two most recent meetings and in 2010 was one of just two drivers all year to beat him . “He’s the man. He drives it, he tunes it, he works on it. You always tell yourself you’re going to beat him, but deep down, you know you’re probably not. But that time, I really thought I would.”
It continued a frustrating string of runner-ups for Gill, who has five wins in 16 career divisional/regional finals and two wins in eight national event finals. “I guess I’m a bridesmaid,” he jokes. I’ve runner-upped about 9,000 times.” He’s dropped his last three national event finals – all at Gainesville, and all to Mickey Ferro – and each time, he ran more than quick enough to win most races. He did, however, win the biggest one of all, the 2005 Englishtown event, which he dedicated to son Paul Jr., who had passed away of leukemia just two weeks earlier. In the most dominating performance of his career, Gill got quicker and faster in every round, running 5.68, 5.67, 5.60, and a final-round 5.58 – low e.t. of the meet – against Bobby Martin.
Gill has won both national events in his native Division 1, the Keystone Nationals (1999) and Englishtown (2005), and has scored divisional wins at most of the East Coast tracks – Lebanon Valley Dragway (1998), Maple Grove (1999), Cecil County (2000), and Numidia (2003) – and most of them were over either Manzo or Bob Newberry in the final. His most recent win came two years ago at the Division 3 race at National Trail Raceway in Columbus. The most rewarding part was that he did – and continues to do – just about everything himself.
“I like tuning the car, trying to make it run better than it ever has,” he says. “I don’t care if you’re Newberry, Manzo, or [Steve] Boggs – we all can get lost. It’s a challenge to come up with things on your own, but that’s what keeps me going. It would be difficult to ever give up driving, but sometimes I think I’d rather have my son, Matt, drive the car and I could just tune it and watch from the line. He’s getting his license right now, and he’s only made four launches and I haven’t toned the car down for him yet, but I think he’ll be pretty good. I’ve always liked building a combination and making power more than I liked driving anyway.”
That’s obvious – just look at his car. “I’ve got a Brad block, Veney heads, and Newberry pistons,” Gill says. “Who else out here runs that? I stay with it even though everybody’s always coming by to tell me, ‘Why don’t you just get what the other guys run?’ There are off-the-shelf tune-ups you can buy, and that way’s a lot easier, but I can run with just about anybody except Manzo doing it this way, and I’m going to keep doing it this way.”