Monday, July 22, 2024

DragChamp Racer Spotlight with Vernon Rowland

Division 4 Super Class hitter Vernon Rowland is in the DragChamp Racer Spotlight this week!

Vernon Rowland has been attending drag races since he was an infant. At 16, he jumped behind the wheel and in the years since, has become one of the premier racers in Division 4. He began racing at the local level in Oklahoma eventually progressing to the divisional and national stage.

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Once there, Vernon raced his way to numerous wins in both the IHRA and NHRA before becoming a two-time IHRA world champion. In 2019, Vernon had his best season ever on the NHRA side driving to five national event finals and winning three times.

With his recent run on the national event level, Vernon was a great fit for the Racer Spotlight program. In the Q&A below, you’ll learn about his five racecars, traveling on the NHRA tour, and how he deals with racing two cars by himself.

Vernon Rowland Racer Spotlight Q&A

How long have you been racing?

I’ve been attending races from the time I was about 1 year old. Started racing at 16 in 1985.  

How did you get introduced to the sport?

My Dad was a weekly bracket racer at our local track. When the track shut down he stopped for a few years. About the time I was 12 we started going to Ardmore Dragway in southern Oklahoma. 

When I started, I would drive my street car, a 1969 Dodge Dart Swinger that my parents bought new, to Ardmore. It was about an 80-mile drive one way to race for $50.00 with a $25.00 entry fee and no buy back.

Give our readers a little background on your racing career.

I bracket raced around Oklahoma and surrounding states for years. Although, I always wanted to race Super Class style racing from the time I was a kid.

After winning the Race of Champions in 1995, I received a Gold Card so I gave Divisional racing try with my Chevette in Super Street. I pretty much took a beating that first year in 1996.

In 1997 I was fortunate enough to win S/ST at the Topeka Divisional, runner-up the Ennis Divisional, and finish 4th in Division 4. In 1999 I went to my first IHRA race, in 2000 IHRA put together a division out here in Division 4.

IHRA allowed you to run the 10.90 class and another class, and at the time NHRA wouldn’t allow you to be in another class and their 10.90 class. I was hooked and ran IHRA from 2000 until 2017, when they decided to take their program in another direction.

Now I am racing Super Comp and Super Gas in NHRA. Along with my family and friends. Plus, an occasional bracket race.    

Tell us about your current race cars. 

My Super Comp dragster is a 2013 Joe Monden Chassis assembled at the time by TNT when they were located in Texas. It’s powered by a Penrod Racing Service big block Chevrolet. I’ve owned it since 2013. Picked it up and went straight to the track.

The Super Gas car is a 1985 Oldsmobile Calais built by Willie Rells and powered by a Penrod Racing Service big block Chevrolet. I’ve owned since 2012 after crashing my Corvette Roadster.

Vernon Rowland SG

Our Super Street truck is driven by my daughter Brittany DeVore. It’s a 1999 GMC Sonoma which numerous people had a hand in putting together. The pickup is powered by a Pratt Racing Engines small block. Bought it in 2012 or ’13 and it’s been a work in progress ever since.

We also have a Super Gas/Super Street car driven by John Long Jr. It’s a 1976 Chevette I’ve owned since 1988. Corvette Clinic’s Todd Dixon did the rear suspension in 1993 and the cage and front end were updated at Lawson Race Cars in 2003.

The Chevette is powered by big block Chevrolet built by Dave Pearn of Corvette Clinic in about 2000. Since Dave’s passing, it was recently freshened by Wayne Pratt.

You’ve had an amazing season with 5 national event finals and 3 wins.  What do you contribute your recent success to?

Right place, right time. That seems to be how drag racing goes.

Vernon Rowland Vegas Winner Interview

Was there any added pressure staging against Dan Fletcher in the Vegas final?

No not really. There are some pretty big-time players here in Division 4, you learn really quick your better off just worrying about yourself.

Which victory meant the most to you this year and why?

I’d say my Vegas win because my Dad was there. I’d never been to a Divisional event final with him there and that was the first NHRA national he’d gone to since 1974.  That was one thing I’ve wanted to accomplish.

At the beginning of the season would you have believed it if someone said you’d win 3 Wally’s in 5 finals?

Not at all. At the beginning of the season I’d never been to an NHRA National Event final.  

Did your early season success change your racing schedule so you could chase points?

Yeah, I’ll put some races on the schedule that don’t make a lot of since to go to unless there is some early success. I made those trips this year. Some years they just get scratched off. 

What’s the one thing most people don’t realize when it comes to chasing points and traveling on the NHRA tour?

Just the time commitment, the time away from family and work. Leaving on Monday or Tuesday is a little crazy. There were a couple of races I attended that from the time I pulled out of the driveway until I rolled back in, I was gone seven days.

2019 Midwest Nationals Super Gas Final

You get behind by .001 in the St. Louis final.  Tell us about the emotions and thoughts just after that round.  

I just ended up behind .001, I never got in front. I was behind on reaction time, and as I was coming up on him, I gave it a couple of rips and ended up .001 behind. Maybe one rip would have changed the outcome?

Drag racing’s a woulda, coulda, shoulda kind of sport. It’s just another one of those long drive home conversations. My opponent did his job and threw up a better package than I did. Simple as that.

Does your success this season change the way you approach 2020?

We plan to have the same schedule. We have six cars within our little group. If things work out for one of us, hopefully we’ll have a reason to be on the highway.  

It looked like you were a one-man operation at some of the events.  Did you have help?  If not, how difficult is it to run two cars by yourself.

At times that’s the case. It can get a little hectic at times if you are doing well with both.

Please list your major racing accomplishments.

  • 2X Track Champion 1991 Ardmore Dragway Ardmore, OK, and 1992 Thunder Valley Raceway Noble, OK
  • NHRA Race of Champions Winner 1995 Division 4 Bracket Finals
  • Multiple NHRA and IHRA Divisional Race Wins
  • Multiple NHRA and IHRA National Race Wins
  • 2X IHRA World Champion 2015 Quick Rod 8.90, and 2017 Super Rod 9.90
  • 5X IHRA Division Champion 2001 D4 Hot Rod 10.90, 2013 D3 Quick Rod 8.90, 2016 – 2017 D4 Quick Rod 8.90, and 2017 D4 Super Rod 9.90

What’s on your bucket list, future goals, what do you hope to achieve?

Would like to qualify for the JEGS Allstar Race.

What is your favorite race car, and why?

1976 Chevette, I’ve owned the car for 31 years, I told my wife she can bury me in the car. I’ve had a lot of success with that car. It sat for several years but this year we put it back together and John Long Jr. has been driving it in Super Gas. It has been fun to see it running again.

Who has made the biggest impact on your racing success?

My Dad of course and one of his friends Dave Pearn who owned Corvette Clinic in OKC, OK helped me practically from the start. My Dad ran into Dave in 1989 and they got to talking about what I was up to, which was my racing, they came to the conclusion I was clueless.

Dave really helped me with my engines, parts, and combinations on my Chevette for years. He was the reason I didn’t have any mechanical issues. Dave was a Stock Eliminator racer and was never a Super Class fan, but he helped me out, and I appreciate everything he did for me. He passed away a few years ago, but his lessons are still with me. 

Who do you look up to in the sport?

The old Pro Stock racers that just handled it all.

Tell us what you do for a living?

Half owner of Universal Roofing & Sheet Metal, Inc. Moore, OK. We only do commercial type work.

Who do you hate to see in the other lane, and why?

Anyone I’m there racing with; we aren’t there to be racing each other.

What’s the hardest part of drag racing?

The sitting around waiting on another run or round.

What’s your most embarrassing moment in a race car?

Crashing my Corvette Roadster in 2012.

What are you saying to yourself just before you stage the car?

Pretty much going over the basics.

What do you enjoy the most at the racetrack?

Anytime you can take a moment and realize this is a lot more fun than being at work.

Are you superstitious?  If so, what are they?

I’m trying to break this habit, but I tend to wear the same t-shirt I’ve had some recent success in again and again.

Do you love to win or hate to lose?

Hate to lose.

Which are you better at the starting line or the finish line?

Always a work in progress.

What motivates you to continue racing?

Going with family and friends and seeing us all do well.

If money were no object, what would your racing operation look like? 

Not too much different; a bigger shop and whatever RV my wife Sheila could dream up.

How often do you use a practice tree?

I keep one in the office. I’ll pick it up from time to time.

What is your daily driver?

Company truck.

Favorite movie or TV show?

Big Jake with John Wayne

Favorite music, artist?

Waylon Jennings, Don Williams, and Jerry Jeff Walker

Where do you spend the most time on the internet?

Social Media like everyone else these days.

What is your favorite sport?  Favorite team?

OU Football

Besides racing, what do you do in your free time?

Since my Grandson PJ has come along there’s nothing I enjoy more than watching him.

What are you really good at?

Eating, sleeping, and loading my trailer.

Name one thing most people don’t know about you?

I have a chocolate chip cookie addiction.

Would you rather hang out with a crowd or have a quiet evening at home?

Quite evening at home.

What’s your favorite thing to eat? 

Mexican Food.

Who would you like to thank, who helps you the most?

My wife Sheila, daughter Brittany DeVore and her husband Parker, and my son Ryan.

My Mom and Dad, my business partner Jimmy Guthrie and all the employees at Universal Roofing & Sheet Metal, Inc.

All the above put up with an awful lot of time with me away. It’s difficult to have any success if there is not a great support group back home.

John and Krista Long, Carl White – White Safety Equipment, Victor Penrod – Penrod Racing Service

Jeremy Wilson, Breck Lytle, Todd Dixon

Mickey Thompson Tires

Optima Batteries

We hope you enjoyed this Racer Spotlight with Vernon Rowland. For more Racer Spotlight articles, click here for the Lucas Walker Spotlight and here for the Corey Saint Spotlight.

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