He’s known as the man who won both Million Dollar Races in the same year. His 1966 Pontiac GTO and 1968 Pontiac Firebird get him to winner’s circles all over the country. This is Jeff Verdi.
2016 was one of the best years of Jeff Verdi’s life. He started off in Las Vegas winning the Million, fast forward a few months later he found himself in the same winner’s circle, but in Montgomery, Alabama.
Verdi grew up loving cars and his father took him to the track a couple times when he was young. It didn’t take him long until he was racing in the street class himself. Now, he finds himself traveling all over the country to different big money bracket racing.
Read more about Jeff in the following DragChamp Q&A.
DragChamp Racer Spotlight with Jeff Verdi
How long have you been racing?
How did you get introduced to the sport?
My father took me a couple of times when I was young, but he always had old muscle cars, so I grew up loving cars.
Which class or classes do you compete in?
Mostly top bulb but I will bottom bulb one or twice a season.
Where do you normally race?
My local tracks are Richmond Dragway and Virginia Motorsports Park.
Provide a little history of your career.
I made my first pass at Richmond Dragway in 1989. I was driving my father’s 1988 Dodge pickup. I soon after raced my 1966 Pontiac GTO in street class. I moved up to Pro footbrake class and won a few trophies. In 1992-1993 I built a 1966 GTO race car that was tubbed out and ran mid to low 10’s in the 1/4 mile.
In 1994, Virginia Motorsports Park opened, and I finished 3rd in points for the season and in 1995 I won my 1st track championship in Super Pro.
In 1997 I sold everything and stopped racing to build a house.
In 2000 I came back to racing with my first dragster. It was a Carpenter hardtail with a 468 big block that I bought from Anthony Bertozzi. It ran 5.30’s and was a great setup. I once won 23 rounds in a row in that car. In 2001-2002 I bought and reworked the 1968 Pontiac Firebird I currently race.
It had a Chevrolet small block and I put it back to Pontiac power.
In 2003 I won the Summit Super Series at the track level. In 2004 I began to Footbrake the Firebird. In 2006 and 2007 I won the track championship at VMP and won the Race of Champions at the Division 1 bracket finals at maple grove.
In 2009 I went back to top bulb racing and won the track championship at Richmond Dragway.
I decided in 2010 I would race my 1966 GTO and in 2011 I sold the Firebird. In the fall of 2012, I bought the Firebird back and after some minor restoration I came out with it in 2013.
I won the 2013,14, and 15 track championships at Richmond Dragway in Top ET. I decided to try the Million in Alabama in Oct of 2015.
I had a great outing and decided that I was going to Vegas for the inaugural Spring Fling Million. I ended up winning that event in April and went on to win the Million in Alabama in October. Since 2016 my best outing was runner up in the $50,000 to win race at The Fling Galot in 2018.
Tell us about your current race car.
1968 Pontiac Firebird
1966 Pontiac GTO
How long have you owned it?
Firebird almost 20 years
GTO 14 years
Chassis Builder: Firebird was backyard built by two friends but gets adjusted by JR Carter at Outlaw Motorsports.
Engine: Both cars are powered by 525 cubic inch Pontiac aluminum engines built by Jerry Loan.
Power glide with 4.30 gears in the Firebird and 4.56 in the GTO.
The Bird has run 5.67 in the 1/8th. The GTO has run 5.93 in the 1/8th.
Please list your major racing accomplishments.
Of course, it has to be winning both Million Dollar races in the same season. It has never been done and may not ever, but if it does, I was the first. I’ve also won 7 track championships and went on a 23 round winning streak.
Tell us about your 2016 season.
It all began in the garage hitting the practice tree regularly. I have a text message where I told my friend in February, that this year will be the year of big checks, big steaks ,and I’m going to get a 1099 for over $100,000.
In April Jerry Loan and I hit the road to Las Vegas. I have never been that far away from home for that much time, but the excitement was unreal. The trip out there was eventful. We had to work on my truck a couple of times on the side of the road. But once we got there it was great. We went to dinner and to the casinos the first night.
I lost early the first day but went to the sixth round before missing the tree the second day and being very upset with myself. I talked to my friend Junior Carter on the phone and he gave me some great advice to let that loss, not go to my heart, and just let it roll off and get them the next day.
The morning of the Million it was windy but the electricity in the air was amazing. The race started off slow due to weather but nine rounds later it was 12:33 AM Vegas time when the final win light came on. The winner’s circle, the limousine ride, the cosmopolitan hotel, all of those things make the Spring Fling Million the best event you can ever attend.
After winning the race, my wife Susan got on a plane and flew out to Vegas to spend some time with me and to make the three-day journey home with me.
After returning home I was on a local news station to tell my story. Drag Illustrated made me sportsman of the year and put me on the cover of the magazine.
When the magazine came out, I recall telling my wife that if you think the story was good in the spring wait until I win the Million in the fall. Somehow, I knew I was going to win both of the races. I’m not sure why but I just knew.
The week prior to the Million in Alabama I went to Huntsville to race and made 17 runs and only turned on two win lights. I noticed I was concentrating too much on the button feel on the steering wheel. So, when I got to Montgomery, I switched buttons on the steering wheel.
The first two days were rough I don’t think I won a round but the morning of the Million it was windy, just like Vegas. I got lucky a few rounds, but I also drove good and the Firebird, as always, was great. There was one particular round when my friend, Anthony Bertozzi, asked me what I was going to dial, and I told him it doesn’t matter what I dial because I’m going to win no matter what.
The celebration in the winner circle, the champagne and the confetti, and the fireworks were unbelievable. It was a great time for sure.
We finish the year off by attending the PRI show and met a lot of people.
I did multiple interviews with Joe Castillo and John Dibartolomeo had me featured in his magazine.
Winning two Million Dollar races in one year had to be special, how has that changed things for you?
Well, definitely more popular and known worldwide but that really doesn’t change my day to day life. Except everyone thinks I’m rich.
What challenges did you face during those races that people may not know about?
I really didn’t face any challenges that people wouldn’t know about. My car performed like it should so maybe the wind could have been a factor if I have to name anything but on those two events, I was winning so no challenges.
Did winning those events change your racing program in any way?
How has your racing mindset changed since that year?
I want to win another Million. But I always want to win.
Do you have more confidence, do you approach rounds/splits differently now?
Not at all.
Do you feel the door cars have caught up to the dragsters now?
Door cars are extremely consistent because of good converters and tires so I don’t feel the dragsters have any advantages except for letting the door car red light first.
Do you think the dragsters still have an advantage over door cars?
No, but I never thought they had much of an advantage.
It seems separating the door cars and dragsters until the later rounds has been a tremendous boost to attendance and door car counts. Do you agree?
Now that you’ve won the biggest races in bracket racing, are there other classes or series you’d like to try?
I would love to try Super Stock.
How do you feel about all of the big money races now?
In 2010 I went to the first Spring Fling at Bristol. I have made Peter and Kyle’s races my vacations. They know how to treat the racers and it’s definitely an experience.
Now there are so many to choose from. But it’s costing way too much to run all of them. I used to look forward to that once or twice a season big event. Now, they are every couple of weeks if you want to go.
Are they good for the sport?
I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing but it’s definitely getting crowded on the 2020 schedule with this virus deal.
Can all of them survive?
Time will tell. It looks like they are selling out on pre entries and getting 500+ cars at events.
Is there one series or format that you prefer over the others?
Definitely the Spring Fling brand but I think Kyle at SFG is really putting on some great events too.
What’s your racing schedule look like for the rest of the year?
Galot Fling in June, Bristol Fling in September. Memphis Million and the Alabama Million are the big money races that I’m going to make sure I’m there.
What’s on your bucket list, future goals, what do you hope to achieve?
Win another Million
What is your favorite race car, and why?
My Firebird because it’s a winning machine but my favorite car is the 1966 GTO.
Who has made the biggest impact on your racing success?
Biggest impact would have to be my Dad. He has always believed in me and co-signed for a loan to get my GTO tubbed out back in 1993. He bought the practice tree for me in 2015 that led to wins in 2016.
Who do you look up to in the sport?
Jeg Coughlin, Kyle Seipel, Peter Biondo, Anthony Bertozzi are icons and legends in drag racing but on my close friend list would be Jerry Loan and Junior Carter.
Tell us what you do for a living?
I work with my wife Susan at our cabinet shop.
How do you support your racing, side hustle, sponsor, partner, etc.?
Building cabinets and countertops pays the bills.
Who do you hate to see in the other lane, and why?
Someone I take lightly. Give me the hard hitters.
What’s the hardest part of drag racing?
Keeping your mind right all day and staying focused.
What’s your most embarrassing moment in a race car?
When I sprayed nitrous off the line and stood the Firebird on the rear bumper and came down hard and put two ruts in the track.
What are you saying to yourself just before you stage the car?
Nothing if I’m in the zone.
What do you enjoy the most at the racetrack?
Fellowship and winning
Are you superstitious? If so, what are they?
Not really. I don’t like to eat during the race.
Do you love to win or hate to lose?
Love to win
Which are you better at the starting line or the finish line?
I would say I’m about the same on both ends. I’m consistent at being pretty good but screw it up every now and then.
What motivates you to continue racing?
The feeling of winning.
If money were no object, what would your racing operation look like?
Car, trailer, class, race schedule, etc. Well, I’m sure that since I didn’t change anything after 2016, that answers that question. Lol. I’m thinking of a motorhome more these days just because it would be more comfortable with being on the road for days at a time.
How often do you use a practice tree?
When I make it a habit it’s everyday but typically once a week.
What is your daily driver?
My 1999 GMC 3500 dually
Favorite movie or TV show?
Iron Resurrection for TV but Top Gun has to be my favorite movie.
Favorite music, artist?
I like 60’s- 70’s music but will listen to 80’s-90’s country too. Plus, I’m a 80’s hairband fan as well. I’m 49, so I like a wide range of music.
Where do you spend the most time on the internet?
What is your favorite sport?
Jeggie and Erica Enders
Besides racing, what do you do in your free time?
Work around the house. I really enjoy golf and fishing.
What are you really good at?
Building stuff at my job.
Name one thing most people don’t know about you?
I’ve had an appendectomy, lumbar laminectomy, and both rotator cuffs worked on. I’m like a lot of people out there who worked hard for 30 years. Standing on concrete building stuff can wear you down. Plus, I built my own house, garage, pool area, etc. Seems like I always have something to do.
Would you rather hang out with a crowd or have a quiet evening at home?
Depends really. I love my drag racing family and enjoy hanging out at the track. But if I can have time alone with my wife for dinner and a few drinks, I’ll take that any day!!
What’s your favorite thing to eat?
Cheese ravioli with meat sauce, Italian sausage and garlic bread. Individual item, meal, or restaurant?
Who would you like to thank, who helps you the most?
My wife Susan. She takes care of everything around me. My guys at work for getting jobs done everyday so I can take care of other stuff and go racing.
In my racing world I have to thank Jerry Loan. He’s a great friend and builds the best Pontiac engines and powerglides for bracket racing. He drops whatever he is doing when I need him. Also, Junior Carter for working on my car if it ever needs it.
About the author: Megan Strassweg is a 22 year old Super Comp racer from Louisville, Kentucky. She races a 2015 American Dragster sponsored by Coolshirt Systems. She graduated from Western Kentucky University in May of 2020 with a degree in Photojournalism and a minor in Entrepreneurship. Megan works at Jim Butner Auto in the Finance Department. Growing up at the racetrack, drag racing is all she has known and never plans to give up on it.