September 26, 2018
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Dueling Dragsters

The Drag'n Wag'n legacy lives on through Dave Duell's son, Doug
Need for Speed

Doug Duell doesn’t remember where or when he lost the drag race—and his temper. But he does remember that he was ticked off. He wasn’t screaming or yelling or throwing his helmet. That isn’t in his nature. But he was upset.

His father, longtime Evansville businessman and veteran drag racer Dave Duell, was unsympathetic.

“You should just quit!” Doug, a 44-year-old Newburgh resident, remembers his father telling him. “If losing is eating you up this much, then you should just quit racing. Think about it. Most people never win a race in their whole life; they lose most of the time. This is supposed to be for fun. If losing one race is tearing you up like this, you aren’t having any fun.”

Doug couldn’t believe what he was hearing. How could he—an ultracompetitive guy—quit the sport he loved? But then he realized that his dad was telling him that his attitude, not his car, was the problem. And he knew that he had to listen to his dad, who had been a finalist in the 1968 National Hot Rod Association’s U.S. Nationals and knew what he was talking about.

DOUG, LIKE HIS FATHER BEFORE HIM, competes in amateur leagues with thousands of others of people who race for the fun of it. They are throwbacks to the origins of drag racing: Friday night contests featuring two drivers screaming down a deserted street.

Despite their humbler appearance, nostalgia cars have the same ground-pounding power as their cousins with better paint jobs. Accelerating to 135 miles per hour in a quarter-mile will get anyone’s attention. “Basically, in six seconds, I’m going 110 miles an hour—literally twice as fast as a person would consider a fast street car,” Doug says. A good nostalgia drag car can outpace the modern Dodge Viper—something Doug well knows, since he owns a 2001 Viper.

Doug has understood the excitement of drag racing for decades. His father, then working for the Chrysler Corporation, had competed in the 1960s and early 1970s, often with young Doug watching from the sidelines. Dave was a successful racer, a record-holder in his class and a winner of multiple events.

“It was fun,” Doug recalls, “because there was some travel involved, usually every other weekend, and I got to see a lot of neat cars that were really in their heyday.”

Back then, auto manufacturers sponsored drag racers by giving them parts. The arrangements “gave the companies a good test bed,” Doug says. The glory days of drag racing ended when the gas price spikes of the 1970s killed the market for muscle cars, which were replaced by less sexy but more economical automobiles. Dave’s bosses gave him a choice: stay involved with drag racing or move up the corporate ladder. With a family to support, Dave chose his career.

He moved to Evansville and bought the dealership that is now Evansville Chrysler Kia Mazda Volvo in 1979, which Doug now co-owns with his brother Greg and his mother Sharon. After putting his business on solid ground, Dave returned to drag racing in 1991 and helped build the sport’s nostalgia classes (generally made up of cars manufactured between 1961 and 1968 that are modified with contemporary safety and speed equipment—“a lot safer and a lot faster” than the originals, Doug says).

“It took him a couple of years to start doing well,” Doug says of his father’s reentry into drag racing after being away for nearly two decades. “It’s hard to dominate—and just to be competitive, it takes some practice.”

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