Girls fight over him.
Grown men kiss him.
Some grab him by his legs and hoist him high above their heads.
And everybody wants to go home with him.
No, he is not The Most Interesting Man in the World. His name is Wally and he stands just 12 inches tall.
Wally is the trophy awarded to winners of National Hot Rod Association Mello Yello Drag Racing Series national events. Named after NHRA founder Wally Parks, this coveted statuette is to professional drag racing as “Oscar” is to the motion picture industry. He and his brothers — all named Wally — will be in attendance at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park on September 25 to pose for photos with the winners.
Although the NHRA is more than 60 years old, Wally is a much younger man. Prior to 1969, there was no uniform award for winning national drag racing events. Throughout the early decades of professional drag racing, each drag strip victory lane photo depicts a different trophy. Some big, some small — some forgettable.
Manufactured by American Trophy & Award Co. in Chicago, Wally has occupied the victors’ platform at every national event for the past 47 years.
Girls fighting over Wally? It’s a true story. It happened at the 1982 NHRA Springnationals at Columbus, Ohio. Two-time Top Fuel Dragster champion Shirley Muldowney faced Lucille Lee to make NHRA history as the first all-female final. Shirley won.
Unlike the Stanley Cup, there is no handler to keep Wally clean and bright and shiny. Once he’s handed to the race winner, it’s every man (statue) for himself. Defending NHRA Top Fuel Dragster champion Antron Brown first planted a big kiss on the trophy when he won the 2011 NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals. Not to be outdone, Allen Johnson gave his Wally a soaking, sticky energy drink shower when he won a Pro Stock final out west. Funny Car star Ron Capps has given Wally a Mello Yello bath on live TV.
“It’s obviously an award all the drivers covet — not so much for what it is as for what it represents” said eight-time Top Fuel Dragster champion Tony Schumacher, who, like Wally, was born in ’69. Schumacher has won 82 Wallys during his Top Fuel career and has no plans on stopping. “I’d like to grab a bunch more of them before I’m done.”
Wally is elusive. You can’t purchase a Wally online or at the local trophy shop. You have to earn him. Some drivers and riders spend a lifetime trying in vain to win just one.
Perhaps Pro Stock Motorcycle veteran Steve Johnson told it best, when he explained the obsession to NHRA.com, “It’s as real as a glass of water, but as hard to get as a million dollars.”
Which driver has earned the most Wallys? Sixteen-time NHRA Funny Car world champion John Force owns 145 and would like to take Wally No. 146 home with him from the NHRA AAA Insurance Nationals in St. Louis.
“Most of mine are at the shop, but I always carry one with me on the bus,” admitted Force. “When I look at them, I know I’ve accomplished something in the sport.”
Tickets are on sale for this weekend’s AAA Insurance NHRA Midest Nationals. Tickets may be purchased at the track, online (www.gatewaymsp.com) or by calling (618) 215-8888. Follow GMP on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.
SCHEDULE FOR THE 2016 AAA INSURANCE NHRA MIDWEST NATIONALS AT GATEWAY MOTORSPORTS PARK
Thursday, September 22
6 p.m. — Free NHRA Fanfest and driver autograph session at Ballpark Village in St. Louis at Busch Stadium. (6-7:30 p.m.)
Friday, September 23
11 a.m. — Midway opens.
2:15 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying session.
2:45 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock qualifying session.
3:30 p.m. – Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster qualifying session.
4:45 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying session.
5:15 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock qualifying session.
6 p.m. – Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster qualifying.
7:30 p.m. – Track closed.
Saturday, September 24
10 a.m. — Midway opens.
1 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying session.
1:45 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock qualifying session.
2:30 p.m. – Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car qualifying session.
3:45 p.m. – First round of Pro Mod eliminations.
4:15 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock qualifying session.
5 p.m. – Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car qualifying session.
7:30 p.m. – Track closed.
Sunday, September 25
9 a.m. — Midway opens.
10 a.m. — Pre-race ceremonies.
11 a.m. – First round of Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car Eliminations.
Noon – First round of Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle eliminations.
12:20 p.m. – Second round of Pro Mod eliminations.
12:45 p.m. – Second round of Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car eliminations.
1:15 p.m. – Second round of Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock eliminations.
1:30 p.m. — Pro Mod semi-finals.
2:15 p.m. – Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car semi-finals.
2:33 p.m. — Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle semi-finals.
2:40 p.m. — Pro Mod finals.
2:45 p.m. — Sportsman finals.
3:30 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock finals.
3:37 p.m. – Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster finals.
Schedule subject to change.