Dane Robinson - The Future of Drag Racing

By Jim Luikens

Dane Robinson
The sport of drag racing got its start in the '50s and really gathered momentum in the '60s when the Detroit automakers joined the fray with their Super Stockers and original Funny In 1983 Michael started his driving career by Cars. Many first-generation drag racers have now reached retirement age and I have often wondered how, with the distractions of this day and age, we would be able to find replacements that possessed the same passion and dedication as those early-day drag racing pioneers. This is the story of 18-year-old Dane Robinson, who proves that the future of drag racing is in very good hands indeed.

Dane, and his brother Wes, 26, operate Robinson Brothers Racing from their home base in Williamson, West Virginia. As Top Sportsman competitors they have achieved the enviable record of qualifying number one in T/S at the last three IHRA national events that they have attended. They accomplished this feat with their 1994 Chevrolet, the ex-Brian Gahm Pro Modified Lumina that was originally built by Jerry Haas.

Unfortunately, their Lumina is currently in repair shop. At a Quick 8 meet in London, Kentucky its chutes failed to deploy because the air-assisted parachute launcher was a little low on air pressure. Fortunately, Dane survived the crash with no injuries but the resulting trip off the big end of the track put the Lumina on the disabled list for a while.

I should add that it is a good thing that Dane came away unscathed because brother Wes is already in a wheel chair. He was injured nine years ago while attempting to make a tackle at a high school football game. Despite that, Wes is incredibly chipper and a simple racing incident is pretty small potatoes compared to what he has already gone through and what he will have to go through for the rest of his life, barring a miracle or a medical breakthrough.

The Robinson's father, Darrell, is an old-time drag racer who raced years ago but gave it up when Dane was born. After being out of the sport for a decade and a half, Darrell purchased a 1985 Don Ness Firebird, which was originally built for Butch Leal, when Dane turned 15 years old in 2002. The Robinson's Firebird is the very first Don Ness Pro Stocker ever built that featured a Funny Car-style roll cage, and is, in fact, labeled serial number one on its chassis tag.

After spending the first half of his first season learning how to wrench on the Firebird, Dane started driving the car late in the year. On his very first pass he recorded a 6.34-second elapsed time at the eighth-mile Kanawa Valley Drag Strip. Remember that elapsed time because it will have some significance later in the story. The Firebird was powered by a 540 CID Pontiac engine that featured a cast-iron block with Pontiac aluminum heads. Dane raced the Firebird for another whole year, eventually whittling his best e.t. down to a 5.49 in the eighth-mile. He won a little, like at Owensboro, and learned a lot in his first year.

By the end of his first year as a driver the team was ready to move onward and upward so they purchased their Lumina and transferred the engine out of their Firebird. The Firebird was parked and remains for sale to this day by the Robinson's. In addition to the Firebird's provenance, the Rod Shop paint scheme is still one of the best looking graphic layouts ever painted on a race car. Considering the ever-growing nostalgia drag racing craze, someone should purchase that car and restore it back to its Rod Shop livery.

Dane has gone as quick as 6.55-seconds in the Lumina and had all those number one qualifying positions to his credit. With the Lumina on the sidelines however, it was time for a new plan. The team's dream has always been to race Pro Modified so they scraped up enough money to lease Quain Stott's number two Corvette to race in the IHRA's biggest race, the World Nationals at Norwalk.

Before IHRA would let Dane move up to Pro Modified however, they required him to upgrade his license. At the event prior to Norwalk, US 131's Northern Nationals, Dane made his licensing run in Quain's primary Corvette. Leaving the line strongly, the car drifted slightly, Dane corrected beautifully and the Corvette sailed through Martin's timers with a 6.34-second elapsed time. The very same elapsed time that Dane had recorded on his first-ever run in his Firebird. Only this time the distance covered was a quarter-mile and not an eighth-mile.

Even more remarkable, the 6.34 would have qualified Dane for the Pro Modified field at Martin where the 16-car bump was 6.367 seconds. And, this was not a soft field. Among the 14 non-qualifiers were P/M hitters like Kenny Lang, Mike Lockwood, Billy Harper and, even, Shannon Jenkins. Dane reports that the best thing he learned at Martin was that he could safely and comfortably handle the additional power and speed.

With an opening lap like that under their belt the Robinson's spirits were high as they headed for Norwalk. Unfortunately, this is where the clock struck midnight for Cinderella. On his first qualifying attempt Dane led with the throttle and shook his tires because his launch RPM was too high. On his second pass he tried to compensate for his first-run error and led with the clutch, which caused the car to bog.

He entered Saturday's two qualifying sessions out of the field and facing significantly worse air than the racers had enjoyed on Friday. During his afternoon qualifying attempt he over-revved the engine and the blower belt broke. Down to his last qualifying attempt Saturday night, he decided he was thinking too much and decided to just do what came naturally. The result was a 6.43-second elapsed time at 224 miles-per-hour. While this was not good enough to make the field it was remarkable for a driver attempting to qualify for his first professional race ever.

Looking back, Dane feels strongly that with a couple more passes he would probably have qualified. But, the ball is over and Cinderella's chariot has been returned to Quain. It took most of the team's resources to lease the Corvette in the first place, plus they still have a Lumina that needs to be repaired. But this was not Dane's last ball ever. He is only 18 and desires to make racing his life. He is polite to a fault, enthusiastic beyond belief and relentlessly positive. Combine all that with his talent and desire and sooner or later some sponsor or team owner will realize that Dane Robinson is the next big thing.

But wait...there's more. Earlier I told you that Dane and Wes Robinson bode well for the future of drag racing. If you doubt that you need to meet Matt Marcum and Bill Preece. Both are just 19 and from Belfry, Kentucky. At Norwalk they were part of the Robinson pit crew. All Matt and Bill did was wrench on the car by day and sleep outside under the team's pop-up tent by night. With supporters like that how can the Robinson's fail?