Bobby Lagana, Jr. - Has Entered the Twilight Zone

By Jim Luikens

When Bobby Lagana, Sr. began racing nearly 45 years ago his race cars carried the American Challenge name. In 1982 however, he switched to the Twilight Zone moniker for his cars and the name stuck. After a succession of funny cars, Bobby Sr. and his family turned their attention to racing Top Fuel dragsters. Their now familiar Twilight Zone nickname continued despite the change in class.

There was however, one problem. The additional length of the dragster prevented it from fitting on the family’s trusty 1969 Ford Ramp Truck. With no money in the budget for a new transporter a creative solution was needed to transport the longer race car. The family simply extended the truck’s ramps up and over the cab to accommodate the dragster’s longer wheelbase.

The unconventional transporter was quite a conversation piece on the drag racing circuit but the family soldered on. In 1997 Bobby Sr. turned the race car driving duties over to his son, Bobby Lagana, Jr. The change brought many things to the team including a renewed spirit and a sense of optimism. The one constant throughout the changeover however, was the retention of their Twilight Zone handle.

Bobby Lagana, Jr. also brought an unlikely goal. More than a half dozen years earlier Bobby Jr., as a precocious teenager, had wondered aloud if it would be possible to run a four second Top Fuel pass off a ramp truck. As improbable as it seemed at the time he made it a goal and steadily marched toward it.

A turning point in that march came during the 2001 racing season. At the NHRA event in Bristol, Tennessee the bump spot for Top Fuel going into the final qualifying session was 5.42 seconds. This was an achievable time for the Lagana team based on their past performances. Bobby Jr. made a respectable run but came up just short of making the field at 5.55 seconds. What made that run noteworthy was the combination used to achieve it. The Lagana Family race car had no computer and no clutch timers.

As happy as the family was with a clean and dry 5.55 it was not good enough for Bobby, Jr. He vowed on the spot to improve and told his family he was done racing like they had in the past. He said if he was to continue they had to get better equipment. He wanted to drive equipment that at least had a chance of qualifying.

After taking more than a year to accumulate better, but still used components, the team returned to the track in July of 2002. Instead of their home built car they now had a 1999 dragster that had been originally built by Indiana genius Murf McKinney. Even though the chassis was three years old Bobby Jr. immediately recorded a 5.25 run at 285 miles per hour. This run contrasted quite favorably with the best previous run in his car of 5.40 at 262.

It must be noted here that even though parts and equipment have limited Bobby Jr’s. performance in the family race car he has run as quickly as 4.82 at 309 mph in the Ralph White dragster. In fact he holds more than ten four second time slips that he has recorded in other people’s cars so there is no question of his talent or driving ability when he has the right equipment under him.

As the 2002 season continued the Lagana family car continued to run better and better, finally recording a 5.04 second run at Rockingham, North Carolina late in the year. Suddenly the idea of a four second Top Fuel run off a ramp truck didn’t seem so unobtainable. With high hopes and great expectations the Lagana team looked forward to the 2003 season.

One of Bobby Jr’s. best friends is fellow Top Fuel driver Grant Flowers. In a giddy moment Bobby Jr. and Grant had made a bet that the first one of them to record a four second pass got to shave the other’s head. As the 2003 season progressed it seemed that neither one was going to achieve their holy grail as first one small thing or another kept each from reaching the magic four-second zone.

By the mid point of the 2003 season Bobby Jr. had had enough disappointment. In an attempt to turn things around he took it upon himself to shave his head just before the IHRA event at Martin, Michigan. As luck would have it this would the very event where he broke the barrier. He recorded his first four, a 4.95, on Friday followed by an even better 4.87 on Saturday. The magic barrier had finally been broken.

Grant Flowers also experienced a break through that weekend as he recorded his first ever 4-second run. In the interest of fair reporting it must be noted that Bobby Jr. ran his “four” first and thus was the winner of the bet. Unfortunately he had already shaved his head but, in retrospect, it seemed like a small price to pay for something he had dreamed of so long.

Despite his recent successes Bobby Jr. is clear on his position in the bigger scheme of things. His recent accomplishments are just one more notch on the gun. One more milestone passed on the road of life. He is passionate about racing and he lives to race. He would love to have a budget like the bigger teams have. Lacking one, he is committed to doing the best he can with what he has available.

After all it’s been that way for 45 years in the Lagana family. For the last two decades the Lagana family has raced cars that carried the Twilight Zone moniker. Judging by their performance of late it can safely be said that this is one team that is living up to its name.