Bobby Lagana Fire

By Jim Luikens

Lagana's Truck
As a Top Fuel driver Bobby, Lagana, Jr. has been involved in his share of fires. But an off-track fire recently that reduced his 1985 Ford F-350 dually tow vehicle to a burned-out hulk could be more devastating than any on-track conflagration that he has experienced. This is the story of a promising season that has been turned upside-down just before it was scheduled to start.

Many race fans are familiar with the story of the Lagana team. It was originally started more than 45 years ago by family patriarch Bobby Lagana, Sr. who raced a series of nitro-powered funny cars and dragsters under the American Challenge and Twilight Zone monikers. Most of the time the team relied on a 1969 Ford ramp truck for its transportation to and from the track.

The longer wheelbase of a Top Fueler however, had proved to be a challenge when the team switched from F/C to T/F. With no money in the budget for a new transporter a creative solution was needed to transport the longer dragster. To accommodate their dragster, the family simply extended the truck's ramps up and over the cab. Their unconventional transporter proved to be quite a conversation piece on the drag racing circuit.

In 1997 Bobby Sr. turned the race car driving duties over to his son, Bobby Lagana, Jr. With Bobby Jr. came an unlikely goal. More than a half dozen years earlier, as a precocious teenager, he had wondered aloud if it was possible to run a four-second Top Fuel pass off a ramp truck. As improbable as it had seemed at the time he now made it a goal and steadily marched toward it.

With Bobby Jr. driving, and a heightened sense of commitment, the team slowly improved. During the 2002 season the Lagana family car ran better and better, eventually recording a 5.04 second elapsed time 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.

Despite their off-season optimism, one thing or another kept the team from achieving its goal. 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 be his breakthrough event. 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.

The team continued to run well, considering their budget, and eventually finished a career-high fifth in the final 2003 IHRA points standings. For 2004 they raised the bar again and relinquished their renowned ramp truck for a F-350 dually and matching trailer. While not the Ritz, the dually did at least have a sleeper and several other enhancements that were a distinct step up from the ramp truck. In a true win-win situation the ramp truck was passed on to a nostalgia funny car racer who was looking for just such a unit to set the proper historic tone for his operation.

The 2004 season would prove to be another growing year for the Lagana Team. Despite a significant increase in performance by most of the IHRA Top Fuelers over the previous season Bobby recorded his best ever points finish again, this time a fourth. He trailed only the traditional IHRA big two of Clay Millican and Bruce Litton, as well as first year phenom Doug Foley, in Top Fuel.
Dom Lagana

Looking to continue their upward mobility in 2005 the Lagana Team worked hard during the off-season to improve their performance again. A last minute invitation for Bobby to drive on the NHRA circuit in the Bill Miller car meant that another high-water points finish was probably out if the question. Instead the team decided to run every IHRA race (seven) that didn't conflict with the Miller schedule and to be a solid threat at any event that they attended.

They even went so far as to begin the Top Fuel driver's licensing procedure for younger brother Dominic Lagana. Two solid early shut-off runs by Dom (as required) at Virginia Motorsports Park meant that yet another Lagana was on his way to seat time in a Top Fuel race car. With their race car and tow truck preparation completed the Lagana Team was just waiting for the season to start. That's when disaster struck.

As part of their preparation for the upcoming season the dually's head gaskets had been replaced and the team was driving the vehicle back and forth each day between the shop and home to make sure that there were no water leaks. The truck had been parked for about four hours outside the home of crew chief Jay Lewis when a loud explosion was heard.

The big noise proved to be one of the truck's tires blowing out from the heat of a huge fire that totally engulfed the truck. Since the fire had such a large head start before being discovered it was not possible to save the vehicle, resulting in a total loss. In addition to the vehicle Bobby lost some race car parts, paperwork, clothes and his digital camera. The roof and siding on Jay's house also received damage.

Thanks to the internet the news of the tragedy spread quickly. Within a very short time Bobby had received more than 75 calls of help and support, one of which led to an offer of a truck to use for the San Antonio race. With their short-term challenge solved the team is now looking ahead to the rest of the season. They still need to find a more permanent solution for the remainder of the IHRA races that they had planned to run.

Bobby invites anyone to stop by his pit in San Antonio to discuss the situation. He can also be reached on his cell phone at 914-760-9924. This year was shaping up to be a promising one for the Lagana Team. Now they are going to need some help if that expectation is to be realized.