Feature: Rob Atchison

By Jim Luikens

The 2003 season was Rob Atchison’s ninth year in drag racing and his fifth year driving an alcohol funny car. It was also his best, as he and his team won the IHRA Funny Car Championship by recording six wins in 11 events. Even more interesting is his choice of powerplant. Of the top 30 racers in IHRA Funny Car only Rob chooses to run a Chevrolet-based engine in a Hemi-fied eliminator. This is the story of Rob Atchison and the little engine that could.

Including this year, the team has finished in the top ten in points every year since 1999, except 2001, when Rob was unable to finish the season due to an injury. All of this has been achieved while being based in London, Ontario Canada. Their base of operations makes for some very long tows, including Edmonton which is a paltry 43 hour drive each way.

Rob is a second generation drag racer who is following in the footsteps of his father, Bob Atchison. Bob raced for many years in Top Fuel throughout Canada and the northeastern United States. Bob retired from racing to concentrate on growing his automotive machine shop business and raising a family. Included in that family was a son named Rob.

Our story begins with young Rob running in Quick 16 events with a Chevrolet powered funny car. That car, with an automatic transmission, ran in the 6.60 second range and served as an excellent first step towards the cars and skills that Rob has today. That’s right, I said cars.

The Atchison team has not just one, but two identically prepared Firebirds. The only difference between the two cars is the paint application. Both cars use black and silver paint schemes and similar sponsor identification. However, one car is painted silver over black while the other is painted black over silver using the same paint layout.

Both of the race cars are maintained in a race-ready mode. That proved particularly helpful after this year’s Grand Bend event when the team didn’t have time to service the most recently used race car. Instead they just rolled out its twin at the following race and kept on going. Because of the similar paint schemes and graphics most racers and fans don’t realize that they are looking at two different race cars.

The success that Rob and the team enjoyed this year actually began last winter when many hours were spent in their shop working on engine development. After having done R & D on this engine combination for the last five seasons, things really came together this year after they identified a weak link during the off-season.

Despite their strong performances throughout this year Rob feels that the future is even brighter. For all of their accomplishments they haven’t even been able to test yet. The car has run as quick as 5.727 and as fast as 243.86 miles per hour. These results were recorded using the IHRA mandated Roots style supercharger. Rob is quite confident that his team could be competitive with the best of the NHRA teams if they were to switch to the screw-style supercharger permitted by NHRA rules.

As well as the season ended for the team, it certainly didn’t begin that way. The entire team was forced to miss the first race because of the early start to the 2003 IHRA season and the snowfall in Canada. Despite running one less race than the drivers that finished second, third and fourth in the points they still won the crown by more than 150 points over their closest competitor. The fact that the 2004 IHRA season begins a month later is appreciated by the Atchison team.

Rob is a machinist at the family’s machine shop, Atchison Machine Service. Lest you think that his work is permitted to slide in favor of racing you should know that Rob works a full 40 hour work week normally getting off about 5:00 pm. He then works every night from 5:30 to 11:30, as well as weekends, at the race shop. He says, only slightly tongue in cheek, that it helps that his girlfriend works night at her regular job.

The remainder of the team is made up of friends and family. Rob’s father, the aforementioned Bob, and his mother, Maxine, also travel with the team. During the 2003 IHRA season the team qualified number one 9 times (out of eleven starts), set six track records and reached the final round eight times in those eleven starts. After reaching the final round they recorded an impressive six wins and two runner-ups. Rob won 32 of the 37 rounds he competed in during 2003 for an amazing .860 winning percentage.

The team’s six 2003 wins were recorded at the Mopar Canadian Nationals, AC Delco Nationals, AC Delco Canadian Nationals, Northern Nationals, North American Nationals and the President’s Cup Nationals. Interesting, the team was able to clinch its championship in the final round of the rain-delayed Spring Nationals despite losing to their closest pursuer, Mark Thomas.

Equally important to this family operation are its sponsors. Erickson Manufacturing, a leading manufacturer of tie downs and towing products, stepped into the breach when the team’s previous major sponsor departed due to the death of its owner. Team Truck Centres, Ultimate Touch Collision and Custom, West Coast Transportation and the family’s Atchison Machine Service round out the associate sponsor list.

Years ago, Chevrolet powered Top Fuel Driver Jim Bucher carried a decal on his car that said No Packy Parts. Jim was often asked about the significance of that particular sticker and he explained it this way. The 426-style Chrysler Hemi was called the “elephant” motor in that era to distinguish it from its predecessor, the 392-style “whale” motor. Since the formal name for an elephant is a pachyderm, he was simply stating that no hemi parts were to be found on his car. Perhaps Rob and his team should attempt to see if any of those old decals can be found for their car.