Veteran Funny Car pilot Phil Burkart Jr. aims for rare ‘double’ in Reading


Phil Burkart Jr. will make an unprecedented double attempt at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals this weekend as he looks for wins in both a nitro Funny Car and a Top Alcohol Funny Car. In the sport’s 71-year history, only former world champion Pat Austin has won in both the nitro and alcohol categories at the same event, doubling in Top Fuel and Top Alcohol Funny Car at Topeka in 1991 and Phoenix in 1992.

“I’m not sure what chances the bookmakers would give us, but we’re definitely going to do our best,” Burkart said. “It will be exciting for me for sure. I have never driven both types of cars in one race. I will have to be wary because the procedures for driving each car are very different. To remind myself in which car I sit.”

Burkart is a proven winner in both classes. His nitro career has included stints filling out legend John Force in the Castrol machine, several campaigns with Del Worsham’s Checker-Schuck’s-Kragen outfit, and a variety of individual endeavors with different teams. Burkart is currently experiencing his best ever times in Top Alcohol, winning many more events and the 2017 East Region Championship in Jay Blake’s “Follow A Dream” flopper.

“Follow A Dream’s car has been on a track,” Burkart said. “We are second in Eastern Region points and are charging hard for the championship. We have already been in the winners circle twice [in Lebanon and Atco] and had two runner-up results [in Atco #2 and Epping]so we definitely feel like we have a car that can win this weekend.

“In Funny Car, Mark Herzhauser has again asked me to drive for him. This will be his third race of the year. We managed to drive very well on our first two outings in Richmond and Bristol, so the team was inspired to to add this race to their schedule. With a guy like “Jimbo” Ermalovich serving as the crew chief, we know anything is possible. It’s a bit of a David vs. Goliath situation, but we’re not holding back. We want knock over the cart.”

Herzhauser Racing’s hot rod will be adorned with a very unique sponsor this weekend as Eastern State Penitentiary takes over the primary position. For 142 years, the Eastern State Penitentiary in downtown Philadelphia was home to more than 80,000 men and women, including mobster “Scarface” Al Capone and bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton.

Now a historic site open to the public year-round, the Eastern State Penitentiary was the most expensive prison in the world when it was built, primarily due to the fact that inmates were housed separately. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, it was the world’s first proper “prison”, a facility designed to inspire penance and genuine regret in the hearts of its prisoners.

Both race teams are headquartered in the northeast, which makes this race extra special for everyone involved. Blake hails from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, while Herzhauser calls Atlantic Highlands, NJ, his home.

“I feel very lucky to be driving for two guys and two teams who have an incredible amount of passion in everything they do,” said Burkart. “The heart and the will to give our very best is definitely there. It will be very nice to see how it turns out on the track.

“It’s also going to be really cool to experience the new and improved Maple Grove Raceway under the ownership of my friend Kenny Koretsky. Kenny is a first-class man and I know this track will be better than it’s ever been. Us from the Northeast, It’s a very special place, and I’m happy to know that Kenny will carry this place into the future.”