In 1998, a young man from the mountains of North Carolina mopped the floor with IHRA Top Dragster competition, claiming his first ever world championship. Now, just under two decades later, Matt Cooke has done it again.
Pulled in by the two day race format, Cooke gave the Professional Drag Racers Association a try in the fall of 2015. It turned out well for him, his wife Kelly and car owner Andy Burnet. Cooke won Dragstock and made plans to chase the tour in 2017. The year started out with a blip, but things quickly took a turn for the better. Out of the seven events contested this season, Cooke was in five finals.
“The first race of the season I had a wardrobe malfunction,” Cooke explained. “I was thrown out second round pulling into the burnout box. They spotted me without one of my gloves. I couldn’t find it. It was dark and we were the last ones in the staging lanes, so there was no one around to help. It was a long ride home from South Georgia, needless to say. I was so embarrassed. I wanted to redeem myself. That turned into five finals out of the seven completed races this year.”
His first final was at Darlington and offered a point of redemption. “The GALOT event got postponed to be finished at Darlington because of the curfew,” Cooke continued. “I pulled up under the tower and then it wouldn’t start for the semis of the postponed GALOT race. My 16 volt battery gave me no warning. So I sent Kelly to Advance for a 12 volt Optima and we came back and won the Darlington race, which was the next day.”
That began Cooke’s streak. He went to the next three finals, before once again finding himself in the finals at Virginia Motorsports Park. “I had only won one out of four finals, so when I got to that last final I really wanted to end on a positive note. So winning at Virginia was really cool.”
Because of his incredible success, Cooke wrapped up the 2017 Lucas Oil Top Dragster World Championship well before that Virginia final. It’s safe to say, this was Cooke’s best season of racing.
“I’ve never left the house and bought seven tech cards and been in five finals in my life. I’m lucky enough to drive Andy’s stuff. Andy supplies Kelly and I with the best of the best, tells me to pull the motor out and freshen it regularly. Every single component on that car has a spare in the trailer. When somebody sends you to the races like that it makes you race better. I don’t even know what I ever did to deserve it. I was almost relieved that I did something for him. He goes over and beyond. He’s a great car owner.
“I got Eddie Careccia back this year and he committed to me for all eight races. He and I don’t have to walk on any eggshells around each other. We’ve got two decades of good times and bad times and I race way better when he’s with me. Whatever it takes, he’s capable.”
In addition to his car owner, Cooke also thanks Fulton Competition, Marco Abruzzi and Abruzzi Transmission, Horton Race Cars, Hartman Machine, APD, Schaeffer's Oil by Greg, Charlie and Eddie’s Specialty Auto, and Ohlins
Most of all, Cooke thanks his wife, Kelly, who has been his biggest supporter throughout his career.
“It’s been a blast,” Cooke said of his first season with the PDRA. “The races are relatively close to the house. The payout is good. I like the four round race and I like to race fast. I want to race other people getting after it. It seems like fast bracket racing is where I'm able to turn more win lights on for whatever reason.
“Everybody wants to be a part of something that’s winning in life. Whatever your bag is in life, you want to succeed at it. Eddie, Andy, Kelly and I were tough to beat this year. Stars just aligned. I realize those years are few and far between. I’m just happy it happened.”
With so much success in his first season with PDRA, plus the benefits the series offers, it’s no surprise Cooke says if he continues sanctioned racing, it’ll be with the PDRA.
If I’m going to commit to a schedule with somebody, I can’t imagine committing to a better organization. I like the two day race format. It seems like they’re making good decisions for go-fast Top Dragster racing. And that’s who I want to support. I thank PDRA’s ownership and management. I think they get it. They get who the customer is. I think that’s important to be successful in the long run. I think you’re going to see good things in the next five years in PDRA.”
In 2018, Top Dragster will offer both Elite Top Dragster and Top Dragster 32, just like the pilot Top Sportsman program this season. The entire field will qualify together. Once qualifying has been completed, the top 16 qualifiers will be drafted into a semi-pro class. This ‘Elite 16’ category, besides coming with greater prestige, will also pay more to win. The remainder of the field will run as a 16 car qualified field unless there are 42 or more total TD entries. If 42 or more total TD cars make a qualifying pass, Top Dragster will run as a 32 car field in addition to the Elite 16.
Matt Cooke and all the 2017 World Champions will be honored at the PDRA Awards, held on Saturday, December 9. Tickets and more information can be found at www.pdra660.com