At his first trip to a drag race at Gateway Raceway in 2008, Allan Middendorf saw a funny car reach a speed of 330 miles per hour before blowing up and catching fire.
Middendorf was hooked.
“For some weird reason, I thought it was really cool,” the 41-year-old Columbia man recalled. “So the guy brushed the wall and jumped out and I just thought ‘man, I want to drive one of those one day.’”
That dream came true for Middendorf this year when he competed in the Funny Car Chaos Drag Racing Series as the owner and driver of American Outlaw.
This year did not mark the first time Middendorf had been behind the wheel of a racing vehicle. Starting at age 11, he raced in Motocross for over a decade. But he kept getting hurt, so he stopped.
After that 2008 experience, Middendorf started going to racetracks, talking his way into the gate and meeting various drag racing teams to see if he could do work for them in any way.
If successful, he would sleep on hotel room floors before flying back home after the event.
That was all worth it to Middendorf, who was fascinated by the sport.
“It was something about the engine in front of you,” he said. “I watched the driver climb in and it was real tight quarters, and I just thought it was really cool when they lowered the body on. It was like a confined space, almost like being in a coffin, and that was something that drew me to it.”
As Middendorf worked with other teams, he went to school in Florida to get his license to drive a slower kind of race car and kept getting licenses at higher levels as individuals gave him more opportunities.
At his first National Hot Rod Association race, Middendorf, who was driving for someone else, realized his goal.
“I thought, ‘how cool would it be to have my own tractor-trailer sitting there with my rig on it, ready to race?” he said. “I always wanted to be a team owner/driver.”
Middendorf started buying slightly used parts from other teams, found a good deal on a semi-truck and hiring people to serve on his team, which is based in Brownsburg, Ind.
That process took several years, with this year being the first Middendorf finally raced as owner/driver.
“It was a long journey and a lot of money,” said Middendorf, who uses money from his trucking and excavating company to fund his passion. “I can tell you from experience that building a race team is harder than starting a business.”
In his first year in the Funny Car Chaos series, Middendorf finished second in points despite missing two races due to prior commitments.
He won two funny car races, including his first one.
At that event, he also qualified in first and set the record for elapsed time.
“I didn’t think success would come that quick,” the Millstadt native noted. “It’s a tough sport.”
Middendorf went on to reset the elapsed time record and speed record for the semi-professional series four times this season.
He also competed in the fuel altered category, where he won a race and reset the national speed record for one-eighth of a mile.
In the last funny car race of the season, Middendorf needed to qualify No. 1, reset his own records in elapsed time and speed and make it to the final round to win the championship.
He had done all that until, in the third round of qualifying, his parachute failed and he crashed his car going 228 miles per hour.
Middendorf’s team managed to save about 80 percent of the vehicle and he was unhurt, but he could not continue racing at the event.
Still, Middendorf said the season was a success.
“When you sit back and think about it, in my first year as owner/driver, doing everything we did and (knowing) most people don’t have the success that early, (it was great),” he said. “I know there’s going to come a point where we struggle, but we’ve shown we’re a force to be reckoned with when we pull in the gates.”
He will next do that in March, when the Funny Car Chaos series season fires up again. Middendorf said he plans to run in every race next year in an effort to win the championship.
That could help him achieve his long-term goal, which is to race professionally in the NHRA.