WEB Drag racer hackett4

Lebanon's Rhonda & Mark Hackett

Lebanon drag racer Mark Hackett drives a long way to run a short distance.

He figures he logs about 3,500 miles every season to run 11 races in the Southeast Gassers Association, in which he is defending champion in the Superstock Division.

“I’d never figured it up – I was scared to,” Hackett said with a chuckle during a recent catch-up on his season. Then quickly – being a drag racer – he did the math:

“Let’s see, we run 11 races on tracks in Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky and North Carolina ... I’d estimate we travel about 3,500 miles each season.”

That’s a lot of mileage invested to run a race timed in seconds on a 650-foot drag strip.

“It never gets old,” says Hackett, 54, who is in his fifth season of drag racing and third in the SGA. “Every race is new thrill.”

Hackett has won two of the five races he has run this year, triumphing on tracks at Shady Side, N.C., and Lassiter Mountain, Alabama. With six races to go, he has a sizable lead in the standings as he attempts to become the first back-to-back champion in the series’ history.

“There have been in drivers who won two championships, but never two in a row,” he says. “That was our goal going into the season, and so far we’re on track with a pretty good points lead. But you never take anything for granted. There’s a lot of races left to run.”

The final race in which the champion will be crowned is in Shady Side, N.C. Last season’s showdown was at Emerald Coast Dragway in Holt, Fla. The lone race run in Hackett’s home state is on Knoxville Dragway, perhaps the most prominent track on the circuit.

“We race on a lot of small tracks, but they’re all good tracks,” Hackett says.

Hackett pilots a hot-rod ‘65 Comet left to him by his late father Wayne.

“It’s always been a good car,” he says. “Last year we built a new motor and made some upgrades on the chassis, and it’s just as good this year.”

Hackett estimates he has about $18,000 invested in his dragster. He and some friends do all the work on it. He figures a new car for that level of racing would cost between $30,000 and $60,000. He recently bought a second car that he may race next season.

That’s a sizable investment, on top of travel expenses, when the purses aren’t very big.

“On a good weekend I break even,” Hackett says. “I’m not in it for money. I race for the fun and the challenge.”

Hackett is assisted by wife Rhonda who organizes the travel schedule, films the races and helps with some of the light work on race day. Pals Chris Amos and Kevin Shaw round out the team.

Hackett is a salesman with Kight Home Center. He became intrigued with drag racing as a youngster when his dad took him to the famous drag strip at Beech Bend, Ky.

Three years ago Hackett came across some internet videos of the Southeast Gassers Association in action, He decided to give a try, and now he’s a defending champion.

“Every time I win, it’s a tribute to my dad,” Hackett says. “He was my inspiration.”