What it Takes

“Jerry Haas just builds a wonderful racecar,” said Joe Arrowsmith. Undoubtedly, that has been a contributing factor to the national records and final rounds the Comp Eliminator racer has been scooping up over the last few months – but it certainly isn’t the whole story.

It would be difficult to argue the reliability and capability of a Haas car. The acclaimed chassis builder has provided the framework for a slew of successful campaigns over the past 35 years. A Jerry Haas Race Cars chassis has been part of championships won by Bob Glidden, Warren Johnson, and KB Racing’s Greg Anderson, Jason Line, and Bo Butner, among many others.

But the key to Arrowsmith’s success might have more to do with patience and persistence. The Ham Lake, Minnesota, racer and his father, Daryl, acquired their Pontiac GTO in 2016 from fellow racer Mike Graves, who had the car built from brand new specifically for Comp. Their racing journey started 59 years ago, when the drag racing hook grabbed hold of Daryl’s cheek. He’s raced in the category for many years, stretching back to the days of Modified Eliminator.

“Dad has always worked his butt off to go racing,” said Arrowsmith. “I learned from him at a young age what it takes to do this. He’s 74 and still drives semi from Minnesota to Florida every week, and I work two jobs. We do what we have to do.”

Daryl was the driver of the GTO for two years after they acquired it before handing over the reins to his son.

“I always wanted to race, but the biggest thing was that I didn’t want to take the car away from my dad,” Arrowsmith explained. “I always sat on the side and did my thing, waiting for him to say he was done and it was my time.”

The decision was made two weeks after the younger Arrowsmith completed Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School in August of 2018. They were in their pit at the U.S. Nationals after their weekend had concluded a bit earlier than they had hoped, and conversation turned to switching jobs.

“He’s having more fun tuning the car than being behind the wheel nowadays,” said the 34-year-old Arrowsmith, who is embarking upon his third year behind the wheel of their Pontiac.

The Arrowsmiths make a plan each year to end their race season down south so that they can park their program in Florida over the winter. With Daryl driving semi between Minnesota and Florida each week, he’s able to tend to the car and make sure everything is ready for the new season. (Photo: Arrowsmith family archives)

It took a couple of years to settle into the reset, but September of 2020 was when their joint determination and pints of blood, sweat and tears paid off. Arrowsmith reached the final round at the division race in Earlsville, Iowa, and then put a large smile on his father’s face when he recorded an official G/AA class record of 8.02-second at 168.75 mph at the NHRA Northwest Division points meet at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis just a couple of weeks later.

The swift nature of their racecar helped them make the decision to race F/AA in 2021 and shoot for the 7.80s, and it didn’t take long to reach their new goal. Arrowsmith set the class record at the Orlando Division 2 season opener with a 7.85 at 172.94 mph.

“That was actually our first time going out and running F/AA,” he explained. “We knew it was going to be close – Orlando is a sea-level track, so if you get good weather, you’ll have a shot at it. We went out with a baseline set-up just to see, and we ended up getting the record with it. It was my first run in the 7’s and over 170 mph, so that run was pretty thrilling.

“I’ve watched my dad race for a long time, and I’ve seen how hard he works and the sacrifices he makes,” Arrowsmith continued. “We had a ’92 Lumina for probably close to 20 years, and I watched him change motors, go through a hundred different combinations, sell motors and his truck so he could keep racing, and never get it to run fast – nothing like what the GTO runs now. This means a lot to both of us.”

Arrowsmith licensed in Super Gas with Frank Hawley and was in the mid 9-second zone his first time down the dragstrip. Soon after, he got in the family Comp car on a Friday at Brainerd International Raceway, did two test runs, and he’s been behind the wheel ever since. (Photo: Arrowsmith family archives)

Arrowsmith’s father, Daryl, grew up racing in Iowa with his friends. While most everyone else has stepped away from the action at the drag strip, Daryl still can’t get enough.

“He’s always raced Comp, and I don’t think he’s ever thought about racing anything else,” his son, Joe, confided. “That’s why we’re still in it. Plus, it’s probably one of the coolest classes there is – you’ve got everything from a door car to a ’23 altered running 6’s. It’s a lot of fun.”

But… (you know there’s always a but)…..

“We always said if we won the lottery, the first thing we would do is run Pro Stock,” said the younger Arrowsmith. “That’s anyone’s dream who runs a door car. It’s the top of the chain.”

But wait! There’s more. Scroll down for Joe Arrowsmith’s responses when we put him in the hot seat.

A Quick Q&A With Joe Arrowsmith

Q: Has what you’ve learned in racing translated to your everyday life?
A: It definitely teaches you to relax and not get so worked up. You get in that car, get buckled up, and you have to clear every thought out of your mind. You have to take some deep breaths and not let anything distract you. It really teaches you to have patience.

Q: You have a 7-year-old daughter; will she follow in your footsteps?
A: She wants to drive, but just like it was with me, we’ll wait until she’s big enough to get into a big car and take off from there. We don’t have any help or anything, it’s just us, so we won’t be running a second car.

Q: What’s so special about Comp Eliminator?
A: If you can get a win in Comp, you definitely set yourself up good. You have to know what you’re doing, and you have to learn a lot to have a chance at that win. It’s one of the hardest classes to win, in my opinion. It takes some luck, but it takes skill. You have to know how to drive the car on the top end, and that was one of my challenges.

Q: Aside from the records, what do you consider your accomplishments in racing?
A: I’ve been to two finals so far, but I would definitely consider it an accomplishment to be able to get in this car and go A to B without any [previous] racing experience. Every time I get in the car, I learn something new. There is always something going on, especially in Comp where you’re playing the index game, that gives you the opportunity to strive to be better and learn.

Q: What’s one of your biggest challenges right now?
A: With our work schedules, we can’t do two or three races in a row. I still try and get on the practice tree every night, but you go a month or more between races, that first qualifying run is important. You have to get back into your routine.

Photo courtesy of Auto Imagery/LOOKatDragRacing.com

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