Cool having the thrill of a lifetime

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 30, 2000

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / May 30, 2000

LAPLACE – Ten seconds is not a lot of time on a clock.

But for Robert Cool of LaPlace, it’s enough time to get the thrill of a lifetime.

Cool has been a class racer for eight years. In that time, he has risen tobecome of the top racers in the Southern region. And over a five-weekperiod earlier this year, he did something that many racers can only dream of – winning National Hot Rod Association races in Memphis and Baton Rouge.

Cool got his start in the sport right out of high school when he bought a 1970 Cuda from his father. He raced on and off throughout his 20s beforegetting serious in his early 30s.

With racing partner and part sponsor Allen Warriner of Slidell, Cool raced a year or two on the local tracks before he started racing around the South, from Oklahoma and Texas to Kentucky and Tennessee.

Cool now gets into 10 to 11 races a year. And around three or four yearsago, he finished fifth in Division IV which includes Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas.

Cool said it takes three factors coming together to make a successful race – good reaction time, a dialed-in race car and a good finish line player.

“There is no substitution for experience,” Cool said. “But luck plays a bigpart in this sport.”Luck and experience were on Cool’s side March 26 at the Memphis Motorsport Park. Racing his 1996 Spitzer Dragster, he won eight races inthe Super Comp division, capturing the coveted Golden Wheel trophy.

Then just over a month later, on April 30 in Baton Rouge, Cool won the Super Gas division in his 1970 Cuda, taking a second Golden Wheel.

Cool said most racers dream of winning one a year and here in a span of five weeks, he had won two.

“Most people dream about that type of thing,” Cool said. “It was somethingto win there.”Cool is currently rated sixth in both Super Comp and Super Gas in Division IV.

Cool said there is only a handful of drivers that are rated in the top six or eighth in two classes. He said purchasing the dragster a year ago has helpedhis driving.

“Since I’ve been driving two cars, my driving performance has improved dramatically,” Cool said.

Cool also drives in IHRA races and is currently tied for No. 1 in Quick Rod inDivision IV, a division that is considered to be one of the toughest, if not the toughest, to race in.

So what’s it like going down the track “with your hair on fire” to use a term from “Top Gun”? “There is nothing like it,” Cool said. “There is no thrill like it,” Cool said.”When the lights come down, you get a force on you. It might be like a reallyexotic ride at an amusement park. It’s extreme G-force. You can’t move.You’re going 60 feet from a dead stop in one second. It’s pretty much a rushcoming from a dead stop.”Once that light comes down, there is a lot going through a driver’s mind over the 1,325 feet of the track.

“Hopefully, the light is green,” Cool said when he takes off. “Going down thetrack, you’re thinking ‘Am I going to catch this guy? Am I going too fast or too slow?’ “I want to close the finishing line gap as close as possible. I don’t want totake the finish line by too much. By the 1,100 foot mark, you know what youare doing. You know if you are getting the finish line or not getting the finishline.” Of course, it’s not just that 10 seconds that decide a race. The cars mustbe dialed in before a race, now so precise as to get down to a 100th of a second. Cool said he tries to run a 8.90 or 9.90, depending on the car.”Super Comp has come down to a computer science,” Cool said.”Weather plays a factor with just as much as a five degree change making a difference. Cool brings a weather station with him when he travels,computing temperature, humidity and barometric pressure to come up with an altitude reading.

“That makes you either speed up your car or slow it down,” Cool said. “Itcomes with experience and with time. This sport is not something you canget in and out of. You’ve got to be consistent. You’ve got to stay after it.”Cool said the sport is gaining in popularity, especially locally. He said he knowsof at least 10 cars in LaPlace alone.

“We’re one big team from this town,” Cool said.

Cool said he knows he could not have had the success he has had on his own.

He gave credit to David Levatino who goes to all the races with him and is basically his crew chief.

“I couldn’t do it if he wasn’t with me,” Cool said. “He checks the tires,checks for oil leaks, fills the car with gas every run, makes sure the bottles on and helps in burnouts. He helps put the race gar in the track groove.”Cool also wanted to give special thanks to Matt Levatino, Thomas Levatino, Bill Levatino, Donnie Torres, E.J. Duhe, Tim Owens, Paul Daigrepont, Sidneyand Nida Triche, Allen and Debra Warriner, Wilmer Banks and Angie Maher, his fiancee.

Cool has a busy schedule the rest of the summer. He is competing in a racein Texas this weekend. The following weekend, he will be in a IHRA race inHolt, Fla., followed by one in Sealy, Texas in early July. Cool will be back in the NHRA in August, competing in Bowling Green, Ky., withanother race in September in Montgomery, Ala. His season concludes inNoble, Okla., in late September. Cool has a 36-foot gooseneck trailer to transport the cars with a special mounting system that lifts the dragster over the Cuda.

Cool will be trying to move into the top five in Division IV. The top five driversin each division get to wear a number the following year, one of the coveted awards in the sport.

“That what’s I’m striving for,” Cool said.

So why does Cool do it, with all the traveling involved? “It’s in my blood,” Cool said. “Drag racing is in people’s blood.”

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