Top Alcohol Dragster racer Duane Shields

(David Smith photo)

Top Alcohol Dragster racer Duane Shields

You know you've had a good career when you win four times and it's almost an off year.

Duane Shields went winless over a dozen mid-season races in 2014 – a full season for most people – but still ended up sixth in the Top Alcohol Dragster national standings with what turned out to be another solid season: five final-round appearances and four wins – two at national events and two at regionals.

The beginning of the year and the end were good, but the middle took me right out of the championship," says Shields, who topped the national standings at times this season and is in title contention year after year. "We ran out of clutch discs, had to replace them with a different kind, and went into smoke-the-tires mode. We kept backing the car down, thinking we were overpowering the track, and in the end, smoking the tires had nothing to do with the tune-up – it was the discs all along. That's why we went to so many extra races this year – to figure out what the problem was."

No TAD or TAFC team ran more races in 2014 than Shields' 20. He doubled up at Gainesville in in March, taking the rain-delayed Houston regional that was completed Saturday during Gainesville qualifying and the Gatornationals on Sunday. He then went seven months and 12 straight races without getting to a final, low-lighted by a dismal stretch of just two round-wins in eight races, and completely turned it around with four semifinal appearances in the next five races, including back-to-back finals and a third Gainesville win at the East Region closer.

"Drag racing is all about highs and lows, and if the lows weren't so low, the highs wouldn't be so high," says Shields, a former sand-drag racer who's pretty much seen it all in 17 years on the quarter-mile. "I've been humbled a few times over the years, believe me. I went from winning the championship [in 2011] to not hitting my ass the next year or the year after that. I kinda got used to winning at least a couple of races every year, but the problem with winning is that it just makes you want to win more.