SPRINGFIELD, IL: The Sportsman category is the only true non-electronic class in the WDRA and provides drivers an outlet to footbrake off the bottom bulb with an elapsed time restriction of 7.50 seconds and slower. Racetracks can advertise Sportsman as somewhat of a middle ground class- giving the opportunity for new racers to get their bearings in bracket racing while seasoned drivers albeit on the slower side of the field, also compete for the lucrative end-of-year prizes. Sportsman drivers must compete without the aid of starting line enhancers, transbrakes, two-steps, nitrous, electric shifters, electronic throttle stops, and of course delay boxes are prohibited.
Although the class is still growing and may be a relatively new addition to many racetracks, doubting the talent within the Sportsman ranks would be a mistake, especially with ten thousand dollars on the line. Exhibit A would be the 2023 WDRA Sportsman World Champion, Robbie Philbeck. Throughout five rounds of cutthroat competition during the WDRA Summit World Championships presented by SunCoast Performance Philbeck managed a .007 average reaction time, omitting the .015 red light behind his opponent in the semifinal.
The forty-three-year-old Grover, North Carolina native first began racing at an outlaw track at the tender age of twelve in his father’s 1976 Camaro and drove for about nine years before taking a three-year hiatus. Ever since he got back behind the wheel in 2004, Philbeck has been glued to an assortment of racetracks and classes throughout North and South Carolina. This season he pulled double duty at both Darlington Dragway and Union County Dragway where he finished at the top of the points roster to represent the latter during the WDRA Summit World Championships. This made Philbeck’s first track championship at Union, while he’s earned four championships in his career at the neighboring Greer Dragway.
On his way to earning the inaugural WDRA Summit Sportsman World Championship title, Philbeck defeated Jeff Richardson from US 13 Dragway, Jerry Wheaton from Ubly Dragway, and Brad Perkins from Empire Dragway, while also earning a bye run in the quarterfinal. Brandon Cox, representing Keystone Raceway Park returned to his second final round of the weekend but had to settle for his second runner-up when Philbeck was .002 on the tree and ran one above his 7.85 dial-in to put together a .018 total winning package.
After illuminating the last win light of the event and becoming the 2023 WDRA Sportsman World Champion, Philbeck earned $10,000 cash, the American-made WDRA Rod trophy, and will roll into the gates at any WDRA member racetrack next season for free courtesy of the WDRA Champion card. Each WDRA World Champion will also receive an Alliance Race Wear custom firesuit, one free class at the Roy Hill Drag Racing School, Technocraft Trailer Cabinets $1,000 gift certificate, a set of Viking Drill Bits, and a Contingency Connection Championship Package thanks to the support from each sponsor.
A common denominator throughout bracket racing is the sense of community, family, and support around a racer regardless of their ability to win or not. After experiencing the loss of his mother to cancer just two months prior, Philbeck takes a moment to remember his biggest fan. “Mom always wanted me to call after a race and let her know how it went. This really made a bad year turn into a good one.”
After experiencing a tough year both emotionally and financially, Philbeck certainly appreciates the most profitable payday of his career. He explains, “Last year I drove thirteen hours to a world final event, lost in the first round, and only got three hundred dollars. This year it was a two hour drive for a five hundred dollar minimum payout, and a lot better experience, even before winning. The people here are great, and the racers are tough. I knew I had to be good if I wanted to win.”
As for the 2024 season, the newly crowned World Champion plans to continue chasing points in hopes of re-qualifying so he can defend his title. In the meantime, Philbeck says that $10K will help buy a few car parts either for the Mustang he regularly races or perhaps the wooden bed Ford F-150 that his son, Jordan, will soon take over the driving duties in.
For more information about the World Drag Racing Alliance (WDRA) and the Summit Sportsman Drag Racing Series, visit our website at www.racewdra.com.