Chad Traylor went into the 2023 Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA) season just hoping to secure a top 10 finish in the MagnaFuel Top Sportsman presented by Corbin’s RV points standings. Despite driving a new-to-him car and having never really competed on a full-time basis in the series, Traylor finished the eight-race season as the 2023 Top Sportsman world champion with two victories.
Over the winter going into the 2023 season, Traylor was approached by longtime friend Keith Cox with a proposal to drive Cox’s recently purchased split-window ’63 Corvette at some PDRA races. Traylor was already planning to run some of the races with his Top Dragster entry, so he added the Top Sportsman car to the lineup and went into the year with modest expectations.
The car gave Traylor and Cox fits early on, but a win at the Mid-Atlantic Showdown presented by Classic Graphix at Traylor’s home track, Virginia Motorsports Park, provided the duo with the momentum boost they needed to chase the title.
“March 3rd was the first day I ever sat in the Corvette,” Traylor says. “It was horrible. It was horrible for about three races. We should’ve never won Virginia, but we got blessed and did win it. That’s when I told [Cox], ‘This is just meant to be. We gotta chase this around a little and see how it goes.’”
Traylor lost in the first round at the next race, but won a few rounds at the next three races. That put him in contention with just two races left in the season. A big win at the ProFabrication DragWars at GALOT Motorsports Park propelled him from a few rounds behind the lead to a few rounds ahead of everyone else going into the Pro Line Racing Brian Olson Memorial World Finals presented by ProCharger at Virginia.
The Top Sportsman championship battle is always one of the toughest at the World Finals, and this year, Traylor was one of five drivers – almost all past champions – with a real shot at the title: Mark Payne, Nick Meloni, Joe Roubicek, and Al Davidowski.
Things went Traylor’s way in the first two rounds, but when he turned on the nitrous and the purge valve stuck wide open under the tower when he went to start up for the third round, the commotion spiked his heart rate and caused him to go .002 red. To make matters worse, his 4.282-second pass on a 4.28 dial-in would’ve beaten his opponent, past world champion Dennis Gaboriault, who lifted to a 5.309 on a 3.90 dial-in.
While he went out in the third round, the rest of the ladder worked itself out to the point Traylor was able to hold on to his lead over Payne by just 16 points.
“Everybody says they don’t watch the points, but they do. If they say they’re not, they’re lying. Everybody kind of knows where they’re at,” Traylor said. “I knew five people could win it. Two of them lost first round: Davidowski and Roubicek. Then it was just three: me, Payne, and Meloni. Lucky for me, they fell on each other second round, so now it can only be two. I knew if Mark beat Meloni, and if he won the race, he’d come up about 10 points short. Thank God he beat Meloni.”
Traylor, who recently celebrated his championship at the PDRA Championship Awards Banquet, thanked Keith and Amy Cox, girlfriend Laurie, and the family and friends who helped the team at the track and between races.
“This means the world to me,” Traylor said. “I’m very blessed. I’m glad I had some people that believed in me and gave me a shot and helped me this year. My goal was to finish top 10 if [Cox] let me take the Corvette to all the races. We were just blessed to get first. I didn’t really expect that, but I’ll take it.”
While celebrating the accomplishments of 2023, Traylor also found himself reflecting on his career as a whole. He’s won races and championships in multiple different sanctioning bodies across more than 20 years of competition, and a championship in PDRA Top Sportsman is now a crowning accomplishment on that list.
“My goal as a bracket racer when I was younger was probably the same as everybody else’s – just qualify for the Bracket Finals,” Traylor said. “I did, and it was the largest Bracket Finals ever – 970 cars at Darlington. I ended up winning that race over a friend of mine, Joe Gary. I just started traveling and ran a lot of big-buck races, some Top Sportsman, some Top Dragster, some 8.90. I really do it now for the people. I just love the relationships I’ve formed over the journey.”
The 2024 PDRA Red Line Oil Drag Racing Series season will begin April 3-6 at the East Coast Nationals at GALOT Motorsports Park in Benson, N.C.