Doug Herbert didn’t want to see other parents go through the same grief he experienced.
After his two young sons, Jon and James, died in a highway accident in 2008, the NHRA Top Fuel drag racer started a teen-safe driving program to prevent other families from such heartbreak.
With NHRA Pro Stock driver Allen Johnson serving as a sponsor, Herbert is bringing that program, B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe), to Bristol Dragway on Feb. 1-2.
“Because of my boys, Jon and James, I want to help out other families so the tragedies that happened to us don’t happen to them,” Herbert said. “I think we’re doing it. It seems every day we get a letter or e-mail that tells us how something they’ve learned has kept them out of an accident.”
The B.R.A.K.E.S. program is non-profit and is free of charge to the participants. It relies on donations, sponsorships and other fundraising efforts.
According to research by the U.S. Center for Disease Control, car crashes are the leading cause of death among American teenagers, and drivers age 16-19 are three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.
The B.R.A.K.E.S. program teaches such skills as braking in an emergency situation, retaining control of the car when a wheel drops off a shoulder and teaching increased focus and concentration. Since its inception, over 8,000 teenagers and their parents have attended the program at places such as Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Bob Bondurant School and the BMW Driving Center in South Carolina.
Herbert is excited to bring the program to Bristol, site of his first Top Fuel win in 1992 and a place where the four-time IHRA World Champion has six wins overall. Bristol has always been the North Carolina racer’s favorite track, and he has a fondness for the whole Tri-Cities area.
“Coming to Bristol is always a great thing, although I’ve never rolled in there for anything other than a race,” he said. “Hopefully we can make difference in that community where we have so many fans and have met so many great people over the years.”
The Top Fuel dragster with the B.R.A.K.E.S. paint scheme that Herbert drove at Bristol on Father’s Day weekend last year will be on display. Johnson, the 2012 NHRA Pro Stock champion, will serve as a driving instructor.
Johnson is passionate about youth programs and is a longtime supporter of Free Will Baptist Family Ministries in Greeneville. With B.R.A.K.E.S., it’s a chance to honor the memory of two boys he saw grow up at the race track.
“I’ve been a big supporter of B.R.A.K.E.S. the last five years,” Johnson said. “I sponsored a school in Greene County and we sent some kids to it, 3-4 years ago. It’s a personal deal, but I also think it saves a lot of lives.”
Other NHRA champions like John Force, Tony Schumacher and Connie Kalitta have been big supporters of the program. Herbert also has a special bond with another racing legend, a former NASCAR champion who knows his pain of losing two sons all too well.
“Since I was a kid, my dad was a good friend with Bobby Allison,” Herbert said. “Obviously, we have a tremendous bond with how he lost his sons, Davey and Clifford. Since my boys’ accident, we’ve become even better friends.”
Those interested in getting more information about the B.R.A.K.E.S. program and registering for one of the Bristol sessions can go to the website www.putonthebrakes.com.