Last year we competed, but we were not happy with our performance. We were missing a few parts that would allow us to get back into “the mix” again. Over the winter we purchased cylinder heads from Don Schumacher Racing and spent a lot of time getting them prepped before our first race at the O’Reilly Route 66 Nationals at Joliet in June. Joliet was a test session for us and on our very first run we saw our combination had promise. It seemed like we turned a corner the second we bolted those heads on the car and I stood on the gas.
Going into the US Nationals and running a career best pass was spectacular. From my perspective I feel we finally have the parts, pieces and team to compete at a high level. I have the feeling I did back in 2010 when I woke up on race day and felt like we had a chance to go rounds. That is exactly how I felt Monday at Indianapolis.
It was so nice to finally dip into the 3.70’s at Indy and it couldn’t have come at a better time. That run put us solidly in the toughest field of the year. Our entire team was pumped; they were so excited at the starting line I wish I could have been standing next to them. Unfortunately, I never get a chance to embrace in the celebration when we have a successful run, but I do get to see pictures and videos after the run. On our starting line video that we take every run I can’t see the celebration but I certainly hear it and those are sounds I can’t erase from my mind. Don’t get me wrong I get to feel the power of the car and drive the fastest hot rod in the world and that is hard to replace, but seeing the team at the starting line and all their efforts paying off is something I certainly miss.
I have a video of Tony Smith our long time team member on my phone. He is a guy that does not show a ton of emotion, but to see him watch the car accelerate down the track, look at the score board and pump his fist high into the air and cheer out loud is awesome to see. When I am having “one of those days” I stop and play it on my phone and everything gets better.
I have no idea what will happen when we win our first NHRA National event. Our entire team has poured so much of their life into our program that I bet it will be very emotional. Many of our team members have worked together for about a decade. We have worked very hard through thick and thin and that is why we have respect from all of our competitors. Indy was a perfect example, I was walking by a group of drivers after driver introductions on Monday morning and they stopped me and stated “man you make the rest of us look bad, you come out to the toughest race of the year and you run really strong. We compete at every event and you come out and run better than us.” Another team member stated “you remind all of us why we do this!” He was jacked that we were so pumped at the starting line after we ran our first 3.79.
Unfortunately our great weekend at the US Nationals ended early on Monday with a BANG! We broke a cam shaft and blew the top half of the engine off the car. Our explosion was a big one. I have been asked many times what went through my mind at that point… all I can think was do we still have a chance to win. When it blew up and there was fire in the cock pit, all I could do was look over and see if Vandergriff was having troubles or smoking the tires. After I saw that he was streaking to the finish line it was my job to get stopped and pull to the side of the track as soon as possible. When I came to a stop after the finish line I saw a lot of hot parts smoking as they passed me. I could identify most of the parts and thought to myself….. that was expensive.
We learned as a team that we are not ready for a huge explosion. After the explosion we could not have returned for the next round even if we would have won. We are going to work on having the inventory over the winter so we will be ready the next time that happens. Trust me, it will happen again, it is the nature of these new heads and how much power they make. These cars are making a ton of power and they are straining, I can feel the clutch pulling on the engine and the engine telling the clutch nope you are not sucking the power out of me, I have more power! It is like a game of tug of war. The engine is breathing more than ever before, breathing more fuel, air and fire! It is downright mean!
I feel like I am going to the moon each and every run now that we have our new cylinder heads. Our car used to accelerate at about 500 feet to the finish line, but now it kicks me in the butt at about 250 feet and continues to accelerate to the finish line. I feel every revolution of the crank shaft. The engine and clutch assemblies are working hard.
Indy was awesome because I saw confidence in our crew chief, Mike Kern that I have never seen before. That stems from the car going together exactly the same every time. Our team members are awesome and they care about every nut and bolt they touch. When the car is assembled perfectly he can make a change and see the results. Mike and our entire team work well together. When other teams were struggling on the track we went right down the groove and had one of the quickest runs of the session.
We will carry that momentum into Vegas and roll the dice. God has a plan and we will see what he has in store for us.
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