If somebody had told me 12 months ago, when I had the opportunity to license in Morgan and Brandon’s Top Fuel cars at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, that I would be standing in the winner’s circle at the 2014 U.S. Nationals, at that very track, I would have laughed and asked that person what planet they were from.
Well, the GEICO team did just that. They put us in the winner's circle at the biggest and most historic drag race in the world. Along with being runner-up to Tony Schumacher in the $100,000 Traxxas Shootout during qualifying, we had probably the most memorable race weekend I will ever have, all in my rookie year.
Every team in the NHRA, in every category, wants to win Indy more than any other race. It is such a prestigious event, and we all know how much it means to win "the Big Go."
Although, my first Indy was 2004 working as a crew member next to most of this same core group of guys, we've had very limited success at the U.S. Nationals. That was always a bitter pill to swallow, as this has become the hometown race for all of us transplants.
This is the one event that most of our wives, girlfriends, kids and friends can all attend. So finally breaking through, and having the opportunity to share that great moment with all of our significant others was very cool.
I was very lucky to have my Dad on hand in Englishtown for my first win back in June, but to have friends from Australia as well as Stephanie and our four-month-old daughter Emma on hand for our Indy win was extremely special.
I obviously can’t say enough about how well our new car is running, and the entire team is giving Aaron a flawless car to tune. This win gives the whole team more and more confidence heading into the business end of the year, with the Countdown starting now. The first of the final six races being in Charlotte, where last fall, at that very race, we debuted our first in-house MLR chassis, which top qualified and won the race.
Yet again I am still blown away that I get to do what I love for a job, and I can’t thank everyone that got me to this point enough. Hopefully we will carry this momentum well into the countdown, and finish out what has been a dream rookie season.
I’ve gotta say, it has been an awesome month. As always, the Western Swing was a bunch of fun. The racing was as good as ever, and the GEICO/Lucas Oil team was able to score round wins at all three events.
Heading into Denver as a new driver, I was curious to see just how different it is to drive a Top Fuel dragster in those high altitude conditions. Aaron Brooks and the entire team did a fantastic job adapting to the thin air, and apart from a distinctly different engine sound in the cockpit, our racecar felt pretty normal. A second-round loss brought an end to our weekend, but in all, I was fairly pleased with our performance at that unique facility.
Next stop, Sonoma. I had a huge amount of fun spending time with Hector Arana Jr. and Robert Hight at the NHRA press conference. Following the press conference, Hector Jr. and I spent some time at UCSF Benioff Childrens Hospital in San Francisco. As a new parent, it was very touching to hang out with some awesome kids and do a little coloring.
Raceday in Sonoma was another fairly good showing for the team. After getting by Mike Salinas in the first round, we found our self racing against Spencer Massey in the second. Getting that round win against Spencer, with both of our cars smoking the tires, was a good feeling. I love pedal fests, especially when you can come out victorious. However, the third round was also a pedal fest, and I was unable to beat Khalid AlBalooshi, losing a very close race by .008 seconds.
After a very quick trip home to Indianapolis to see Stephanie and Emma, I flew back out west for our Seattle race. Aaron and the team hit the ground running, and we made it down the racetrack all four runs in qualifying like a bracket car.
Raceday was looking good, getting around Terry McMillen in the first round. Then I unfortunately experienced something that happens from time to time, a ‘tank slapper.’ Basically without going into technical details, the front end geometry on a Top Fuel dragster lends itself to be a little unstable in reverse, and I found myself not hanging onto the steering wheel quite tight enough. Eventually the car ripped the steering wheel out of my hand and the car zig-zagged on the starting line, causing me to not line up on the best part of the track before staging, and subsequently we smoked the tires instantly after hitting the throttle. You live, you learn I guess.
Finally, I was able to attend the Sturgis motorcycle rally, something I’ve wanted to do for ever. While I was there I enjoyed spending time with our GEICO counterparts, with an impressive display of some of the various racing vehicles that they are involved with. I was also taken back by the amount of people who had watched us race in Seattle, then rode their motorcycles all the way to South Dakota directly after the NHRA event.
I had a notion before I went to Sturgis that it would be full of ‘grumpy’ bikers, but, man I was wrong. Everybody there was very polite, and very interested to hear about what it’s like to run 320 mph plus in a Top Fuel car. I definitely would like to return next year.
Everyone at MLR is preparing to compete at our next race in Brainerd. Morgan will be running several races down the stretch, and I think that a two-car effort will yield some great results. So if you are in Brainerd, keep an eye out for Morgan and myself at ‘the zoo.'
I can’t believe that we are already past the halfway point of the 2014 season. Time has flown by!
With so many race weekends back-to-back, it has been hard to get into the rhythm of being a new parent. Thankfully Steph has been very supportive of my racing, and doing an amazing job taking care of Emma in my absence. We're so thankful for Facetime on our cell phones.
Chicago didn’t yield the best results, and from the get go, it was tough. On Thursday whilst setting up, our clutch specialist Andrew Polk got hit in the back of the legs by a rogue tire cart. The impact cut both of his legs in the Achilles tendon area, requiring stitches. As a result, Andy didn’t work on the car in Chicago, so as a team, we all pitched in to fill the void. Although I didn't like the circumstances, it was cool for me to get back on the tools and help in the clutch department.
As for Norwalk, Andy was back at the track, eager to help out, but his mobility after that painful injury was limited. I was just impressed that he returned to work so soon.
We are approaching one of my favorite parts of the year, the Western Swing. And this year I am very excited about how Aaron Brooks and the team have the GEICO dragster running, I think we have a great shot at doing some damage in the points, and being a new driver, I am looking forward to running those three tracks.
With the three-race swing being on consecutive weekends, everyone on the team is preparing to leave their families and homes for a month. I’m the first to admit that I’m way behind on yard work, so hopefully our place doesn’t look like a jungle after the swing is over.
The three cities we will be travelling to have so many fun things that our team plans to enjoy if we get some spare time. From white water rafting in Denver, to checking out Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, and eating some amazing seafood in Seattle’s Pike Place area, we are in for a lot of fun.
The week following our Seattle race, I am pretty excited to say that I will be joining some of my GEICO and Lucas Oil teammates from other types of racing, at the annual Sturgis Bike Week. This is definitely another perk of my new career, as I’ve always wanted to see South Dakota. I’d better get my leather chaps ready.
Well it’s finally all sinking in. What an amazing few weeks it has been for me. Firstly, Stephanie and I welcomed our first child, Emma, into this world. Then shortly after, I was lucky enough to win my first Top Fuel event I must say, both of those things were very special experiences.
I had been a little anxious at the races leading up to Emma’s due date, hoping that everything would go smoothly, and that I would be able to get home in time if Steph were to go into labor. Fortunately it all worked out. After exiting in the first round at Atlanta, which was a very unusual race to say the least, my parents and I jumped in my Toyota Sequoia and hit the road for home.
We made it back to Indianapolis in time for a few hours sleep, and then Steph and I headed to the hospital so her doctors could begin inducing the birth. Both Stephanie and Emma did great, and Emma was born Tuesday afternoon. After spending the night in hospital, they were both released Wednesday, and we made our way home with the new addition to our family. The only thing was, there is no instruction manual for new parents, so the steep learning curve of parenthood began.
I was only able to spend one night at home with them before heading off to race at Topeka, and man, it was HARD to leave our precious little girl for the first time. I must say, even with losing a lot of sleep, and changing a lot of diapers, it is definitely a very amazing feeling to have a little person to hold and care for.
Although it didn’t really show on our results, it definitely felt like the GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster turned a corner at Topeka, we seemed to be getting some good luck back, and the little gremlins that we were fighting all year, had gone. I still think Emma may be our "good luck charm."
We head to Englishtown filled with good thoughts. It was awesome to have Morgan racing again in a second car, and the benefits of having two of dragsters there showed almost right away. Both cars qualified well right out of the trailer so hats off to Aaron Brooks and Jeff Edwards, for helping Morgan tune his Lucas Oil dragster, to another great weekend capped by a semifinal appearance. Pretty cool for a part-time team to come out and continue to do well.
When we lost the front tire in the first round of eliminations, I thought for a minute that our bad luck was back, but we were able to get the win and go all the way to the end from there.
For me, lining up against Doug Kalitta in the final was a little intimidating. After all, it doesn’t seem like too long ago I was watching him race on TV back in Australia, so for me to make it to my first final, and race against a legend like Doug was very surreal.
We all know how much the Englishtown race means to the Kalitta family and I’m sure he was the sentimental favorite to win, so I really felt for Doug and his team after the final. But at the same time, I was overjoyed that Aaron Brooks had given me a great racecar to get the win.
I must admit, I don’t usually get too emotional, but it was a very special moment for me when my crew, and my father, Alan, made their way to the end of the track to congratulate me. Being that my folks are only visiting from Australia for a short time, it was amazing to be able to share Emma’s arrival with them, and take winner's circle pictures with my dad.
As my mother, June, was at home in Indianapolis with Steph and Emma, she missed out on being there for the win in E-town, but hopefully we can pull it off again sometime soon, and fingers crossed, she will be on hand to take part in the celebrations next time.
Another huge bonus was the fact that I became the 100th different winner in Top Fuel history. I think when I had a chance to sit down and read through that list of previous winners, it really hit home to see my name right there on the same list as Garlits, Prudhomme, Dixon, and so many other legends.
Of course none of this would be possible if the Lucas family and GEICO had not given me this great opportunity. So to Forest, Charlotte, Morgan and Katie Lucas, and Vince Giampietro from GEICO, "thank you" from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to drive for the best Top Fuel team in the world.