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Posted by: Brad Littlefield
Dialing up a record speed in the fastest category in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series is no easy feat, especially when things aren’t going as planned. Spencer Massey headed to the semifinal round in Top Fuel with no computer data from the previous run, and his dragster burned two more gallons of the nitromethane/methanol blend from its fuel tank than anticipated before the run. The FRAM/Prestone team overcame both obstacles on a 3.745-second, 328.62-mph moon shot that put teammate Tony Schumacher on the trailer and enabled Massey to later claim the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries title.

Crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler now lay claim to three of the four quickest runs in history in addition to the fastest. Massey spoke with Shuler before the semifinal round and was taken aback by their gutsy approach following a 3.776-second run that was not recorded by their data acquisition system.

“They just looked at the [spark] plugs and [rod] bearings and did it like it was a Top Fuel car in 1968,” said Massey. “I asked Phil what they were going to do, and he just shrugged and said, ‘Turn it up more.’ I was like, ‘Really, you're going to get after it more after a .77 with no computer? You’re the boss.’

“They are very smart and knowledgeable, and it shows. They found the numbers we’ve been looking for out of this car since testing.”

Massey did his normal routine in the semi’s and began to anticipate having to manage a light front end when it took Tony Schumacher extra time before he was able to roll into the prestage beams. The fuel tank is located just behind the nose of the dragster chassis underneath the air vent that is visible atop the body, and the approximated 20 seconds added to Massey’s standard return burned roughly two extra gallons of fuel, taking 18 pounds of weight off the nose that are necessary to keep it planted on the racing surface.

Making the car lighter at stage and changing the transfer of weight toward the rear wheels can increase performance so long it doesn’t upset the setup and/or break traction by gaining too much wheel speed when hitting the wheelie bar or driving itself out of the groove.

“It picked the wheels up, sat 'em down, and picked them back up again,” said Massey. “I was actually able to look at the scoreboard and saw what it ran. I couldn’t believe it. I had to get out at the top end and ask, ‘Did it really go 3.74 and 328 mph?’ ”

On the 3.74, Massey went 3.007 seconds at 288.09 mph to the 660-foot timers. To put those numbers in perspective, the only sub-three-second 660-foot clocking last season occurred on Del Worsham’s 3.735 in the Reading final. The next fastest speed by a competitor to 660 feet at this event was 286 mph.

Massey made another outstanding run in the final when he went 3.750 at 325 mph to best the 3.79-second effort of teammate Antron Brown.

It promises to be a long, competitive season in the Top Fuel ranks. 10 drivers ran low 3.80s or quicker in the opening round, and three matchups were decided on the starting line. That being said, half of the last 12 drivers to win the opening race of the season in Top Fuel went on to win the championship, so Massey is off to a solid start.

“Coming up a little short and ending up in second place last year made us that much more hungry and motivated to win a championship, so we focused this winter and acted like there wasn’t an off-season,” said Massey. “Coming off this win, we have the momentum going into Phoenix, where we had the DNQ last year that kind of killed us in the championship.”

Massey is prepared to exorcise the demons that haunted him last October at the NHRA Arizona Nationals. Since his DNQ at that event, his two losses at the end of the 2011 season were by a combined margin of .005-second (both to Worsham), and he won this event in record-setting fashion.



The Fast Five

In winning the season-opening event for the sixth time in his career, John Force broke a slump of eight consecutive races without a round-win. Force didn’t have a dominant car by any stretch, but crew chief Dean “Guido” Antonelli kept it consistently in the 4-teens while the 15-time champion went to work on the Christmas Tree. He stepped up to a 4.08 in the final opposite teammate Mike Neff, who had the most consistently fast car on Sunday before his work was undid with a .175 light that couldn’t be buoyed with a low. e.t. of the event 4.03. Force’s last win was at the Denver event in 2011, his only victory of the season. Force also got to witness daughter Courtney net her first Professional round-win when Bob Tasca III broke traction against her in the opening round.

The least satisfied of any opening-race winner, Greg Anderson redirected the Summit Racing Equipment Pro Stock teams to Las Vegas to test for two days before going to Phoenix. He and teammate Jason Line had the two strongest cars on Sunday, but they met before the final due to Anderson’s No. 5 position on the qualifying order. The team clearly did its homework at the shop over the winter as evidenced by their big speeds, though they feel like they can execute their setups better in the coming races. This was Anderson’s fifth victory at this event and KB Racing’s seventh in the last nine years.

Jeg Coughlin Jr.
has done what he did this weekend too many times for it to be considered lucky. In the first race of his return to the Pro Stock ranks with an upstart program, he reached the final round from the No. 14 qualifying position in a performance that was Tebow-esque. Other than outrunning Vincent Nobile in the second round, the legwork of his round-wins occurred on the starting line. He opened eliminations with a holeshot win over Ronnie Humphrey and drew a foul against Mike Edwards in the semi’s. Coughlin has stated that it will take time for his new engine program to reach the levels of the top teams. His driving will provide the JEGS/Mopar outfit more opportunities on race day in the interim.

It was the Morgan Lucas Show for the first three days of Top Fuel racing at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries. Lucas revamped his team during the off-season by hiring Aaron Brooks and Rod Centorbi while keeping his core group intact, and he led all three qualifying sessions. He was in position to advance to the final round and potentially defend his event title until he broke a two-run-old rear end opposite Antron Brown in the semifinal round.

Gary Densham
is set to run a very limited schedule unless he can acquire more funding, and he’s making each appearance count. There was never a dull moment for the former schoolteacher at this event. He missed the first run when his car’s CO2 bottle exploded in the staging lanes but collected bonus points on Friday with a third-best-of-the-round 4.17 that he improved with a 4.15 on Saturday. He upset Jeff Arend in the first round with a 4.10 at a career-best 304 mph before a wild second-round matchup with Jack Beckman. Beckman was pulling away from Densham before his car made a sudden right turn that brought him into Densham’s lane. (The reason for the car’s sudden move has yet to be determined as of this posting.) Fortunately, Densham had seen Beckman pulling away and was already getting off the throttle to save parts, so he wasn’t at full power when he made contact with the back of Beckman’s Charger. Impressively, Densham’s Greg Amaral- and Ed Boytim-led team were the first to get to the staging lanes for the semifinal round despite having to repair the damage to the front of the body. Their efforts were rewarded with a Full Throttle Hard-Working Crew Award.



Special Awards

Stats of the race: When John Force cinched his 134th career win in the Funny Car final, he also achieved a milestone in earning his 1,100th round-win. The closest Funny Car driver to Force is Tony Pedregon, who has 500 round-wins. Warren Johnson ranks second to Force among all Pro drivers with 869.

Robert Hight
has qualified in the No. 1 spot 40 times during his career that began in 2005, but he hasn’t had much luck from that spot. From the No. 1 position, he has 16 second-round losses and seven first-round losses, including being upset by Todd Lesenko in the first round at the 2012 season-opener when the Auto Club Mustang hydraulicked the No. 7 cylinder.

After title contender Cruz Pedregon was left outside the 16-car field when qualifying was cut short due to rain, ESPN statistician Lewis Bloom researched how many times a driver who DNQ'd at this event went on to win the championship. It only happened one time when Jeg Coughlin Jr. failed to qualify at the 2002 season opener but went on to capture the Pro Stock crown.

Crew chiefs of the race: Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler took advantage of the conditions in a standout performance; Mike Neff tuned the best car in eliminations and set low e.t. in the final round; Rob Downing, Tommy Utt, and Jeff Perley did their thing to field the two toughest cars on Sunday.

Best races: Morgan Lucas vs. Shawn Langdon, Top Fuel round two: The former teammates squared off in the second round with Lucas winning the race on a holeshot. It was the first holeshot loss of Langdon’s career. He has 11 holeshot wins to his credit, including one against Steve Torrence in the first round.

Mike Neff vs. Ron Capps, Funny Car semifinal: Capps got off the line first but couldn’t withstand Neff’s top-end charge.

Rodger Brogdon vs. Kurt Johnson, Pro Stock round one:
K.J. got off the line first, but Brogdon’s MavTV GXP prevailed by a .003-second margin at the stripe.

Quotes of the race: “We’re taking a few weeks off to give the guys behind us a chance to catch up.” — Densham Motorsports crew chief Greg Amaral, wisecracking about the No. 3 points position of the cash-strapped team that won’t compete again until the Las Vegas event

“If I was inside there, I could tell you what happened, but I can’t quite fit.” — Al-Anabi gold crew chief Jason McCulloch on the reason why the dragster driven by Khalid alBalooshi damaged a piston in the first round


I’d like to acknowledge two things that happened over the past week. First, I wish to offer my condolences to the Manton family after Terry Manton passed away on Thursday, Feb. 9. He would have turned 45 years old on Sunday. Manton was a respected industry figure who founded Manton Pushrods. Six-time Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson thought enough of him that he tried to hire him several years ago. He was a friend to many racers and manufacturers and will be missed.

Secondly, I was relieved to find out that Mike Austin walked away from a scary crash in his Top Alcohol Dragster on Saturday. I remember Mike from when he was a crewmember on the late John Shoemaker’s American Eagle dragster and would sleep in the camper of their tow truck. He’s one of those guys who loves racing so much that he’s always beaming when he’s at the track. I’m sure the wreck was a tough blow for him, but I hope he can make it back out there soon.
 

 
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