Greetings from California! I came out here for Toyota Day and decided to bring my girlfriend Stephanie Laski and our daughter Emma out here for a little vacation for a couple days. It's nice to get a little relaxation in after a busy start to the season, and we'll be ready to go in Charlotte next week.
I've been changing gears, so to speak, a little bit for this year. I'm not a rookie anymore, so I've been settling in for my sophomore year and trying to do what it takes to win races as a somewhat experienced driver now. That's really what it's all about for me this year, winning races and doing the best I can for Lucas Oil and Toyota and all our sponsors.
I've heard of the term "sophomore slump" as it applies to other sporting arenas, but I obviously want to avoid that. I don't think we're going to have that problem, though. We have a great team, a great crew, a great crew chief in Aaron Brooks and the results area really close to what we want right now. Morgan Lucas gives us all we need to be competitive, so there will be no slumps for me – hopefully.
For the most part, I'm really happy with the way we've started the season. We've qualified well at most of the races but have just had some bad luck on race day. As long as we keep running well like we have, the results will come. Life is good.
It sure was nice to get Racer Magazine's Rookie of the Year award for 2014, and it definitely put an exclamation point on last season. I got word that I was nominated through social media, and obviously I was very excited that I was in the running for it because it's a worldwide magazine and a worldwide fan vote that covers all motorsports.
I looked at the list of drivers who had won the award in the past, and it was drivers from Formula 1 and Supercross and all different kinds of motorsport. To be in the running was terrific, but to win that award was super humbling. I was really excited and flattered that the readers of Racer Magazine decided I was that guy this year.
Thank you to everyone who voted, and we'll see you all soon!
Man, I can’t believe how fast this season has gone. Some parts of me wish we could race "somewhere" all the way clear through winter, but the other part of me is looking forward to a break, and spending the holidays with family. This year, having our daughter Emma with us for Thanksgiving and Christmas for the first time will be very special.
I have to say, it has been an amazing year for me. Running a full season in Top Fuel, for the best group of people, and the best sponsors, it has been everything I hoped it would be. Getting two national event victories for GEICO, Lucas Oil and Toyota was what I hoped to achieve, but I didn’t know if I could pull it off. Of course they all took a huge leap of faith when they agreed to let me drive for them, and I am eternally grateful.
Obviously, winning the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis was the highlight of my season, something that is slowly still sinking in now that I've had a few months to digest what happened. We have struggled a little since that weekend, but everyone on the team still seems to have some "spring in their step" from winning Indy, even though round wins have been harder to come by at the business end of the year.
Heading into Pomona, the GEICO team is sitting in 10th position, so we are looking for a good outing to hopefully slide us up a position or two.
It will again be a fun time for me racing in southern California, with Stephanie’s family on hand, and a lot of Australian family and friends once again making their way to the world finals.
Heading into Pomona I will have the opportunity to get into a Sprint Car at Cory Kruseman’s Sprint Car and Midget Racing School in Ventura, Calif. I am excited to get on the dirt and feel the power of one of those cars, and see how I do "turning corners."
As I sit here writing this, I have just unpacked from my first SEMA show. I stayed on after the Las Vegas race and attended the show with several people from Lucas Oil. I learned a lot about the oil business with some great people, and had a great time checking out some cool cars. Admittedly, I was glad to get back to quiet Indianapolis after spending a week in "Lost Wages" but I’m not too sure about this cold weather here. Oh well, I guess it is that time of year.
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.'