With nephew Zane and Grandma Edith, who got to see me race nitro for the first time.
Last week's Four-Wide Nationals was an interesting adventure, you could say. There was plenty of good news to come out of that race for us – mainly, we moved up to No. 4 from sixth in the Funny Car points, and we sure like that. But we also made it to the final round for the first time this year, and we continued our string of advancing from the first round. Our team has the only Funny Car that hasn't lost first round this season, and that's out of all the Funny Cars, not just Don Schumacher Racing. Antron Brown is the only DSR Top Fuel dragster that hasn't lost first round, and he is one of only two drivers in the category to have won every first-round match so far this season (Richie Crampton is the only other driver to have that momentum on raceday). Antron is looking pretty good with two final rounds and two semi's, plus now the points lead. They're a great team.
I think the key to getting to where we want to be will be continued consistency. That is very valuable throughout the season. You want to be good, but you don't want to be good and then bad. I'll take consistency over the highs and lows because that is what will pay dividends in the long run. If you can maintain that throughout the season and do well at most of the events, like not going out first round, that's going to be very important.
You can look at that two ways: you have the pressure that you don't want to lose first round because you haven't all year, or you can look at it as a confidence builder. "We haven't lost all year first round, we know we're going to win this round." I try to see it from the confident point of view, and we'll just keep doing what we're doing and going rounds.
We were really happy to make it to the final round there in Charlotte. I know our sponsor, Terry Chandler, was very happy too. Not only were we in the final round, but Jack Beckman and the Infinite Hero car that she also sponsors had made it up there to run for the trophy, and they did it. Congratulations to Jack and his whole team – it's been a long time coming for them, and it was good to see them win.
Our great team sponsor standing between lanes earlier this year in Phoenix. With her nephews Shane and Jonathan Gray both racing Pro Stock and the fact that she sponsors our Make-A-Wish Funny Car team and the Infinite Hero car driven by Jack Beckman, she is often finding herself standing in the middle on Sunday. Not a bad place to be!
It felt like our day, to be honest. Things were going our way. We hadn't performed well, but there we were in the final round. Then we hit the throttle and to have the thing smoke the tires so soon was a let down. I was ready to hit the throttle again and pedal, but I'm glad I didn't. Something didn't feel right, and the next thing I knew the thing turned left. The top of the fuel pump had come loose. Instinctively, you try to recover the car, but it was very strange trying to figure out from the inside what was happening. I was trying to diagnose it as I was correcting and working to keep the car under control. At one point, it felt like maybe the rear wheel had come off or something, and I was just trying to keep it out of the wall and off its roof. The car was making such violent moves and sliding around almost worse than being on ice – and believe me, growing up in Iowa and the ice and snow, I know what that feels like. There was zero control at some points, and a lot of people thought I was pedaling, but the truth is that I never hit the throttle again. As the car leans out from running out of fuel, it speeds up, so it was gaining speed and getting more and more out of control. It was definitely a handful, and I was using every instinct that I had. There were many times in those few moments where I didn't think it was going to happen – I really thought it was going over on its roof. That was the most I've ever had to drive a car in one run, and with the least amount of results.
It was a little nerve wracking for a while, but once I turned off the end of the track and climbed in the tow vehicle and the guys handed me the time slip, the nerves went away and the anger came up. I had the best light out of all four drivers. Jack's guys did a great job, but who knows what the outcome would have been. It's disappointing when something like that happens, but in the long run you have to be thankful because it could have been a lot worse. As frustrating as it was, you take the good and move on. Now we get to go to Las Vegas and hopefully go one step further.
Before I go, I wanted to mention two things. First, it was very cool that the NHRA race was live on ESPN on Sunday. My buddy, former MLB player Aaron Rowland, was texting me as he was watching and telling me how he was looking forward to being in Vegas. It was great that the show was live, and I think it's cool to see how it actually does work. It's just that much more exciting for the fans watching at home, and I'm looking forward to the next time we get to have NHRA live on Sunday. That would be a special one to win, wouldn't it?
I'll leave you with this. We had a nice interview with Deb Williams from the Charlotte Observer at the Four-Wide race, and my nephew Gage and the whole family were there. She did a really neat story about Gage and how coming on tour with us in the summer is incentive for him to do better in school. If you'd like to read the story, it's here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/sports/nascar-auto-racing/thatsracin/article17240180.html.
Right now, Gage has all A's and only two B's. I may be in trouble.
That's it from here for now. See you out there!
I haven't had a lot of time home lately, and of course that's not anything new. This past weekend, though, I got to do something that really made me happy: fly to North Carolina for my nephew Gage's birthday. It's hard to believe, but he is actually going to be 10 years old. Time sure does fly.
I got in on Friday and had a surprise at the airport because my dad was there to meet me with my Grandma Edith. She has been down from Iowa visiting with my parents this winter, and it was great to get to see her. She even came to Mooresville Dragway for Gage's birthday on Saturday.
Gage is a great kid, and all he wanted for his birthday was to have a few of his friends out to the racetrack with him and run his Jr. Dragster. I'm glad I was there for that, but his dad Mike and my dad Tom Sr. have him covered in the crew chief department. I'm more like a crew guy than anything, and it's something I really enjoy. I got to be in charge of the GoPro this time, which was actually pretty fun.
My birthday present to Gage was a new seat for his Jr. Dragster. I had a seat poured for him a couple of years ago, but he has grown so much that he didn't really fit into it anymore. So I took care of that in Indy and now he has a Bald Spot poured seat that fits him perfectly.
Our friend and teammate Antron Brown has kids who race Jr. Dragsters, and he was kind enough to give Gage a carburetor for his car. This weekend was kind of a test-and-tune to get all the bugs worked out on the Jr. Dragster so that it will be real consistent when it comes time to race. It looks like Gage is going to be just fine.
One cool thing about Grandma Edith being there was that now she has been able to see three generations on the racetrack. I'm excited because she's going to come to the 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway, and I think it might actually be only the second time she's ever been to a national event. I think it's probably been since the U.S. Nationals in Indy in 2008.
We're going to have a little family get together before I leave for Gainesville and have dinner and celebrate Gage's birthday one last time. You know, this is the first time I've ever been able to be in North Carolina for his birthday, and it's been really special.
Although I will tell you that ever since I got here, all I've heard about is that in three weeks we'll be at the 4-Wide. He's definitely looking forward to getting back to the track, and we're still in negotiations for his summer vacation trip to come on the road with us. His comment last night was that he only has two B's on his report card and the rest are all A's. That's not bad, but it's not quite the deal we have worked out. Keep pushing, buddy! All A's. That's the goal.
Before I close out this blog, I wanted to touch on the fact that this weekend in Gainesville takes us back a year ago and John Collins' first race with us as a crew chief. It wasn't a bad weekend, and it laid the groundwork for the heights that he would excel to throughout the year. For the first race on his own, we think he did a darn good job. He has made so much progress since then, and I can remember that first race and watching him start the car for the first time. His hands were shaking as he was pouring the gas in it, and we were probably a little more conservative than we are now. John isn't conservative like that anymore, and he has become very confident in his own abilities, just as we have. It's unbelievable what a year has done for him, and we're proud to have John Collins as our crew chief.
That's all for now from here. We'll see you at the racetrack.
By the way: Gage's actual birthday is on Tuesday, so if you see him around – be sure to wish him HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
We finished third in 2014, and overall, I would definitely say it was a great year. As a team, we were really happy and now, we're looking forward to the season ahead. Of course we were looking forward to the off-season and catching up on a few things, but now it's almost time to go racing again, and looking back it seems like there really wasn't much "off" in the "off-season." It went by so fast.
As soon as the NHRA season ended, I went to Australia to race, and then I sat in for my DSR teammate Ron Capps to test his car in West Palm. After that it was back to Indy to go to the PRI show, and then on to Tennessee to film PerformanceTV, then Christmas, then New Years, and now, oh my, it's the week to go testing.
The guys on my Make-A-Wish team started to work on getting ready for 2015 as soon as we got home from the last race of the year in Pomona. We actually built a new front-half for our Dodge Charger R/T, and we kept last year's car intact and put it upstairs to use as a spare. With our other car, we put a new front end on it and used a little different design based on things that we've learned over the season. The guys were on that as soon as we got home. They've been busy for a lot of days this winter, and we're sure hoping that's going to pay off come testing again in West Palm and then the Winternationals.
For me, I've almost been busier in the off-season than I was when we were racing, and it seems like I've been home a lot less, too. By the time I returned home from my parent's house in North Carolina after Christmas, I had only been home 11 days since Oct. 28.
Racing in Australia was a lot of fun. I flew down to drive the L.A. Hooker Nostalgia Funny Car for Graeme Cowin, and it was great to get that invitation. I had driven a Nostalgia car here in the U.S. before, but never that one, so it was really something I was looking forward to. I ended up having a blast. I made a lot of good friends while racing down there last year, and it was a nice opportunity to go see a lot of those folks, do some racing, and then it was even more fun because we won the race.
Really, the only break I got this off-season was after the Australia race when I had the chance to visit Perth with racing friends Anthony Begley and Damian Harris and another friend, Steve Flynn. We went out on the ocean in a boat, stepped back in time, kicked back, and pretty much did nothing besides get sunburned.
Since then, I've been busy filming PerformanceTV for Velocity Channel, and luckily we film mostly during fall and winter so I'm able to do that between racing and everything else that goes on. With all of that, it was nice to be able to relax and visit with my family over Christmas.
We had a great holiday, and I was able to spend time with my nephews, Gage and Zane. Gage, of course, wanted to negotiate another road trip with his uncle for next season. He not only wants to go to Chicago and Norwalk again but also on the Western Swing. We bargained and I told him if he gets straight A's, he can go on the Western Swing. He said, 'Well, what if there is one B+?' I told him we'd have to talk if that would happen.
While I was down there in North Carolina with the family, we even got to spend a little time working on Gage's Jr. Dragster. I built him a custom seat, but he's grown so much that he has almost grown out of it. I brought it back home with me, and I'm going to try to see if I can cut it out and trim it to see if I can give him a little more room for the season.
Christmas sort of launched a time of change for me, too. I asked for a juicer, and Santa (my parents) brought it. I got the idea watching a documentary called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead that I should try the juicing diet, and I was a little nervous about it, but I thought I'd give it a shot. So far, it seems like a pretty good program. I started juicing on January 2nd and I've got to be honest, it's very hard to stick to it. It doesn't taste as good as what I normally have in my diet, that's for sure. It's a little bit like drinking grass out of your lawnmower bag, to tell you the truth, but I've been experimenting with different recipes and I don't know if I'm just getting used to it or better at it, but there are a couple that haven't been too bad. What's kept me going is the positive results that I've seen in a short period of time. I'm going to continue until we leave for testing, and then I think I'm going to work it into my regular diet.
Sunday we leave for West Palm to test, and I'm excited to get back in the Make-A-Wish Funny Car, get back out there with the guys and get back to the racetrack. We're excited to see how this new chassis drives and to get our momentum going for the 2015 season. I'm also excited about the new Dodge Charger R/T body. I was able to test it a couple times last season, but I'm really looking forward to being in there full time. As the driver, I'm not too worried about it being any faster than the last body – the visibility from the cockpit is so much better it's incredible. I think it's a great change.
After testing, I'll fly right to Tennessee to film more for PerformanceTV, then it's a week and a half off and time to go to the Winternationals. It's pretty darn cold here in Indy right now, and I'm excited to get to Pomona for more reason than one.
Thanks to our wonderful sponsor Terry Chandler, we're able to keep this team going. We're all very thankful to Terry for giving us the opportunity to do this again. We did so well our first year together; I can't wait to see what we can do in 2015.
The last race of the season is here, and what a year it's been for the Make-A-Wish team. Our first year together, my first year back after a long layoff, John Collins as a rookie crew chief – what we've been able to do throughout the year has us all excited for 2015. We worked at it pretty hard, and I don't think we would have done anything differently. We can certainly recognize the weak areas and things we could have done better, but we learned from our mistakes along the way, and we continued to expect the best every week.
A couple weeks ago in Las Vegas we were fortunate enough to be part of something really cool. Austin is a 17-year-old Wish Kid whose wish was to win a race for his team, and when Make-A-Wish came to us and asked if we would like to be part of it, we jumped at the chance. Terry Chandler, Don Schumacher, and Doug Foley really pulled together to make it happen, and when they asked me to be Austin's co-pilot in the two-seater, I was really excited. Austin and I got to race Antron Brown and Jack Beckman before the third round of qualifying in Vegas, and it was really something.
There we were in the championship hunt and not wanting to take anything away from that, but at the same time I think I was more nervous about Austin's race than actually racing our Make-A-Wish Funny Car because I knew what it meant to him. We didn't want anything to take away from Austin's wish. We wanted it to be perfect.
It was a unique experience, to say the least, to be able to meet a person whose wish was to be a racecar driver, and you know you're going to help make that wish come true. Austin is a very enthusiastic kid, and when we first met I was a little blown away. He was looking at me as a hero for making all of this happen for him, but that's not who I am, and I certainly wasn't the only one making it happen. I'm just a guy who gets to do what I love, and to see him get to do what he really wanted to do and to be part of it was a very special feeling.
We all hit it off right away with Austin, he instantly became a member of the Make-A-Wish team and fit in like one of the guys. Austin is a jokester, and we were kidding each other a lot. It was a lot of fun.
When we were getting reading to race, my adrenaline was pretty high. I knew there was a lot on the line, and we wanted that trophy for Austin. At the same time, I knew it was important for him to soak in the whole experience, so as we pulled into the waterbox I was really focused on making sure he saw all the people in the grandstands cheering for him, and I pointed to Antron and Jack to make sure he saw them next to us. I wanted him to remember everything that we were doing, and I wanted to make sure any nerves he felt were calmed and that I was there and no matter what we were going to have a good race.
For me, the nerves came when the engine started. I knew it needed to be a perfect run to get the outcome we wanted.
It was a fun race, and wow, what a feeling when the win light came on in our lane. At the top end, it was really neat to see the smile on Austin's face. He thoroughly enjoyed that trip down the quarter mile, and to see him beaming with excitement when they handed him the trophy was something I'll never forget. That was his wish, to win for the team. Of course, I wanted to know how fast we ran, and as soon as I found out I let him know that we ran almost 147 mph. One of the biggest things for me was seeing how happy his parents were to see their son so happy. They were at a loss for words and extremely proud to see their son win the race.
It didn't end there, though. After the celebration at the top end, we got to take a ride back down in front of the grandstands, and that was a proud moment for Austin but also for me. Seeing the support of all of those people made me proud of NHRA drag racing and proud of our fans. They rallied behind Austin and the entire grandstand gave him a standing ovation. Feeling that support for Austin from every single person at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was possibly the highlight of the whole experience.
We've had so much fun representing Make-A-Wish all season, promoting what they do, and entertaining Wish Kids across the country at each race. To be part of granting a wish and seeing how it works and how many people are involved, to see how it all works behind-the-scenes, made us realize that this is a really big deal. It's no small feat to grant wishes, and the foundation does a really, really good job.
For our Make-A-Wish Funny Car team, Don Schumacher, Terry Chandler, Antron Brown, Jack Beckman, and Doug Foley and his Pure Speed Drag Racing School that provided the two-seater dragsters, as well as every single person along the way who helped grant Austin's wish, this was huge. We wanted to make Austin's wish the best wish ever granted. We wanted it to be the best day of his life so far. If his smile and that great big laugh were any indication of that, we know that it was.