730 – FUEL FUNNY CAR –
I first stood on the throttle of the No Mercy Nitro Funny Car in April 2016 and made my final license pass in October 2017. This accomplishment is not only representative of all the hard work and sacrifice that the entire team made to make this a reality but it also proves that a bunch of guys with a common dream, drive, and belief, can achieve something much bigger than themselves. You see, we aren’t rich. Nobody on this team has a ton of cash and nobody mortgaged their house or went into debt to make this happen. We are just a bunch of regular working guys that found a synergy and friendship that has helped us achieve a monumental tasking.
Five test events, a dozen runs, too many pistons that I care to count. Used clutch discs, over 200 gallons of nitro, 60 gallons of oil, and over 200 spark plugs. Thousands of dollars in hotel rooms, diesel, late night meals at Dennys or Remedys, buckets of hand cleaner, gallons of solvent, and trash canning over gapped piston rings. You can do the math and see that it would have been better to have paid my fee to get my license in an already established running funny car.
We didn’t oil the track once! Not once did the rods come out of it. No “major” fires, and our heads held high because we did it! We set a goal and we achieved it. It may have taken longer than we had hoped and it may have cost more than we expected, but we did something that most have not even attempted in the last decade. The landscape of NHRA Drag Racing has changed dramatically and most that have the financial means don’t even attempt what we accomplished.
Throw on your firesuit and hang out with me for the next few blogs as I take you from the pits to the shutdown as I share my story of achieving my NHRA professional funny car license along with a bit of background to what led me to this point in my life.
Part 1: DREAMING IN THE PITS
I grew up in a home that always encouraged me to dream big and believe in myself. I’ve always held on to that mantra and it has carried me through as I took on some of my biggest challenges; U.S. Air Force Basic Military Training, bachelor’s degree, graduating U.S. Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training, and building my first alcohol funny car are a few examples. The pinnacle of my dreams has always been becoming a professional NHRA Nitro Funny Car driver. That dream has died and been resurrected too many times to count throughout the years as I let negative thinking and self-doubt control my drive. This was by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my life and it wouldn’t cut me or my team an inch of slack. I’m not going to try to talk some guru “don’t give up crap” to any of you. It broke me! I wanted to quit every single time adversity showed its ugly face but thanks to a support network of family and friends I somehow picked myself up and kept going. It made me, and my entire team, work our very hardest to achieve it.
The preparation is done in the shop, and the assembly is done in the pits. The final product that shows up on the track is merely a summary of all the work done previously behind the scenes. Very often, things are forgotten, or mistakes are made, and the results are disastrous on the track. Nobody is perfect, and components fail, but investing in preparation, planning, and proper assembly is key to success. Some of the biggest teams still fall victim to the smallest parts, no matter their budget or time spent in preparation. Some call this karma, or the nitro gods. We recently encountered two of these situations that really hurt our morale as a new team.
During our 1st qualifying attempt at the 2017 NHRA Toyota Nationals with guest driver Tim Gibbons (I hadn’t completed my license upgrade yet), the throttle pedal hit the clutch can go around after we installed a fireproof shield over the top of it. The result was the throttle would not open for the burnout and as soon as the tree flashed yellow/green, Tim was unable to apply any throttle and idled down the track. With our heads hanging low we recovered the car at the end of the track in front of a national event crowd. The lesson learned was we should have checked the operation in the pits after installing the new part to ensure no cascading issues.
We tested the Monday after the 2017 NHRA Toyota Nationals in order to complete my license upgrade. The plan was to complete two full passes as quickly as possible so we could load up and get back to our jobs and families. It was already a long weekend in which we struggled through a lot of adversity. The team showed up early on Monday morning, fresh, and ready to go. They were excited to accomplish this goal and get the monkey off our back. Everything went perfect and we beat our planned time of 10 a.m. in the staging lanes by 15 minutes.
The car sounded great as it fired up and the guys had their starting line routine down to a science. I let off the brake and rolled forward. I felt the familiar dip as the car rolled through the burnout box and looked for the signal to press the throttle down for the burnout. As I pressed my leg forward the pedal felt mushy and the engine RPM barely rose up. I quickly grabbed the brake and brought the car to a stop. I immediately knew something wasn’t right in the throttle so I didn’t even bother with putting it in reverse or backing up in case something went wrong which would endanger everyone behind the car. I reached down and shutoff the fuel. Everyone was defeated in that moment.
We towed back to the pits and quickly discovered that the $2 clamp holding the cable to the chassis had failed and pulled through not allowing the throttle to work correctly. We topped off the fuel, serviced a few things and pulled back to the lanes with the expectation of limited fallout from this delay. Karma, or nitro gods, were not happy on this Monday as we were now behind every pro team waiting to make a run and the track just encountered a massive oil down.
We sat in the staging lanes for almost three hours. I have never felt so defeated in my life as I did in that moment. All of our previous failures kept running through my head as I recounted each time that we ran the car previously and how one thing or another prevented us from obtaining the performance needed to upgrade my license. I told myself I was going to quit….I couldn’t keep going. It was too hard, too much money, too much sacrifice.
Just when it seems like you can’t see through everything it sometimes suddenly becomes clear. That clarity came at the end of a 4.50 @ 274 MPH pass down the track that was good enough to count as one of my full passes for my license upgrade. It was far from perfect, and well off the performance numbers the car should run. In fact, at the hit, the car made a hard move toward the centerline as it had cylinders out, but I caught it early, and was able to hold it with my hands crossed over on the wheel.
I’m just a normal guy like most of you and I find it hard to work through all the troubles of life. They do seem overwhelming at times. When you are passionate about something and serious to make it a reality any little delay or problem can sometimes spin us out of control because it’s not going how we planned. I can share with you that the feeling that I had after that full pass felt incredible; mostly because all of the failures before it. Had I simply wrote a check, and drove a proven car for someone else, I don’t know that I would have felt the sense of accomplishment that I feel today. Plus, I did it with my family and closest friends. Together, as a team, we overcame adversity and accomplished our goal.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Staging Lanes…