Hi Everyone –
While at the Bristol airport heading home from the race a fan stopped and asked me, “What are you going to do for the next week because you have an off week?” That was interesting question because, as a race team owner and driver, I’m never off. I’m always doing something with the race team, the dealership or my family.
Since racing takes me away from my wife and children a lot, spending time with them is my first priority when I get home. It’s always nice to get back and spend some time with them. Then it’s back to work. I’m in the dealership from 7 o’clock in the morning until whenever the job gets done. I’m working on a lot of different fixed operation strategies for the dealership. Then I’m on the phone throughout the day, doing an interview or talking to Chris and the guys. We talk about a variety of things, our performance of the past race, what adjustments we want to make going into the next race, what do we need to buy, and where we are with budgets. We run a race team similar to the way a lot of people run their businesses. We’re keeping track of parts life, investing in blower and clutch technology and moving Mustang bodies around the country. While one body is being repaired, another one is being fitted for something else. Trailers have to get serviced, guys have to be flown in and out of different places. Logistically, there’s a lot of stuff going on. Then it’s the mundane stuff like paying bills. We’ve got the same type of stuff that goes on as any business goes on. What happens between races is a lot and there’s always something going on.
Since I last blogged, I had another test session up in Empingham, New Hampshire; this time with the Cobra Jet that we’re building. My Uncle Carl made his first nine-second run; he went 9.91 at almost 140 miles an hour. That was a great sense of accomplishment for both of us. It was something that he worked hard on, and as a new driver has made mistakes and has learned from them. I was proud to see him make his first nine-second pass; it was really a special day. Now he’s ready to get to a NHRA track and make his licensing run because he needs to do that three more times to get a Super Gas license, which I know he will.
From New Hampshire, we went and raced in Bristol. The weekend had ups and downs, like they all do. One thing about racing, nothing goes the way you expect it to go. It is either a lot worse or a lot better. The weekend wasn’t what we wanted it to be but the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Shelby Mustang ran the best of any car on the track on Saturday, where we had the quickest runs of the day. We measure ourselves session by session. A lot of people will focus on who qualified No. 1 for the weekend, but that might have been one run and that person might not have gone down the race track the other three times. You always like to gauge yourself on how you did each session of qualifying, and ultimately, how did you do on that day.
On Friday, we were good but we weren’t the best. Then on Saturday, we were the best and that was on a 120-degree track, which is the type of summer conditions that we’re about to head into for the next three months. Then Sunday rolled around and it’s a whole new world. It was like we went to another state. It was 48 degrees when I woke up on Sunday morning. Then in the first round, two out of 16 Funny Cars made complete runs. I was sitting in the Mustang Shelby and had a front row seat to see John Force almost hit Jack Beckman. When you see something like that coming and every other car smoking the tires, you know that you’re about to hit the gas and most likely pedal the car, which is exactly what happened to us on Sunday. The reason why we had an issue in the first round was because we discovered we had an ignition malfunction that caused the car to smoke the tires. We think our Mustang probably would have won if the ignition didn’t malfunction. I pedaled it and Head pedaled it; for him, he was further down track before he lost traction. That was the difference between winning and losing. That’s racing.
We stayed in Bristol on Monday to test. I think, hopefully, we have gotten all of our bad luck out of the way. On Monday, we had a catastrophic engine failure at about 800 feet. It was the worst fire I’ve ever been in. It wasn’t anything like some of the fires that can happen in these cars but it was hot enough to burn my fire suit and certainly get my attention. We lost the crankshaft, it threw the rods out of it and pretty much melted anything that was plastic underneath the body.
Fortunately, I wasn’t hurt and we didn’t hurt the body, but we wrecked pretty much everything else. Unfortunately, it was a massive amount of work for the guys to rebuild the race car. We were able to get one more run in but we just went to 300 feet just to test and it went great. The car ran good after that explosion. The bad news was the explosion, but it happened in testing and not during competition. If it didn’t happen at testing, it would have happened in Topeka because it was one of those things that it was going to let go. The crank was well within its life range; it just failed. That type of stuff happens and I’m glad it did during testing and not during a race. Unfortunately, we only made three runs and wanted to make five during the test session. These cars are very serious business. They can be as evil as they are fun, and they can be as violent as they are awesome.
For me it was another step in the learning process. I haven’t been through anywhere near some of the situations that some of the other drivers have been through. Chris Cunningham and my team don’t let me go to the line unless they think that car is going to down that race track safely but in this sport inevitably things happen and you just hope no one gets hurt. I’m looking forward to Topeka.