With the likes of Don Schumacher Racing and Al-Anabi Racing dominating the class, Hillary Will and her NHRA Full Throttle Top Fuel car is supposed to be the underdog.
But ask Will and her Dote Family Racing team about that and you will get an entirely different answer.
“Maybe the fans look at it like we’re the underdogs, but I don’t look at it like that,” said Will, who is currently 14th in Top Fuel points. “I go up there believing that we can beat anyone we pull up next to. I don’t care who it is. I try to always have as much confidence as I can, and I believe in this team.”
There’s plenty – or at least much more – to believe in heading into this weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk.
A week ago, Will not only got her first round win of 2012 but also a semifinal berth at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals last week in Chicago.
It was a massive step in the right direction for Will, who returned to the Top Fuel scene in 2012 after a three-year absence. In her last season racing (2008), Will won a race and finished fourth in points.
The Dote Family Racing team was the major reason why Will returned this season and another reason why she doesn’t consider herself an underdog, even in the high-dollar Top Fuel world.
“The Dote’s only do the best. They give us the best of everything. I wasn’t sure how it was going to be, but we really do have the best of everything,” Will said. “They don’t want to hear us stay we don’t have something. If we need something, we have to get it, which is awesome.
“They’ve assembled a really good team and hopefully I can live up to everything. I got to have a car built for me and that was really nice. They try to do everything first-class.”
Will talks glowingly of the Dote Family Racing team and for good reason, but there are some aspects of a smaller-budget team that are apparent.
In addition to talented crew chief Doug Kuch, who was the crew chief for former Top Fuel driver Doug Foley, the team employs only three full-time crew members (Brandon Hazelton, Tad Heflick and Justin Sturgil).
But Will doesn’t let that qualify as an excuse and has nothing but praise for her team, which does boast plenty of experience and did win the Full Throttle Hard Working Crew Award in Top Fuel in Chicago.
“I just have a group of hard-working guys. We have the same team we started with at the beginning of the season and we’re just working hard, staying persistent and nobody’s giving up,” Will said.
“We were all proud of that hard-working crew award and they deserved it.”
Some interesting and adverse situations brought out the best in Will and her crew in Chicago, where they qualified No. 9 with a 3.82 at 312 mph.
With swirling winds and nasty weather creating a difficult racing environment, Will and her team had short turnaround after going 3.852 at 313 mph in a first-round victory. They passed with flying colors, setting up a 3.858 at 311 mph and a second-round win against T.J. Zizzo.
“So not only did we have our first fast turnover of the season, we had to do it really fast. We didn’t even start the car, but I didn’t worry. I had all the confidence in the world in the team,” Will said.
“I think that helped morale a lot. The guys were smiling a lot on Sunday and that really meant a lot to me. I just try to keep everybody’s spirits lifted and stay positive. I thanked everyone on the team personally and you just want to continue what we’ve been doing.
“I feel like we turned a corner. I knew our team was capable all along and we finally showed everybody a little bit of what we’re capable of. I think we have a lot more to show.”
Will is hopeful that will come this weekend in Norwalk, and she’s also thankful to get to race on back-to-back race weekends for the first time in 2012.
The team carries plenty of momentum into Ohio and Will would like nothing more than for last week to be the start of something special.
“We only race about once a month I’m thankful that we can do two races back-to-back,” Will said. “For a driver, it’s way better. It’s a lot of work for the team, but I think the more races you do, the better you get and the more confident you get.”
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