In a bonus race that is helping to restore the luster to the 58-year-old U.S. Nationals, on a Saturday racing card that repeated rain delays threatened to cancel altogether, with a flourish that reflected his resilience, The Unsinkable Spencer Massey sent a clear message
to his Top Fuel colleagues.
Celebrating his $100,000 victory in the inaugural Traxxas Nitro Shootout for the dragster class at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, the Prestone/FRAM Dragster driver he said the symbolic oversized check he received Saturday won't be his last.
"We want that championship this year!" he said, anticipating another giant cardboard check at the NHRA Finals at Pomona. And the way he ran roughshod over the rest of the Top Fuel competition during the Shootout rounds and qualifying for the NHRA's marquee event, Massey just might get his wish.
For Saturday night, though, he was content to appreciate the Traxxas Shootout triumph that makes him eligible for an even bigger payout if he wins the event.
Massey closed the deal by running a 3.780-second elapsed time at 325.61 mph on the 1,000-foot course in the Shootout final in a battle of Texans. The Fort Worth native defeated Kilgore's Steve Torrence, who lost traction in his Torrence Family Racing/Capco Contractors Inc. Dragster and settled for a 4.840, 155.70.
"Just making it into the Traxxas Shootout is huge," Massey said. "To win a race out here, especially this year, is amazing, because every car is bad to the bone."
He said winning the Winternationals in February to grab that first berth in the Shootout put his mind at ease for several months but that "the week leading up to this race, it's been pretty nail-biting."
Through a two-day test session, he wasn't quickest of the Top Fuel lot, but he said he and crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler knew they had gathered plenty of relevant data for this crucial event.
"We knew we had what it takes to win. We just had to put it all together," he said. "With the weather we were having and the way it was looking, it was tough to fathom getting to run all three rounds."
He didn't make it down the track under full power Friday night in his first qualifying chance, so he perked up considerably when he improved 21 positions right away Saturday.
With his triumph over Lucas in the second round of the Shootout -- which served as Q3 -- he unleashed his 3.762-second showing at 324.51 mph that carried him to the top of the order.
"Then in that final against Steve Torrence," Massey said, pausing as if the incomplete sentence said it all, "that car has been running on a string all year long. And he's wanting to win just as much as I am."
The two are longtime friends through Division 4 bracket racing in the Southwest. "We know exactly what it takes to do this, an it's extremely hard," Massey said. And Massey did it in style.
However, inside the car, it didn't seem quite so stylish. Massey was aware that it was nighttime, that the dew was setting in, and that it was humid. And he certainly couldn't ignore the fact the visor on his helmet was fogging up. He said he tried not to breathe but that the humidity caused him to sweat profusely and that fogged up the visor even more.
"All I saw was lights going every which way," he said. But he said he remembered his conversation with Okuhara just before taking off in his sweat-soaked chaos. He kept reaffirming with Okuhara that all he had to do was "go A to B, right? Go A to B." Okuhara nodded and told him, "A to B -- but very fast."
Massey always has said, like teammate Tony Schumacher, that he functions well in following orders. And that simple exchange calmed him down, kept him focused, and helped him navigate the less-than-ideal conditions.
It was a brilliant comeback for Massey, who had lost his points lead to Antron Brown at Brainerd two weeks ago in his first opening-round exit of the season.
"That was pretty devastating," Massey said of that weekend up north. "So we came in and did what we wanted to do. It was just right back to our old race car. That first round in Brainerd was almost a fluke. We just wiped that one out and came in here and did what we know how to do. It made us want it that much more. We already had been really hungry to run this Traxxas Shotout, because we were the first ones in it. And we said, 'Hey, we need to win it.' "
Massey defeated Dave Grubnic in the first round before meeting Torrence. In beating Lucas with a 3.762-second blast, he leaped to the provisional No. 1 qualifying position. If it holds through two scheduled qualifying sessions Sunday, it will be his fourth of the year.
"I don't do it for the cash. I do it for the wins," Massey said. "To drive a race car that goes 330 miles an hour, this is my life's dream. If I had to eat dirt to do it -- don't tell Don [team owner Don Schumacher] -- I would do it."
As he rode up the return road in front of the grandstands toward the winner's podium, Massey told the surprisingly hardy crowd, "All you fans who are out there right now, thank you for sticking around through all this rain. You are true race fans!"
Torrence beat Doug Kalitta and Brandon Bernstein to advance to the final. The final result was a familiar sight, for he had lost to Massey in the Norwalk, Ohio, showdown (after eliminating him in two of the previous three events). Torrence won here in 2005 in the Top Alcohol Dragster class, and he will be trying to earn his first U.S. Nationals Top Fuel victory while trying to thwart Massey's bid for a massive payday Monday.
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