Spencer Massey always has a smile on his young face, no matter what his circumstances on the racetrack have been. For the past two weeks, that smile has belied the fact he's fiercely competitive.
And losing the NHRA Top Fuel points lead -- thanks to a gut-punch first-round loss, no less -- was, by his description, a "devastating" experience. But he methodically figured out how to salve his wounds.
And it paid off -- figuratively but certainly literally.
Massey participated in a two-day test session at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis and gathered data for Prestone/FRAM Dragster crew chiefs Phil Shuler and Todd Okuhara to use in this Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. And Saturday -- despite rain delays, a creeping dew problem, nearly unbearable humidity that fogged up his visor, and the knowledge that he had to step up and get his performance level back into that other-worldly zone it's usually in -- Massey applied all the data.
He cranked out a stunning 3.762-second elapsed time at 324.51 mph on the 1,000-foot course during the third overall qualifying session -- which doubled as the semifinals of the inaugural Traxxas Nitro Shootout. It lifted Massey to the No. 1 qualifying position -- ahead of earl y leader Tony Schumacher and sizzling-hot Morgan Lucas, and the re-awakening Shawn Langdon, and new points leader Antron Brown.
And it played a pivotal role in his masterful Traxxas Nitro Shootout victory over finalist Steve Torrence that brought his Don Schumacher Racing organization the $100,000 winner's share of the bonus-race purse.
Winning the Traxaas Shootout was Massey's goal for two weeks. And being No. 1 qualifier to boot made it even sweeter. Before the event began, he said he planned to "take all of our great performances from all year long and bottle it into three runs in a row so we can get that $100,000."
Saturday night he said, "I think we did. Especially with that (3.)76, it showed we knew what it takes to get down the racetrack. I'm extremely happy for all my guys, for all the people at DSR. This would not have happened without the guys who work every day, including the guys back at the shop who build my chassis, to get these cars together."
His 3.762 erased Larry Dixon's September 2010 E.T. mark of 3.776 seconds by four-thousandths of a second. Tony Schumacher's 326.79 from the final session improved the U.S. Army Dragster driver's own track speed record.
After the evening's rain-delayed action, Okuhara modestly said of himself and Shuler, "We do what we can, but he [Massey] is a great kid and he does a great job."
Massey got a laugh from Okuhara's down-playing.
"Todd is a man of few words. But trust me, it's all up here," he said, pointing to his head. "What's not coming out of his mouth is going into the brain and he's putting it down into that race car.
"He's kind of shy in front of a camera. He's kind of shy to talk on TV or radio or anything. But he's not shy to talk to that race car," Massey said. "And he does it very, very well."
Massey indicated he was feeling more than a little pressure Saturday, particularly because he didn’t get off to a stellar start Friday, winding up 24th out of the 27 entrants in his first qualifying chance.
"Coming into the first round [of the Traxxas Shootout Saturday] not qualified and having to get the car down the track and get the round win, that was a little bit tough," he said. "Honestly, getting that out of the way . . . Then I had to run Morgan [Lucas]. He ran low E.T. of the first round. So we had to push for it."
He said the Shootout semifinals, which doubled as Q3, "was like a final round. We knew we had to run well. Morgan was going to run well. It ran extremely well -- a (3.)76 and went to No. 1 qualifier."
Tony Schumacher had expressed surprise Friday night that no one (including himself) managed a 3.7-second pass after taking the early No. 1 qualifying position with a 3.814-second E.T. But Saturday, he found out who can do it -- and now he knows that his own teammate, Spencer Massey, can do it -- did it -- most impressively and lucratively of all.
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