INSPIRED PALMER, WITH POWERFUL ALLY, MAKING MOST OF HIS CHANCES
Three years ago, Scott Palmer, accompanied by brothers Bobby and Dom Lagana, headed off down the highway one January with little more than a cool idea to test his Top Fuel dragster at Phoenix, then buzz on over to Pomona for the first race of the NHRA season.
Today Palmer has a top-10 finish, a Countdown to the Championship under his belt, and three strong marketing partners in Kent Longley’s Marck Recycling, Tommy Thompson’s Cat Spot Litter, and Forrest and Charlotte Lucas’ NHRA powerhouse associate, Lucas Oil.
“We came out here with literally probably $500 and a fuel card to test our car to go to Pomona,” Palmer said, glancing at the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park lake a few feet away, where his Liquid Voodoo top fuel hydro competes in the Lucas Oil Drag Boast Series.
“Me and Bobby and Dom had worked on the car all winter. We came out here with nothing. A friend of ours, J.R. Sandlian from [Wichita], he met us on the highway, gave us some cash to get here. He helps us out. We got here and met Brian Bostwick [who owns and operates Arizona Mountain Inn at Flagstaff] before the weekend was up. He gave us $10,000. It kept our ball rolling three years ago, which in turn got us to this point. It’s all of those steps that have got us to this point. If we hadn’t come out here then, none of this happens – me and Tommy got together because we were doing all of this. Tommy is a hard-working man. He made all his money. He likes it because we work.”
Friend Larry Jeffers, who builds race cars and owns the Sikeston, Mo., dragstrip, owns a clothing line Public Nuisance, and for awhile he placed that logo on Palmer’s race car because, well, he joked that Palmer was one. And the animated Palmer once poked fun at himself by outfitting his crew with baseball-style caps that declared, “Scott Palmer Sucks.” It was a gag that started with a crew member from Top Alcohol Dragster Chris Demke’s team. However, Palmer played it up, saying, “It’s actually true!”
But those days of self-deprecation are gone, wiped out by Palmer’s achievements and his stronger sense of self.
“Everybody always says if they had a chance to do this, they think they could do it,” Palmer said. “But thinking you can do it [is one thing], and then when you get the opportunity, you put a lot of pressure on yourself to do it. And it’s all heart from us, you know. We’ve done it with nothing for so long that when me and Tommy got together, that gave us the opportunity to run with these guys. So we’re tired of being chumps out here.”
He candidly acknowledged that even though he fanned the flames for such self-ridiculing talk, it was a defense mechanism. He made light of his on-track struggles. But inside he cringed. The drive to be an elite racer, a perennial contender for the Top Fuel championship, smoldered inside of him. For all his brave front, the thought hurt his feelings.
“It does, because everybody who goes out there and struggles, they don’t want to struggle. Nobody wants to struggle,” he said. “The cold, hard facts are it takes money and parts to run these, and the teams who have it generally don’t help the teams who don’t. Now, we’re lucky because we have [Steve] Torrence and the Laganas, and we all stick together.”
Multi-time nitro champion Gary Scelzi once said that when you discover something that works, copy it rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. And Palmer isn’t shy about saying that’s his practice, especially with the Torrence Racing / Capco Contractors team.
“Actually, we follow everything that they do. Everything. They’re giving us millions of dollars’ worth of information,” Palmer said. “We run our air lines in our pits the same as they do. We do everything we can like them. I mean, we just put a six-disc [clutch] in. I had an .816 60-foot time the second time I hit the gas in it. I mean, it’s stout. This car is set up like theirs.”
He also has had a lot of help along the way from Kalitta Motorsports, as well as the NHRA Tech Committee.
“When we teamed up with Tommy, we actually said, ‘OK, we want to do this, but we want to do it right. We don’t want to take this opportunity and be gone in a year or two. We want to do this and move up the ladder and be a competitive team’. We don’t have any grand illusions of being world champion this year. But we think there’s a possibility we can win races now. And until last year, I’m not saying you couldn’t win a race, but it would have been a lucky win. Now we have a car that’ll perform well enough to win a race if the stars align.”
Palmer began this season with a lucky break in the first round of the Winternationals this year. Opponent Leah Pritchett’s parachutes flopped out during her Round 1 burnout, and Palmer moved to the quarterfinals with a tire-smoking 6.489-second elapsed time. Naturally, he rather would have won a performance duel, but no racer complains about a gift in eliminations. Overall, though, Palmer is intent on winning, in general, on merit and not because his opponent makes a mistake or has a mechanical problem.
“That’s what we’re trying to do right now. We’re trying to make sure we take this opportunity and do the right thing with it,” he said.
His humble Oklahoma beginnings and Midwest hard-work ethic still define him, still influence him.
“If you don’t have money, you have to work. Not everybody has money. Most people don’t have [an abundance of] money. And people like us and the Laganas, if you’re going off of money, we should have never got this far,” Palmer said. “Even when we were struggling, we were still happy we made it that far, because we shouldn’t even have been there. We shouldn’t have got to that point. So to get to this point is definitely a dream, you know, and we’re living it.”
And by and large, he has achieved his new status with the same crew members.
“We have a lot of people that want to join. But you know, we have a pretty close-knit group of guys. We have the same basic people. We had some here and there, and as it’s gone along we’ve added some. Basically, it’s the same guys over and over.”
He has the same core team . . . but he has another powerful ally.0
Make that two, counting “Mama Kay” Torrence, Steve Torrence’s mother. Every morning she sends him a text message. And those, Palmer said he thinks, might just be the difference in his on-track performance.0
“Mama Kay sends me Bible verses every morning,” Palmer said. “I’m pretty sure this good luck started when she started sending them to me last year. I wake up every morning, that’s the first thing I read. And believe me, I wasn’t, I’m not, overly religious. I mean, this team’s not goody good. But she’s got me convinced I need to read those every morning. Every morning.”
He said he has no clue what’s the source of the daily devotionals with the attached Bible verse, but “I just read them. I think they’re all my favorites. They’re all good. God has blessed me well.”
Palmer has kept them on his cell phone. “Look how far they go. It never ends,” he said, amazed more than anything. “It’s every day of my life now. This is my daily ritual. I’m covered. Mama Kay’s got me covered. She sends that to a few racers, but I mean, mine, I definitely don’t skip over them.” He called them uplifting.
“Look at what’s happened in the last year and a half,” he said. His Top Fuel program has turned around in the past year and a half. Not coincidentally, that’s how long “Mama Kay” has been sending him the inspirational text messages.
“There you go,” he said.