Lucas hoping to heat up as NHRA arrives in New Hampshire
14-16 June, 2013,Â Bristol, Tennessee USA, Morgan Lucas, Lucas Oil, Geico, top fuel dragster @2013, Andrew Weber
14-16 June, 2013, Bristol, Tennessee USA, Morgan Lucas, Lucas Oil, Geico, top fuel dragster @2013, Andrew Weber
With the National Hot Rod Association making its debut in New Hampshire this weekend, fans could be witnessing the start of a new tradition of racing in the state.
As for driver Morgan Lucas, he’s hoping a trip to Epping will serve as a springboard going into the second half of the season.
The NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and its four subdivisions – Top Fuel Dragster, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – are at New England Dragway this weekend for the Auto-Plus New England Nationals. Two days of qualifying end today and eliminations are tomorrow for the main event, the Top Fuel series, where the cars accelerate to 100 mph in less than a second, notch 8,000 horsepower and climb up to 330 mph over
the course of the 1,000-foot race.
With NASCAR making yearly visits 35 miles away in Loudon, fans in the area are no strangers to racing. But drag racing brings a different dimension, and Lucas is excited to see how the event is received.
“I love it. I’d never been to this part of the Northeast. … Coming up here is awesome,” said Lucas, a native of Upland, Calif. “For us to come to a new market like this, going to meet a whole different group of fans, we don’t get those opportunities all the time. So whenever you can, you want to jump on them and try to make the best of the situation.
“We’re trying to grow the sport. This is just one more step in the right direction of growing it.”
He’s also hoping the weekend will jump-start a hot summer. For the 29-year-old Lucas – whose father, Forrest, founded oil company and renowned racing sponsor Lucas Oil – this season, his ninth in the Top Fuel series, has gotten off to a slow start. He’s winless through 10 events and is seventh in the standings, 287 behind leader Tony Schumacher.
Things got off to a slow start yesterday, when Lucas was 13th of 16 drivers in the first round of qualifying, but he has two more qualifying runs today to advance to tomorrow’s main event.
There’s been some frustration after strong seasons in 2012, when he tied a career high with three wins, and 2011, when he finished third in the standings, but Lucas, who made his Top Fuel debut in 2004, isn’t concerned. Each team reacts differently to each race, and while the early portion of the schedule wasn’t kind to Lucas, he’s confident that as the weather heats up, he will too.
“Normally we have a car that runs well when the weather conditions are really good out,” he said. “This year, it seems like we have a car that wants to run better in the heat, and not necessarily as good when it is good out. But I’m excited about where the season’s going right now, because we’re getting ready to enter that part of the season when it’s going to be hot out, and I think that means the track’s going to come to us.”
While Lucas has the calendar to his advantage – the series shifts to Chicago next weekend – getting into a rhythm and moving up in the standings will mean making improvements. For Lucas, who’s also his team’s owner and manager, that puts a lot on his shoulders and requires him to oversee a large amount of preparation. And even in races that start and finish in a matter of seconds, there’s plenty of room for tweaking and improvement.
There’s a clutch that needs to be toyed with. Fuel percentages and volumes that need to be measured. Weights and balances that need to be adjusted. A computer in the car that handles 40 channels of data. And that’s all before the driver, whose reflexes have to be sharp and his alignment steady, hits the gas.
“I don’t think (fans) have a grasp on how many moving parts and variables there are in a drag strip,” he said. “There are 1,000 things that can go wrong on a potential run.”
When you get them all right, you move up the standings, and when you’re consistently atop the standings, you compete for a championship. As is the case with the Sprint Cup, championships are determined after a playoff in which the points get reset, and, as is the case with the Sprint Cup again, there are the usual suspects who consistently battle for the title. There’s a reason Schumacher, whose team owns several cars across the different drag racing series and who has an operation Lucas likened to NASCAR’s Hendrick Motorsports, has won seven championships, including six in a row from 2004-09.
That’s why Lucas emphasized setting reasonable goals throughout the season. He’s eyeing a move up into the top four this season. He wants his team to be at its best when the six-race playoff rolls around. When those elements are in place, that’s when the focus turns to championships.
“I’m looking at the Dale Earnhardt Jr. approach,” Lucas said. “He’s trying to increase his top-10s and top-fives, and even though he might not be saying that, he’s trying to put himself in position to win. … Obviously (top four) would mean we were in the running to chase a championship at some point, and that means we’re a step closer.
“I think, in order to really chase a championship and win a championship, you have to know how it feels.”
(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @dbonifant.)