First final was a thrill
Just two races into the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, my Castrol EDGE team finally made it to our first final round. With the 2013 rookie of the year title on our shoulders, my entire team has high expectations for our year, and we are looking for our first win.
In the offseason, we made some dramatic changes to the team. We teamed up with Todd Smith as crew chief and have already been running more consistently. We ran our career-best 3.778 seconds ET (elapsed time) at 326.24 mph in Pomona. The team has also been testing a new clutch that we believe will step us up with the rest of our competition. All last year we ran a five-disk clutch pack, and now we are experimenting with a six-disk clutch pack that will allow our car to run smoother and faster.
Sunday morning in Phoenix I woke up feeling confident our team would be going some rounds. We faced David Grubnic, who beat us last year at this track, in the first round of eliminations. After making a clean pass and getting the head start off the line, the team ran a 3.82 and advanced to the next round.
In the second round, I faced "The Sarge," Tony Schumacher. I knew this round would be a tough one for my team, but I was still feeling confident about turning on the win light. After another solid pass, our team improved, running a 3.80 and getting to the finish line first. Getting out of my car at the top end I was still running on adrenaline and beyond excited! My energy was through the roof because our team had just taken out the champion.
Schumacher is the seven-time Top Fuel champ and the one competitor I have always dreamed of beating. After the run, he came over to congratulate me and I hugged him knowing that round win will always be a big moment in my career.
Round 3, my team was running against Steve Torrence and we managed to get past him and got another win. We were now going into the finals. Three interviews and three laps in one day was something new to me, and I was loving every second of going rounds on race day!
I ran Super Comp for three years, A-fuel for two years and had still never made it to a final. This was going to be my first final round and it all seemed so surreal to me. Last year, I constantly thought about going into a final and worried about how stressed and nervous I would be. My biggest concern was how I would react under pressure. I feared I would be so overwhelmed I would not perform my best and would cost the team a win.
Heading up to the final, I was wrong. More than anything, I was excited! Going rounds was so exhilarating and so much fun, the fear had been driven out. My team was also on a high keeping each other and me motivated between rounds. It seemed like the day had gone by so fast as we headed up to the starting line for the last time. I knew no matter what, my team would be at the top end to pat me on the back and would be proud of what we had accomplished. After a close race, Antron Brown crossed the finish line first and got the win.
Our day had come to an end, but I was still smiling climbing out of my car at the top end. I had my best reaction time of the weekend and my team gave me a car that ran a 3.79! We got beat but put on an awesome show for the fans! This weekend the team proved our strength and that we are ready for the historic GatorNationals in Gainesville, Fla., on March 13-16.