October 11, 2013

For those of you who have been paying attention and are wondering what happened at Indy over the Labour Day weekend the answer is nothing. We did not go. Our adventure in Bowling Green KY. was such that a repeat in Indy would have been the end of the team. After much discussion it was decided that “Mister Magic” Les Mellows would be contacted for help. It turned out the he was excited at the prospect of rejoining our team but had a commitment for Labour Day here in Canada so we took that as a test weekend. We went to the NDRA final race of their season in Cayuga more as a testing session than a race. Les was there and able to tune our car and in short order had us back in the 5.6 second range. Mission accomplished. As an added bonus Dale Boeru (President of NDRA) invited us to compete in this season ending event where we qualified in the #1 position and made it to the final round. We lost to Larry Dobbs who ended up winning the NDRA Championship for the second straight year. Well done to Larry and to Dale for a great series and a second title.

The weekend was not without incident as the car continued to show its age with another chassis fracture. After a track side repair the car was stripped down back at the race shop only to find more cracks, a broken motor plate and clutch can. Mark ( our newest crew member over from the Paton top fuel team) set to correcting the chassis and Paul sent out the clutch can for repair. A new motor plate was ordered and with a month before our final event all looked like it would come together. No one expected the car to blow up during the repair but it did. We were very lucky that there were no injuries, only more parts to buy and a shorting window to get them.

With the car loaded the team set out for Reading Thursday evening, a long 12 hour ride in front of them. We all arrived at the track early Friday morning, set up the pit and readied the car for the first qualifying session at 11:30 that morning. The track was in typical Maple Grove condition ready for anything we could throw at it. With Les at the controls of the tune up and Paul ready for battle in the Meritor/NTN hot rod we made a “ok” first pass running 5.72 @ 256.99 mph. Everyone was conservative with their tune up for the first round so this left us in the top half of the field at # 5. We knew this would not last with 17 cars fighting for a 16 car field and some of the heaviest hitters in the country on the property we were going to have to do better next round.

Conditions were very similar for round two on Friday hot and humid and as much as we thought we would step it up and run quicker this was not to be, registering a slower 5.759 @ 255.87 did not help us and as expected Frank Manzo got it right and nailed down the #1 spot with a fantastic 5.537 @ 261 mph. The computer showed that number 7 cylinder was out for our entire second run which explained our slowing. A new set of plugs and one more chance to improve with the final qualifying session set for Saturday morning. The ride back to the hotel Friday night had Les running through many tuning options, his mind running just about as fast as the car. He told me in the morning that at 1:00am he woke up with the answer and was ready to move up in session #3. The crew of customers, NTN reps and Harman people showed up as planned Saturday along with Walt Sherbourne (a long-time supporter and good friend) from Meritor, his wife and Austin his “Big Brother” boy. Nothing like having extra pressure and the need to improve. Well move up we did, setting everyone else on the property on their ear with a 5.624 @ 257 mph to take the #2 spot. This was what we wanted, the #15 qualifier was our first round opponent in the afternoon and we would not face Frank Manzo until the final if we both made it that far.

Round one saw John Fiorini do what he had to, cutting a great light and leaving on Paul with a .026 reaction time to Paul’s uncharacteristic .128 but” Meritor/NTN” horsepower advantage put the win light on and we were on to round two on Sunday. Our services of the car to this point had just been routine, no broken parts and the chassis was sound. Sunday racing always changes things with much shorter times to turn the car around and higher tension levels as the rounds go by. And by the way Mr. Manzo ran 5.585 just to show everyone what they were up against to win this thing. We settled into a full service along with Les talking to everyone he knew about how to make more horsepower for Sunday.

Rested and ready for round two’s opponent Fred Tigges, we saw the fruits of Les’ efforts come to life, Paul had a better reaction time but Fred left first with a great .026 light. Our new found horsepower sent the Meritor/NTN hot rod to the finish line first with a 5.625 et. to Fred’s 5.685. This set up a rematch of last year with Todd Veney and the Permatex Follow a Dream entry. The performance advantage was with us and Todd knew it. Again he left first with a .025 light to Paul’s .106 and again the Les Mellows tune up made the difference with a 5.609 et with a speed of 257mph we were off to the final. Much to everyone’s surprise Frank Manzo was beaten by Mickey Ferro. We were so looking forward to a repeat of the final last year and a change to even the score. Mickey would be an equally tough opponent having run 5.580 against Manzo for the win. Did I say we were going to the final, what a weekend of racing this has been, services in very short time slots, lots of humidity and heat but most importantly fantastic support from our fans, sponsors and local helper Ken and his wife Meme.

This was the first time all weekend long that the Meritor/NTN hot rod did not have lane choice and Mickey put us in the left lane. We had not been there since qualifying on Friday but this race track is so good I really don’t think it matters. A little hick up at fire up was quickly corrected by Les and the car came to life. Burnouts completed (Paul later said the car was a rocket ship in the burnout) and the cars staged, life slowed down as it always does and the 5 second race seemed to take many minutes. For the first time all weekend Paul left first, .035 to Mickey’s .076 and the results are history. The Meritor/NTN hot rod turned on the win light with a 5.612 et. @ 258.12 mph to Mickey quicker 5.599 @ 258.52. Paul had a .043 advantage on the start which gave us the win by .030 at the finish line. The feeling and emotions that happen when you win a national event for the first time are unexplainable, six grown men crying on the starting line, hugging anything that moves and shouting all at the same time. We have done it, beaten the best in the country and have a Wally to prove it. It still breaks me up just to write these words. This will be sometime I cherish from here on out. The whole team won this event, after a season that would have most saying I’ve had enough we persevered and got the gold ring. Cannot say enough about all that made this possible, Paul, Les Tim, Randy, Mark, Ian and Ken gave this team everything they had both here at the track and at home in the shop and behind the scenes with never ending effort. Congratulations to all on a well-deserved win. Also a big thank you to Meritor, Krista Sohm, Marty Hetherington, Walt Sherbourne and Pedro Ferro who have seen the value in this team and also to Paul Meo from NTN. Without their support none of this could happen. It would not be complete without thanking the wives and girlfriends of all the team members who put up with missing partners on great summer weekends, late nights in the shop and preoccupied thoughts about racing. Thanks to Gina and Brooklyn for being Paul’s #1 support team.

On a personal note this was extra special for me as Ian and I have been coming to Maple Grove for over 18 years either as spectators or competitors and with the coming of his first child this year he had not made it to any of our races. To lift the Wally over our heads together here at this track was a magic moment. Look out 2014.