BRISTOL, Tenn. — official release — dragcoverage.com photo — After back-to-back victories in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, Spencer Massey suffered a first-round loss at the most recent event in Englishtown.
But to hear the ever-optimistic Top Fuel standout talk, he may be as thrilled to get back in his 10,000-horsepower Battery Extender by Schumacher Electric dragster as he has been at any point in 2014.
“I’m definitely excited to get back out there because I feel like we have our race car back,” Massey said. “The car is moving in the right direction. We need to be running strong and need to be consistently in the 3.70s, and after Englishtown I feel like we have a car and motor that can make that power. Hopefully we can go back to the final round in Bristol and maybe even win it this year.”
Massey and the rest of the NHRA stars return to action June 13-15 for the 14th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), who beat Massey in the final round, John Force (Funny Car) and Rodger Brogdon (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event.
It is the 10th of 24 events during the 2014 NHRA season and Massey, currently fourth in points, seems intent to make a major statement during the busy summer stretch.
He won two straight races in Atlanta and Topeka, but didn’t dominate at either, qualifying 12th in Topeka. But Massey and his team, led by crew chiefs Phil Shuler and Todd Okuhara, were encouraged after Englishtown, despite a first-round loss to Brittany Force. It was the team’s first first-round loss in 2014, an impressive nod to the team’s early-season consistency, but Massey saw the signs that his car is ready to take the next step in performance.
It couldn’t come at a better time, either, as the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals kick off a stretch of four straight race weekends and seven races in eight weeks.
“The car wants to go fast now,” Massey said. “This four-race swing is going to be intense, but we enjoy that. It’s where this team seems to thrive. Our crew has done a great job, and with myself, Phil and Todd, we’ve got a great relationship where we can work though a lot of give and take situations. We all know what it takes during these busy stretches and we’re ready for it.”
That comfort level despite the rigorous upcoming stretch comes from Massey’s ability to work closely with Okuhara and Shuler. With constant communication taking place they are able to put together an impressive game plan, knowing when to push the car when the situation calls for it and knowing when to rely on Massey’s standout talent on the starting line.
Those pressure-packed situations also seem to bring out the best in Massey, who has 16 career victories.
“I like being the best on the tree and I take a lot of pride in that,” Massey said. “I practice it and I thrive in those pressure situations. I enjoy it and you need to do well in those situations, especially during the summer months when the driver may need to get you a couple hundredths.”
Massey had the best of both worlds a year ago at historic Thunder Valley, racing to the No. 1 qualifier, his only one during the 2013 season, and finishing as the runner-up. He hopes to take it one more step this season, though a loaded Top Fuel field has other ideas.
Torrence recorded his first win at Bristol a year ago, but has yet to taste victory in 2014, while everyone is looking up at Doug Kalitta, a three-time winner in Bristol. Other marquee challengers include five-time Bristol winner Tony Schumacher, 2012 world champion Antron Brown, reigning world champ Shawn Langdon, J.R. Todd and Englishtown winner Richie Crampton.
The Bristol experience is enough to get Massey excited for the event, but he believes his team also knows how to succeed at the popular facility.
“It’s cool for the fans and cool for the drivers, and it’s one of those deals where you don’t feel and hear these cars quite like you do in Bristol,” Massey said. “It’s a first-class facility and the track is always good. What makes it special is that you have to be able to run a great time on Friday and then have the driver and crew chief stand out on Sunday when the temperature is so much different.”