The Western Swing was solid but we felt like we left something on the table at all of the races. We dropped cylinders at two of the three events and smoked the tires at Seattle which is not what we had planned. We qualified well 4th, 1st, and 3rd and were bouncing between 6th and 7th in points so we’re going into Indy feeling confident. Between all of the races, I got to spend some time with Snap-on franchisees Kenny Wells, Elson Chan, & Kenny Voss. It was great to meet all of their customers and host big groups out at our track-side hospitality.
After the Swing, I headed out to Vegas for the Snap-on Franchisee Conference, where they host a large group of their franchisees and their families. It was held at the South Point hotel and we had a lot of fun. We had three show cars at the event. The Snap-on Masters of Metal Tour was there which has one of our cars on display, and showcases everything from their diagnostics machines to their latest greatest hand tools. If you’ve never seen it, check it out online for their tour dates. We also took our other two show cars and they were looking good. One of the cars is a running show car so we can start it at any event. We hung out with a lot of franchisees at SFC and went out each evening to participate in the events and meet new people. What’s really cool about it is with every race I go to and do a ride along; I meet new people so I know more and more people each year I go to this event. It was really awesome and I look forward to seeing them out at the track. We’re hoping to get a win for those guys soon!
Brainerd overall was a good race for us. Again, we didn’t close the deal like we wanted but the slowest the car ran in the three runs it made it down the track, was a 4.07 at 311mph which is stellar. We did experience some issues like losing a blower belt and losing blower studs against Force in the 2nd round so we did have a little bit of trauma going on in the engine. We’ve checked the car over with a fine tooth comb to get ready for the US Nationals, our biggest race of the year.
People ask all the time what my favorite track is and I’ll say Denver, Charlotte, or Pomona but really the number one race in my eyes is the U.S. Nationals. It’s the biggest race of the year, pays the most for a win, is the cut off for the Countdown to the Championship, and I just love the history behind this track. It’s the most prestigious race. I think I’ve won more rounds at this event than any on the circuit and I’ve won it three times. I’m looking for that fourth win so I can be in line with some of the all-time greats.
We’re also having an open house at our shop this Thursday before the race, from 3-7, for any fans who’ll be in the Indy area and can stop by. There will be plenty of food and beverages as well as raffles every hour. Please plan to join us.
We’re bringing a great Snap-on Toyota to the party. This car has made a number of great runs this year and has gone a lot of rounds; we just haven’t punched it through. A win this weekend would definitely make our season and get us ready for the Countdown!
Before Joliet, the whole team went to a picnic in Kenosha at Snap-on headquarters and it was really cool. We had lunch with the employees, took a tour of the Snap-on museum, and went old school on ‘em and left the body on the car while we started it and even whacked the throttle. Only to be outdone by Barrie Young, aka Bazzz, who has a Camaro bodied nostalgia funny car and he started his too on 90 percent nitro which gave it a little more pop. We got a lot of excitement from everyone who was there. We had the Wounded Warrior body on the car which started our week in Joliet.
After the picnic, I went on a ride along with Mike Chraponski, a seven-year veteran. We went to a few dealerships and handed out some tickets to the race and parts off my race car. One of the guys we visited had just bought a tool box from Mike the week before and he was a huge fan so it was a surprise for him! All you have to do is be a Snap-on customer and you never know what kind of surprise you’ll get.
The off-track events at Joliet were great. We hosted about 30 Wounded Warriors and guests in hospitality on Saturday. They visited with the team, toured the trailer and even signed the car! The CEO of Snap-on, Nick Pinchuk and many others from Snap-on headquarters spent the whole day with us too, so it was a great day!
Just when I think we’re getting on track with the race car, there always seems to be something that comes up and gets in our way. In Q1 on Friday, we were third-quick but on the night session, we lost a blower belt on what would’ve been a top five run. Then on Saturday, we opened the day with a nice run which put us third of the session then in the night session, we dropped a cylinder. In the first round, we had a tough opponent in Robert Hight and basically got our doors blown off. That prompted us to stay and test on Monday which we did. We went back to how we ran the car (motor and clutch) last year 100 percent and we did great right out of the gate!
The turnaround for our team at Norwalk was amazing. We’re starting to get with the new “old” setup and it’s becoming more efficient to work with Lee and all the things he brings to the table along with what we already had. We’ve been finding and eliminating a lot of errors on our part and find that consistency we once had.
In Norwalk, I rode with franchisee, David Banker. We did the grill out at one of his stops and the owners had all of their customers along with other customers from David’s route out for a cookout. As Norwalk will probably be remembered as the hottest race in the history of mankind, we still had a fun time.
The race at Norwalk was solid. We had a packed house in hospitality on Saturday and Sunday even through the scorching heat! We qualified third and we picked up some bonus points on Friday and Saturday. On race day, we were the second quickest car in the first and second round. In the semis, we just missed the setup and spun the tires. I don’t blame the track; I’d just say that we didn’t make the necessary adjustments. We’re going to incorporate a new track reading strategy that we’ll debut in Denver to give us a better idea of the track conditions and the grip. We do it cave man style right now by sending a crew member out to twist his foot on the track. LOL! The best news is we moved up to seventh in points!
Denver is my second favorite race next to Indy. It's one of my best tracks, I love the facility, I love the fans and we perform well there. We were runner-up two years in a row and set the track record last year, being the first Funny Car in the 4.0s. We're hoping to go back there this year and win it so we can move back into the top five in points. We only have five races before they cut off for the Countdown so we're hoping to put this Snap-on Toyota in striking distance to the leader so we're right there in the end.
Thursday before Bristol, I went to Snap-on headquarters in Kenosha, Wis., for the Wounded Warrior Ride. This was a special event where we unveiled the paint scheme for the Chicago race. I got to meet many heroes and listen to their stories. It’s amazing what these veterans have sacrificed for our freedom. Toby Montoya spoke to a large group and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the crowd. He along with about 15 other Wounded Warriors and their guests will join us this weekend in Chicago so come by and show your appreciation!
Bristol was a race that we had to recover from our E-town event where we struggled just to get the car to go down the track. We misfired both runs on Friday but the good news is we’ve recognized the problem area, the clutch department. On Saturday, we answered the call. We finally got the car adjusted properly and made two great runs. We ran a 4.12 on a 121-degree track (quickest run of the session) which got us three bonus points and a 4.14 (4th quick). We hadn’t made two solid back to back runs in a while so that gave us a lot of confidence going into race day. Sunday, there was a little question and controversy over the race track. I’ve never been one to make excuses or blame the track. I always feel like the track conditions are what they are and we all must adjust accordingly. There were a lot of cars spinning the tires on the left lane and we were no different. Looking back on it, I think we were just good old fashioned too aggressive. We were trying to go faster than the track would allow and it bit us. It was a tough loss but I feel like every time we have these miscues, we learn something. The idea now is to start fine tuning because we’re getting into the summer and every track is going to have its challenges. I’m as confident as I’ve ever been. Lee and I looked at the data and know there are things we could’ve done different. I’ve been working with Tony to setup his car and we made some good runs with it, five out of six down the track, and all competitive. I’m happy for Tony that he’s getting back on track.
I spent last Thursday and Friday with my good friend Glenn Styres and his crew at Ohsweken Speedway. I ran a 360 winged sprint car at his track and had a lot of fun. Most of my funny car crew was there and everyone enjoyed watching some dirt track racing. Next, Tony and I went to Toronto Motorsports Park for a two day match race. We pulled out our brand new McKinney car. It’s lightweight, with titanium all over. There’s nothing wrong with our old car, but we’re just preparing as we get into the busy and most important part of our season. We want to start edging our way back into the top five so we want to make sure that we have our best equipment out on the race track. We made three runs and ended up setting the track record and becoming the Canadian National Champions!
Last but not least, the Prelude to the Dream, what an event! Feed the Children Foundation was the organization that received the profits of that awesome event. Tony Stewart always has a first class staff and really welcomes all the drivers. I’m so glad to be a part of it and between myself and Ron Capps, we represented drag racing well. I started 18th and worked myself up to 3rd right behind Kasey Kahne and Kyle Bush. When Kasey got into a spin, I got bumped to 2nd but there were still 15 laps to go and I just lost grip so I ended 7th. The cars that passed me were none other than guys like Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, and Donny Shatz (World of Outlaws). To run up front with the greatest drivers out there was amazing. Also, by finishing in the top ten, I got to send a food truck to a city of my choice. I chose El Paso, Texas, where my Dad was from and we still have family out there so it’s a special place to me.
We race at the track in Chicago this weekend and it’s close to Indy, so it's like a home track for us. It's a race that I'd love to win! It's a track that I've never won at and those are where you really want to punch it in. We're also going to run the Wounded Warrior special paint scheme this weekend so we'll have a big group from Snap-on and Wounded Warriors out there. I don't look at is as pressure, but a really big cheering section.
Before the race in Commerce, I went to Atlanta for the Coca-Cola champion’s dinner. It was fun as always and we really appreciate the support they give to the NHRA. I’d like to thank Ben Reiling and his group for inviting all of the NHRA champions to the World of Coke for a nice evening. It’s an elite group that attends so I’m proud that Tony and I get to represent the Pedregon team.
On Thursday, I went to the Snap-on grill out and it was awesome. We were outside at a park and had a lot of customers participate. The franchisees are really doing a great job getting the customers excited about our visits and doing lots of giveaways.
The Atlanta race was good and we qualified in the top five again. We have a great record with the Snap-on car qualifying in the top group this year. We were consistent and doing everything right but unfortunately in the second round, we broke our 16-run streak of not spinning the tires. It got hot on us and we slipped up so within 100 feet, I had to get off and on throttle. It was a shame because like several races this year, we felt like we were contenders to win the event but we’ll carry on to Topeka.
During the off week, we got our new body back from Steve Dekkenga who painted it and it looks really hot. What an artist this guy is! For the first time in years, we have a painted body and we even added two unique things that you’ll have to come by the pit to see. I’ll give you a hint…one is on the back of the car and the other is by the trunk. It’s really different and something no one else has on their Funny Car or dragster so you guys should come check it out.
Now we’re in Topeka, a track that was so good to me in the 90s. We used to go there with the McDonald's car and at least win one of the two events at the time. For whatever reason, that's just been one of my tracks and we've knocked on the door the last couple of years. It's a unique track, out in the middle of the country and was one of the first super tracks built. We're looking forward to seeing all the Snap-on customers out there and we're definitely ready to win!