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A bump in the road in CharlotteThursday, April 25, 2013

After celebrating our Vegas win for a week, we headed out to Charlotte for the Four-Wide Nationals. We started out spending some time with franchisee Gabe Cestaro at the Grill n’ Chill event and it was awesome! I had the opportunity to take some pictures next to the 2nd largest rubber tire loader that Caterpillar makes, called a 993 and it’s about as big as a two story building. The tires on it were about the height of our race trailer which is over 12’ tall. I got to sit in it and they let me do everything but drive it. LOL! Blanchard CAT, where the Grill n’ Chill was held, owns 14 dealerships in South Carolina and the guys there were great hosts. We cooked up some food on a Snap-on grill and they gave away all sorts of prizes, including a foosball table. Gabe not only put this event together, but he was also the honorary franchisee for the race weekend, and he and all his guests had a great time. He’s only been a franchisee for a year and a half, but he’s already among the top in sales, so he kicks butt! He’s enthusiastic and a real people person, so it was a pleasure to spend time with him throughout the weekend.

As far as the race goes, it was the complete opposite of Vegas. On Friday, we had conditions that were humid, then we had a cold front come in. We thought we had a nice set-up for qualifying, but then we had to go through scramble mode, and we just flat out over-powered the track all weekend.

We did have a clutch malfunction during one run, which was my fault. I miscalculated one of the accessories and had to get a lesson from Dave at Electrimotion on fine-tuning this particular part. We’ve worked hard to have better parts from the cylinder heads to the top, which is making the car more efficient and better for the long haul, but there are definitely some learning curves that come along with that. It can make it difficult because you have to deviate from the notes you usually rely on and make an educated guess about where you need to be. It also didn’t help that we lost two runs on Friday due to weather.

As you can probably tell by looking at the times throughout the weekend, the conditions weren’t that great, and it wasn’t the best racing we’ve had at that track. I think it was a combination of the cooler track temps and for whatever reason, the track wasn’t in its normal super-bad, double throw-down condition. I always say that’s it our job, as racers, to adjust, and Matt Hagan’s car is the one that figured it out this weekend and won the race. I told the guys after that everybody has weekends like this, and we’ll just shake it off and move to the next one. J

Although it’s not a race to remember, we did manage to move up to 2nd in points! Very proud of the team to be in such a great position after the first five events! Now, it’s time to get ready for Houston and get back in our groove. It’s a track that I enjoy, and I think we’ll come into this track with some good information from Charlotte. I feel confident that we’ll come out Friday firing and can keep our momentum rolling.

Rocking and rollingFriday, April 12, 2013

Hey everyone! I spent a little time at Toyota’s headquarters in California before the race in Vegas. It’s always fun to see that whole group, not only the NHRA guys but the NASCAR drivers and everyone else. Toyota provides a lot of support for racing so it’s great to see team Toyota get some wins. There were a lot of people there who work at Toyota in Torrance, which is right down the street from where I was born, so it’s good to be there and sign autographs for that group. I was even sitting next to Ivan “Iron Man” Stewart who’s a big star in off-road so it was cool to be a part of that. There were also motorcycle and rally car racers there so that just goes to show the variety of racing that they sponsor. We’d like to thank them for all they do for us!

So, we planned on going to Vegas to rock n’ roll and that’s exactly what we did!

We started out the week hanging with Snap-on franchisee Dave Ruskowitz. It never ceases to amaze me the different kinds of businesses that need and use Snap-on tools. The Vegas cookout was at a bus depot which I thought was very interesting. They had these giant jacks that lifted a Greyhound-sized bus up in the air about 8 feet so they could take the transmission out. The tools and technology they use are amazing. Heck, we used to use a forklift and a bunch of wood to lift up a truck half that height to work on it. LOL! Dave was also the honorary franchisee for the weekend and he has one of the nicest trucks I’ve ever seen! He was there all weekend with some customers so we had a good time.

When we got to race weekend, Friday was a struggle and we were 0 for 2 on the first two runs. We’ve changed the engine combo a little from last year trying to get better and take advantage of some new technology and we hadn’t run the car in such hot conditions yet. The track temp was pushing 120 degrees on Friday which was challenging but we came back strong on Saturday. We ran back to back 4.11s which were first and fourth quickest of the sessions. On Sunday, we were on it. The conditions were windy, blowing sand and dust on the track which made the track difficult and a lot of the top cars in Top Fuel and Funny Car were smoking the tires right at the hit of the throttle. We made some good adjustments and pulled it back quite a bit. Densham gave us a close race in the first round but after that, we got past Johnny Gray, then Alexis DeJoria.

The final round was against Courtney Force and was going to be close any way you slice it. She had lane choice so we went into the left lane that everyone was saying was less than favorable but we made it work. We were aggressive but felt like we made some good moves. Then the car wouldn’t go in reverse which was a nail biter and what I thought was going to be the end of our day. The next thing I knew, some of my crew guys and some of NHRA‘s personnel pushed the car back to the starting line. I had no idea if I was going to have to shut the car off or if the reverser would cause problems going down the track. I had all these things going through my head but when I got back to the line and saw Courtney hadn’t staged yet (which we appreciated), I thought “let’s get it on”! We ran a 4.17 and got the win light!

It was a great, great win for the team, Snap-on, Toyota, Sioux City, Lucas Oil, Burris Racing, Blue Media, and all of our supporters! I have to really hand it to our guys because the NHRA gave us very short turn-around times (due to TV) in the semis and finals but my guys, headed up by Warrior and Todd, got it done. This WIN was truly a team effort! Our performance in Vegas also moved us up to third in points and qualified us to race in the Traxxas Shootout in Indy!

Things are really clicking and I can’t wait to go to the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte in two weeks and keep this momentum going. We made some mistakes and still have some work to do but we’re confident and ready! 

A good Gainesville outingWednesday, March 27, 2013

Hope everyone has enjoyed the season as much as we have so far. I started out my week in Gainesville on a ride along with Snap-on franchisee Jamie Perez. We spent some time in the area in January at the Snap-on Kick-off meeting so I already knew a lot of the guys, which made it cool. Jamie Perez is a great guy and loves racing. We went to visit a few shops on his route, and I was able to hand some of his top customers a set of free tickets to the race and hospitality, and they were all very excited. We do these events at every race, so talk to your local franchisee and maybe someday we’ll stop by to see you!

Once we got to the track, the Snap-on Toyota was on its game. We unloaded with a No. 1 time of 4.05 with the next best being a 4.12, so it was nice to be the only car in the 4.0s. That meant the tune-up was right and everything was clicking. On the second run, we improved it even more and went 4.04 at 296 mph. We burnt a piston at about ¾-track, so we lost some speed, but that run could’ve easily been a 4.02. We struggled on Saturday; on the first run we had a supercharger that we weren’t happy with and were a little too conservative, so it shook the tires at about 100 feet. Q4 on Saturday, we broke an intake valve adjuster, and right as I was staging the car, I felt it, so I shut it off to save the damage it could’ve caused. At the time, I reported that we ran out of fuel because of the way the engine revved up but later figured out what the true culprit was. I apologize to my fuel man. ? The fun thing about our team is that everyone knows the potential of our car, so they work really hard to make sure everything is perfect. I like to laugh about things afterwards, and the team responds well to that. In fact, on one of the runs, I asked Warrior if he thought we should richen or lean out the fuel, and he said lean and I said richen, so I told him it was his rear if we burnt up a cylinder, and he turned right around and said it’s your butt if we drop a cylinder. LOL! Racing is a serious endeavor, but we still try to have fun with it, too.

We had a great crowd in hospitality all weekend and want to thank the Snap-on management team for creating so much excitement and packing the house! It’s a great feeling to make a good run and have a tent full of people cheering you on when you get back to the pits.

Race day wasn’t great, but it was good. We ran a 4.04 at 311 mph in E1 and went up against Robert Hight in E2. We were trying to run another 4.04 because the conditions were there, but we left a little too much out there and the car slowed down to a 4.07. Robert stepped up, made a good run and beat us. The 4.07 wasn’t a bad run; in fact, it was the second-quickest time of that round, but unfortunately, we were running against the guy who ran the quickest time of the round. We can look back as a team and know that it was a very good event for us, and we were in position to win the race. Now we’ve just got to set our sights on Vegas and keep getting better.

Speaking of Vegas, I love that race! I wish we didn’t have to drive across the country, but this time off has given the guys an extra week to prepare. We’re hoping to get out there and continue this great momentum we have going. I’m very excited about it and every run we make is thrilling and what we worked so hard during the off-season for. This is what I’ve wanted for years; a car that can go out there and run at the top of the pack.

We’re fifth in points, and our next goal is to advance past the quarterfinals and eventually start winning some races. We’re in great position to do so. So far this year, we’ve qualified 5th, 4th, and 1st, and I’d say we have the best average e.t. out there, which is saying a lot because the competition is stronger than ever. We’re also working hard to grab one of the remaining five spots in the Traxxas Shootout. We’re fixing things as we go and so far so good. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season and a lot more great performances!

Good start to seasonWednesday, March 06, 2013

Hey everyone! Hope you’ve all had a great off season and are as ready as I am to start the NHRA season!

Pomona started out great! We unloaded the car and right off the bat went a 4.09, which put us in the 4th spot. Everything looked good and it was just a good old solid run. On the 2nd and 3rd runs, we struggled with a couple issues that we had to figure out. By the 4th run, we had 2nd quick of the session with a great 4.06 at 310 mph, so we felt confident going into race day.

The very first run on Sunday against Hight, we broke a lock-up lever, which engaged the clutch early which caused it to smoke the tires. That’s happened to us a couple times over the years, so we recognized it right away and knew it was a result of the pedal not being adjusted properly, so we got it fixed. We have a new clutch guy, so he’s working on getting a better feel for it so it doesn’t happen again. After a long delay, we came back for 2nd round and had a good start and were pulling away from Tasca, but the blower studs broke again, which has happened more than I’d like to admit. We had a balance issue somewhere, causing a bad vibration, which sheared the aluminum studs off the blower, causing it to lift. Once it did that, it lost all blower boost and literally shut the engine off. I and the team really spent a lot of the day on Sunday and Monday to figure it out and made some changes to get the car ready for Phoenix. Overall, it was a good race. We overlaid the data from the run against Tasca and it lined right up with our 4.0 flat run so we figured it would’ve run 4.01-4.03 which would’ve been low of the weekend. We remained confident going into the next race.

As usual, we had a full house in hospitality on Saturday and Sunday. I want to thank Mike Gowey, Adam Chambers and staff for putting out the word and making it a great event in California!

We’ve also had a standing invite to go visit our piston supplier, CP Pistons, in Irvine, CA, so a couple of my guys and I went down there on Monday. We learned a lot about the business and what we can do to improve the pistons in our car. What a facility!

Between Pomona and Phoenix, I spent time with Nick Centrella and Snap-on franchisee Dale Warren. We stopped at a couple of shops to visit some customers. I met a lot of people and even signed a really cool Snap-on tool box with a racing stripe. After that, we went to the Bondurant School for a cookout. We had a good turnout, ate hot dogs, hung out and talked about the upcoming race.

As for the race in Phoenix, we started off strong again right out of the gate. We were the #1 qualifier with a 4.07 in Q-1 then proceeded to run three of four qualifying runs in the 4.0s. I’m going to have to make some adjustments on the steering because I got into the wall hard on the left side Saturday and the NHRA guys even came to our shop to download the data. They determined I hit the wall at 17 Gs of lateral G force, which is a pretty hard hit. The great part is it didn’t bend the chassis and we were able to fix it and be ready bright and early Sunday morning. I give a lot of credit to the team for staying up late Saturday night and busting their rears to get all our spare stuff on the body and get our Snap-on Toyota Funny Car ready to race! 
On race day, we had a great 1st round, running a 4.09 against Jeff Arend. In the 2nd round, we had a lead on Capps, but the clutch wore more than we expected, which freed the motor up just enough to drop a cylinder. Even on seven cylinders we were hanging with Capps until mid-course and then the cylinder dropped on the right side, which pushed the car towards the center line. At that point, I couldn’t get it back and the car tapped into the foam blocks. I’m a little bit of a risk taker and admit I was on the throttle a little too long on both the Saturday and Sunday run. Other than adjusting the steering, we’re going to keep on pressing to run the numbers and those things might happen from time to time. I really have to thank the crew again for hanging in there and giving me a great car to run without a worry.

We also started a new program in Phoenix where we’ll recognize a Snap-on franchisee at each race. We will put their name on the window of our Funny Car and host them and their guest for a VIP weekend at the track. In Phoenix, we honored Darrell Malone as a “Master of their Trade.” Darrell was chosen for 37 years of service with Snap-on, 33 of those as a franchisee.

We have a little bit of a break in the shop, which is much needed, and then we’ll be heading off to Gainesville, which is one of my favorite tracks on the east coast. They have a great crowd and we get people from all over the eastern seaboard and tons of people who aren’t even from Florida, which is kinda funny. ? It’s a big event, especially for Snap-on and our hospitality program. I’ve been fortunate to win there a few times (’89 in Alcohol Dragster and ’98 in Funny Car). We’ll try to keep the gators off the track because we’ve got a fast car. I’m so happy with how the car’s running so far this year, and I can’t say enough about the team. We have a real happy, positive group and a lot of great sponsors we’d like to thank: Snap-on, Toyota, Sioux City Truck, Blue Media, Burris Racing and Garmon Diesel.

There’s a lot of good racing out there in Gatorland. We’ll see you at the track!

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