Heading into its 2017 national event debut at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, the Follow A Dream/Permatex Top Alcohol Funny Car team feels like it has already gone through a season's worth of adversity..
Early last week en route to Gainesville Raceway for the Division 2 Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event that precedes the Gatornationals, the team's transporter broke down, forcing it to be towed about 50 miles to the track so that repairs could be made. Then, the airplane on which driver Phil Burkart was flying from New York to Florida experienced engine failure and had to make an emergency landing in Tennessee.
After Burkart made it to the dragstrip, the data logger that the team installed during the offseason inexplicably broke, forcing crew chief/tuner Anthony Terenzio to run the car without one of the most important things needed in drag racing: computer data.
"That was pure torture for Anthony," team owner Jay Blake said. "Still, Anthony did a great job. He did it by feel, going in blind, really, and doing it the old-fashioned way. Anthony, Phil and everybody worked great together. We did it the old school way."
All in all, though, the team became much stronger because of all that adversity. It did well in two days of testing at Gainesville, and then qualified fourth and reached the semifinals.
"There were a lot of good things, way more good things than bad, so it was really a good weekend," Blake said.
Now, the team picks up where it left off last weekend, still at Gainesville, in this weekend's national event.
"It's like in life, you have all kinds of adversity but you've got to keep going," Blake said. "The number and caliber of cars and the quality of racing will be a little bigger at the Gators, but they're both just as important as the other. You want to win it - it's the Gators - but you don't do anything different."
The Follow A Dream/Permatex TA/FC team has had good luck over the years at the Gatornationals, one of the biggest national events on the NHRA circuit, including winning it in 2006 with Dave Ray behind the wheel.
"The national events, there's TV coverage and more prestige in winning them," Blake said. "You want to win the big ones and win them more than once. But you always want to win."
Adding to last weekend's success, Blake and the team also hosted 10-year-old Dwayne Lewis, who like Blake is also visually impaired.
"His parents brought him to the racetrack and they spent the day with us," Blake said. "Phil showed him the whole car and was absolutely awesome with him. He was just great. It was fun to have him there with us on Saturday."