Before he could ever think about turning a tire in qualifying at Pacific Raceways, Matt Hartford had some work to do after last weekend’s event in Sonoma. There was the engine with the rod hanging out of it and damage to the carbon fiber body that needed tending to.
These are things that are usually the bane of nitro teams, not Pro Stock teams, but yet there was Hartford, early Friday morning, painstakingly applying new blue wrap to the repaired right front quarter of his Chevy Camaro –- using one of his hero cards to get the straight edge -– trying to not only make it presentable and aero-friendly after huge holes were gouged in the body work after his hit three timing cones in a losing first-round race against Chris McGaha in Sonoma.
“That was a close as you can come to crashing a Pro Stocker with crashing it,” said Hartford, who knows where the edge is having walked away from crashes in St. Louis in 2009 and Denver 2013. “At one point I was looking right at Chris’ door. We’re not sure why it did that. It just drove to the right and got out of the groove, and it was game over. I feel like we were going to beat him; he had four-hundredths on him at the Tree and were still ahead at 330 [feet] when it started going right. I just couldn’t get it to come back.”
Hartford’s brother, Adam, who’s been part of his crew for a few years, did some expert carbon-fiber repair and Matt’s job was to make it look beautiful.
The aforementioned engine malady, fortunately, involved only the team golf’s cart, which gave up the ghost Saturday in Sonoma, forcing them to borrow Joey Grose’s unit Sunday, but they couldn’t do without one for a full event. They couldn’t find a new engine for the cars, but were able to get enough parts together to make a new one.
“It was an early day here [Thursday], a late night, and another early day today trying to get everything fixed,” he said. “But it’s all part of it.”
Sonoma marked the midway point of Pro Stock’s 18-race season and Hartford sits a tidy fifth and pretty much a lock to make his first appearance in the Countdown to the Championship. The 18-race docket has allowed racers like himself and McGaha, who don’t have the time or resources (or desire) to run a 24-race schedule to compete for a championship.
“The most races I’ve ever run was 16 last year, but usually it’s 12 or 13, which is probably what I would have run this year in NHRA hadn’t changed the schedule,” he said. “I think we could have made the Countdown last year because the car was running really well but we missed [Pomona and Gainesville] early in the year.
“So we’re excited to be in the Countdown this year and, to be honest, our goal is to win the championship,” he said. “I think we’ve got a pretty decent chance.”
Hartford, who won his first NHRA Pro Stock race last season in Houston, has gotten close to a second Wally three times this season, with runner-ups in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Denver.