The way Matt Hartford sees it, the modified 18-race schedule for Pro Stock this year is the gift that keeps on giving. He doesn’t have the time or the budget to compete in 24 events, but a shortened calendar presents a unique opportunity to finally pursue a Mello Yello series championship. After the first five events, the former Sport Compact series star is right on schedule. He went to the final round at his home event in Phoenix and again in Las Vegas and he entered the Chicago race ranked fourth in the Mello Yello standings. More importantly, at least in Hartford’s mind, is that he’s qualified sixth or better in all but one event, a testament to the horsepower he’s getting past part of a least agreement with the Elite Performance team.
“I like where I am,” said Hartford. “I liked it a lot better before I lost in the first round in Richmond and dropped from third to fourth in points but I think we’re doing pretty well so far. It’s a good start to the season but it’s just a start. I need to get my head on straight [as a driver]. Two finals is pretty good in this class but we can do better. We need to be consistent and not have those first round losses, especially after we qualify in the top half of the field.”
In previous years, Hartford has raced a partial schedule and that made it difficult for him to find his rhythm as a driver. He’d often run an event, and then be out of the car for a month or more while he returned home to work at Total Seal. Ironically, Hartford and the rest of the class faced a similar situation this season when the Pro Stock class took a lengthy break between the Las Vegas and Richmond events.
“I’ve made some errors and you want to have every chance to make up for them,” said Hartford. “Qualifying is so important but even that doesn’t guarantee success. I was No. 6 in Richmond and watched Chris [McGaha] come in and run low E.T. of eliminations. You just have to take those losses and move on.”
In addition to his engine leasing agreement with the Elite team, Hartford has financial backing from former Pro Stock driver Ken Koretsky and his car is tuned by Eddie Guaranaccia, Koretsky’s longtime friend and crew chief. Guaranaccia’s strength is in clutch tuning, and that has been a critical component in Hartford’s success including his first national event win last year in Houston.
“I run some clutch components that I’m pretty sure no one else runs,” said Guaranaccia. “I finally realized that when we got the new rules with fuel injection and the 10,500 rpm limit, it brought us back to the same power levels we had in 2012 when we had carburetors so I more or less went back to the records I used seven years ago. A lot has changed since then so it’s not as easy as just using the same set-up, but all the data is relevant. We’ve got good power and Matt has got plenty of experience as a driver so I’m not surprised that we’re doing as well as we are in the points. We just need to keep it up.”
On Friday in Chicago, Hartford was not only the quickest of the Elite drivers, but he was just three-thousands off the pace set by provisional low qualifier Jason Line with a 6.585 in his Total Seal entry.