Lee Callaway will join the ranks of NHRA Top Fuel drivers this weekend as he makes his debut in Scott Palmer’s Magic Dry dragster. The former national event-winning Top Alcohol Dragster driver completed his licensing last week and will campaign his own car next season.
The Texan had hoped to make his debut earlier this season, but the recent flooding in the Houston area has kept the Baytown-based businessman swamped --- literally. Callaway not only runs Callaway Collision but also runs an impound facility for the district where previously submerged vehicles are towed to be reunited with their soggy owners.
“The cars all get towed to my facility where the owners and the insurance people are trying to locate them,” he said. “I have people calling me to get their cars from their house, too. We’ve been busy; we’d handle more than 100 cars in 48 hours.”
Palmer stepped in and offered his 3.7-second-ready car and crew to help speed up the process.
Callaway has driven blown Alcohol and A/Fuel dragsters as well as a supercharged Alcohol Funny Car and won in all three of them at various levels, including at the 2016 SpringNationals in Houston, where he beat world champ Joey Severance to win in Alcohol Dragster.
To be honest, Top Fuel was never really on Callaway’s radar, and it wasn’t until Palmer began to strongly urge him on that he agreed to take the plunge. Callaway spent some time on the sidelines with the combination of no alcohol racing at the Houston event and the increasing demands of his business, but Palmer was the key.
“Without having someone like Scott to help you it’s hard to get out there and not look like a fool,” he said. “I didn’t want to get into uncharted waters by myself. When I had the alcohol car, I tuned it, drove it, paid for it, built the engines, and drove the truck and trailer. I didn’t know anything about Top Fuel and didn’t want to start all over by myself.
“If I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do it right, with all of the right stuff.”
“Instead of him bringing an untested car here because we’re not in the Countdown it made more sense to lend him mine, which we think will give him a good shot at qualifying at his first race,” said Palmer. “If we could get him in the show at his first race, that would be amazing.
Callaway made his first runs in Palmer’s car after the event here last year and finished up licensing last weekend at Tulsa Raceway Park, making a series of 3.9-second-equivalent passes. His first run today will be a planned shutoff before Palmer and the crew start to pour the coals to the rookie driver’s ride.
“The cars pretty much leave the same, but it’s what happens after that that really opens your eyes," said Callaway, comparing his new nitro ride to his alcohol cars. "Once the clutch locks up, it really takes off. With the alcohol cars, after you get them in high gear, you’re just riding along. After the 330[-foot mark], you just go ahead and put your hand on the parachutes and wait for the finish line. This thing [the Top Fuel car], you’re still holding on. It pulls so hard that we can see it trying to pull my foot off the throttle; not enough to affect the run but we can see it on the computer.”
Callaway also has been getting driving instruction from fellow Texan and former event-winning Top Fuel driver Spencer Massey, and when he debuts his own car at next year’s Houston event, former Alcohol Dragster world champ Tom Conway, whose A/Fuel car Callaway drove in 2006, will serve as his crew chief with input from Palmer. He’ll probably run a four-race season -– Houston Dallas, and fall Vegas, plus one other to-be-determined event -– to get his feet wet.
UPDATE: Callaway ran a stellar 3.80 pass on his first qualifying run (plus a bonus interview with Scott Palmer). Watch it below: