Five years after first dipping his toes in the shark infested waters of the NHRA Pro Stock, Shane Tucker believes its finally time to jump headfirst into the deep end so he’s launched an ambitious plan for 2019 that includes all 18 races that feature Pro Stock cars. Since 2014, Tucker has made 27 total starts in the NHRA Mello Yello series, and never more than ten in any season. The shortened 18-race schedule, combined with a new engine-leasing partnership with Nick Ferri, has given the Australian native all the motivation he needs to pursue his longtime goal of success in the U.S. It took longer than he expected, but Tucker believes he’s finally prepared - mentally, financially, and otherwise, to compete against the sport’s best.
“The 18-race schedule was a certainly a big carrot to dangle in front of us,” said Tucker. “Going to 18-races versus 24 allows more time in my schedule. I still spend a lot of time in Australia running a substantial business and we also have an office in Dallas. I know the Pro Stock class lost a couple of cars last year, but I think we’d have lost them anyway, no matter how many races we had. I think 18-races is going to be good and I think that Rodger [Brogdon] and Bo [Butner] are two perfect examples. I think we’ll see more people come out before too long. You’ve got to look at Pro Stock much like Pro Mod; most of us run a business so need to be home from time to time. The Pro Mod guys would never agree to 24 races. It would be detrimental to the class. I think most of us in Pro Stock are the same way.”
Tucker got started in the Jr. Dragster series and later moved to the Pro Stock class, which in Australia features 400-cid small block engines. He made his NHRA debut at the 2014 season-opener in Pomona, where he qualified on the bump spot and lost to Vincent Nobile in round one. At the next event in Phoenix, Tucker slapped a holeshot on Chris McGaha to turn on his first win light, and in his fifth-career start in Chicago, he made it to the semifinals. Tucker has been around long enough to know the quality of competition that he’s going to be facing, but he’s got his eyes wide open as he prepares for the upcoming 2019 season-opener in Pomona. The biggest change in Tucker’s program, other than the expanded schedule, is the addition of veteran engine builder Ferri, who will supply the fuel injected 500-cid engines for the team’s Auzmet Architectural Camaro. Ferri has had previous success with a number of successful Pro Stock outfits including JEGS, Mike Edwards Motorsports, Cagnazzi Racing, and most recently, Elite Motorsports. He recently launched his own engine building business and has signed Tucker as his core customer. Tommy Lee, another veteran, will return as Tucker’s crew chief.
“Bringing Nick on board with his motor program is something that we thought would be a huge advantage,” said Tucker, who doesn’t’ feel the least bit handicapped racing against the multi-car KB and Elite teams. “It’s no secret that we’ve struggled quite a bit the last few seasons so I think this will boost our program for sure. Don’t want to go out there and be at the back of the pack. I guess when you look at it, Nick has already been successful on single car teams. Erica [Enders] and Elite won their first championship as a single car with Nick, and Mike Edwards raced as a single-car. I think Nick has got much respect in the industry. He has a formula that has worked and it’s still working. Right now, the biggest problem we have is time. We’re two weeks out from testing and there is a lot left to be done but the clock moves at the same rate for everyone.
“In this class, you’re only as good as the engine under the hood; that will make or break you,” said Tucker. “Over the last two years, we were not making bad runs. We just had a lot of problems with reliability issues and broken parts. I have faith in Tommy. The car is there. We just needed to get our engine program in order and that’s what has me so excited for this year.”
While Tucker has raced sporadically at NHRA events over the past five years, he’s always done so with the ultimate goal of contending for a spot in the Countdown to the Championship. Before that could happen, he realized the need to get his business in order. Auzmet Architectural, the family’s commercial façade business, has offices in Dallas and Australia. The company specializes in the design and construction of commercial and buildings. Two of their most notable projects in the U.S. are the headquarters of Traxxas and Summit Racing Equipment.
“We get involved with architects when they come to us with a concept,” Tucker said. “They tell us what they want to build, and we tell them if it’s workable. We do our own drawings and then build and install the façade. We have our own equipment to fabricate in house and have about 40-50 employees. Commercial construction in Australia has slowed down but we have a project going in New Zealand. We have a small office here in Australia that handles that project. This year, I’ll be able to spend more time in Dallas which will be advantageous.”
Three weeks before the season starts, Tucker is halfway around the world, having spent most of the off-season in his home country, where it’s summer. He’s planning a return to the U.S. on February 3 and will head straight for Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Phoenix for a couple of days of testing before heading to Pomona.
“I wouldn’t say we’re ready but we’re not far off,” tucker said. “My father [Rob] is in the U.S. and he drove our truck to Nick’s shop in Utah to get the motor in the car and make sure everything fits. The biggest thing that we face is some of these guys get to make 100 runs before going to Pomona. In the last five years I don’t think I’ve got 100 runs total. That’s another reason why I’m looking forward to 18 races. As a driver I think I confidence suffers a little when you get beat down by engine problems. Once everything starts to come together as far as the engine program, the car reacts better, and driving starts to improve.
When it comes to goals, Tucker doesn’t feel he’s being overly ambitious when he says he wants to win his first NHRA race and qualify for the Countdown to the Championship. With as many as 14 cars scheduled to race the full season, that is far from a given for anyone.
“I’m a competitive guy and I’ve had success before,” Tucker said. “Obviously, not much in NHRA but we’ve done well when we had good power. I do think that if all the pieces fall into place, we’ll be competitive just like everyone else. Last year, we just wanted to qualify. Our expectations are much higher this year.”