In the last three races, Blake Alexander has qualified No. 6, No. 3, and No. 5 in the Funny Car class, and last week in Topeka, he was rewarded with his first semifinal finish of the season. That represents true progress for one of the sport’s best independent Funny Car teams, and for Alexander and owner/crew chief Jim Head it’s easy for them to pinpoint the turning point of their season.
“Oh, it was the test session in Indy for sure,” Head noted. “We’ve had a problem with this car for two years and we finally fixed it when we went to Indy and made a few runs. We’ve been pretty good ever since.”
Head also didn’t hesitate when asked to pinpoint the source of the team’s issues.
“Clutch. It was all in the bell housing,” he said. “It usually is. For years I’ve been saying that a nitro engine is just a big ignorant flywheel. I took a lot of crap for that when I first said it 30 years ago but it was true then and it was true now. All of these cars make a lot of power but if you can’t manage it, you’ve got nothing. Some crew chiefs want a smart engine. I want a smart clutch. It doesn’t work that way in any other form of motorsports but nitro racing is different. Since we fixed out clutch the car has been happy and it’s a lot easier to tune a car that’s happy.”
As Alexander has discovered, it’s also easier to drive a car that’s happy, which helps expalain how he’s been able to close in on a spot in the Top 10 over the past few races, even though the team sat out the Denver event.
“Well, I get to throw the chutes a lot more often lately,” Alexander joked. “Honestly, the car is just going down the track more often and that represents a lot of progress for us. The car isn’t dropping cylinders now, and that’s a really big deal, from both a tuning and a driving standpoint. As Jim said, we just went testing and everyone on the crew worked until we found a solution to our problems.”
On Friday in Brainerd, Alexander ran a 3.99 in the Pronto Auto-backed entry that was good for the No. 7 spot in the field.
“That run wasn’t as fast as we wanted it to be but it wasn’t bad for the conditions,” Alexander said. “Friday, it was hot and humid and we had some of the worst air we’ve seen in a long time. That being said, the track here in Brainerd is very good so we should be able to use more power here.”
When it comes to fuel racing, Head’s philosophy has always been the same.
“I want my time slip to read zero,” he says. “I say that to people and they laugh and say, ‘Well Jim, that’s impossible.’ I know it is but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying to get there. No matter what you run, you can always look at what you did and learn a way to go faster and that’s what keeps me out here. I want to win races, but I also want to have low E.T. in every round of qualifying and all four rounds on race day. That’s just the way I’ve always look at this.”
On Saturday, Alexander made a slight improvement during the first qualifying session with a 3.961 to maintain his spot in the top half of the field.