Bob Tasca III: "I haven't been this excited about a season in a long time"
It’s early in the season – with just testing and one day of Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals qualifying behind us — but if there’s an unexpected MVP so far this season, it’s definitely Bob Tasca III.
The veteran Funny Car racer and car dealer entered the offseason without a team after Mike Neff and Jon Schaefer both left to work for Tony Schumacher, taking along the majority of the crew with them.
He surprised everyone by hiring Aaron Brooks and Todd Okuhara, both better known for their work on dragsters than Funny Cars, and then was the runaway sensation in pre-event testing and grabbed the No. 1 spot in Friday’s lone qualifying session.
“What do they say? ‘The sweet taste of serendipity?’ “ said Tasca with a wry smile. “I was thrown a curveball at the end of the season last year and lost all but two of the guys on my team. Being able to bring together Todd Okuhara, who I've known for many years, and Aaron Brooks, who I always admired from afar just for his aggressive nature and attitude, turned out great. Quite frankly, looking back, it's exactly what my program needed. It needed to be shaken up. My car didn't do anything at the beginning of the seasons and didn't do enough at the end of the season to really contend for that championship.
Tasca didn’t reach a final last year until the Norwalk event in June and while he had a strong summer that eventually carried him to fourth place, where he finished the season after just nine round wins in the Countdown to the Championship’s six events.
“The championship is decided in the fall, but the only time we see those conditions [before that] is in the first five races. You can't test in July to get ready for Vegas in the fall. It just doesn't work that way. So the cars that run really good, the first five races, I'm gonna put some money on those cars at the end of the year. Now, they may fumble the ball a little bit in the summer, but the bottom line is to win the championship, you're going to run really, really good at the end of the season. And most of those tracks — not all of them — if you're not running mid- to low-.80s, you're not in the conversation.
“Our whole attitude this offseason was to make the car run better, period. I had a good car in the summer months. But it wasn't good enough, early in the season when the tracks were cool, and certainly wasn't good enough at the end of the season when the tracks get good.
“[Last season] my car could run 3.87 -- you could set a stopwatch to it — but we were in no danger of running 3.83. And this car is capable of running 3.83. We can see it with our early numbers, you can see it in speed – we ran 334 mph on Tuesday [in testing], which is as fast as I've been in two and a half years — so it's a very different attitude on the race car. And I love it, quite frankly, I love the attitude of the team. I love the work ethic. I've never seen attention to detail and work ethic. I haven't been this excited about a season in a long time.”
Tasca explained that Brooks and Okuhara did build on the existing parts rather than starting from scratch over the winter, but put their own spin on the combination.
“They just found a lot of things on the car they didn't like,” said Tasca. “I don't know if it was an oversight or the way they did it. They didn't have the advantage of talking to too many people because there was nobody [left] so at the end of the day, clearly I had a very good baseline. But through testing, we made a lot of changes — probably more than I was comfortable with, to be quite frank with you — but everything that they did the race car liked, and it just picked up and picked up and picked up to the point where this is a very different setup today than what I ran in Pomona.”
While Brooks and Okuhara are both respected and talented tuners, as previously mentioned, they’ve made their bones largely in the Top Fuel ranks. How did Tasca decide to choose them?
“I've known Todd for many, many years. He was a big part of putting my program together in 2017 with the late Eric Lane. I just always loved Todd and his brother’s attention to detail. I didn't know Aaron, but I saw what he was capable of, and I had just a fantastic conversation with him on the phone and I thought the chemistry between Todd and Aaron would be fantastic, even though they've never worked together before. And exactly what I thought has played out.
“I sit up in the lounge and it's just awesome to have two crew chiefs actually having the dialogue. Most of my career — not all my career, but most of my career -— has been one crew chief and if he told the other one to paint the wall pink, he'd go paint the wall pink. I mean, that's just the way it is. There's usually a hierarchy, but Todd and Aaron have great conversations and I think you're going to see it in the racecar. You’re going to see a different Tasca Racing team this year. I couldn't be happier.”