They've been together a decade, but Pro Stock racer Matt Hartford and crew chief Eddie Guarnaccia have never before seen a year like this. After a stumble in St. Louis, the challenge for the last three races of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship will be steep — but this season, they've proven they have the car and experience to climb their way back to the top.
Thus far in 2023, Guarnaccia assisted the Total Seal/CIP 1 Chevrolet Camaro to four starts from the No. 1 position and three trophies in four final rounds with Hartford behind the wheel. Prior to the 2023 season of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series, Hartford — a driver and businessman who resides in Scottsdale, Ariz. — had never before sat atop the pack heading into race day, and this year, he's doubled his tally of career final-round appearances. That should give his crew chief something to smile about as they enter this last trio of events less than two rounds out of the lead, even after a first-round exit at the NHRA Midwest Nationals two weeks ago.
Guarnaccia, however — in typical crew-chief fashion — is neither celebratory nor downtrodden. He is simply steady and realistic.
"I don't think it's any different than it's been all year," said the drag racing veteran who first joined Hartford's team in 2013. "When the points reset, we were fortunate enough to win Reading in a challenging environment, but the truth of it is, we went to Charlotte and it took two rounds to tighten it up. To make a mistake or go out early or match up with somebody you don't think you should have matched up with, that becomes an issue. It's no different than Dallas [Glenn] being out in the first round in Reading — there's a guy that led the points all year. He shouldn't [have been] four cars back coming into this thing. It's definitely a round-by-round deal."
Accolades came swiftly for the Total Seal team in Indianapolis to close out the regular season, where Hartford ran the table with top speed, low elapsed time, his fourth No. 1 of the season, and the prestigious and most coveted NHRA U.S. Nationals win to enter the NHRA Countdown to the Championship No. 2 in the standings. After triumphing over massive challenge — including a surprise appendectomy for Hartford after Indy and a mysterious gremlin in their car throughout qualifying at Maple Grove Raceway — the team showed a level of tenacity and triumph worthy of champions as they won Reading to claim a second consecutive trophy and the Pro Stock points lead for the first time in their collective history.
After a second-round exit in Charlotte, the intensity of the Countdown was flipped to full blast as the team entered St. Louis still in possession of the points lead but with reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders and Charlotte victor Greg Anderson nipping at their heels. Their own St. Louis story was painful; Hartford left the starting line second and forfeited a quicker pass to his opponent in the opening act. The surprising circumstances allowed Enders, who qualified in the top spot for the third consecutive event, to take over the points lead for the first time in 2023 with a semifinal finish, and when fellow KB Titan Racing-powered Anderson won a second consecutive event, he bumped Hartford down to third place.
Even with the unsightly blemish on their playoff scorecard, there is no denying that Guarnaccia and Hartford have hit upon the formula required to take full advantage of the power on lease from KB Titan Racing. Unlike the house cars, they are supplied with engines and, mostly, left to their own devices. Guarnaccia likes that just fine.
"We jell real well as a team, and as a performance pack, [the KB Titan Racing] stuff is really good — but time is the only thing that allows you to evaluate certain scenarios, racetracks, and conditions," said Guarnaccia, who has devoted a considerable amount of time towards building experience in the class.
He first entered the world of Pro Stock as a driver in 1990. Nine years later, Kenny Koretsky decided he wanted to go Pro Stock racing, and he appointed Guarnaccia as his crew chief. Under Koretsky's well-recognized Nitro Fish branding, the team eventually shifted to include reputable Sportsman and Pro Stock competitor Greg Stanfield as driver, and their work together culminated in an impressive win at the 2010 U.S. Nationals. Guarnaccia worked in driver-turned-crew chief Frank Iaconio's shop early in his career and later spent a brief period of time under the awnings of JEGS (with driver Jeg Coughin), then with Hartford running Warren Johnson power, and then with engines from multi-championship-winning Elite Motorsports before making the move to KB Titan Racing ahead of the 2020 season.
Guarnaccia has continuously expanded his education next to some of the best engine builders and crew chiefs for decades, but the self-professed old-school "carburetor guy" prefers pencil and paper to laptops and spreadsheets. Maybe that's part of the key to his team's achievements, as of late. He and engineer-minded Hartford complement one another well.
"Matt does all the engine tuning, and he's really talented at all parts of this deal," deflected Guarnaccia. "He could do it without me, honestly. Would it be harder? Yes. But he's really smart. We've been able to nitpick some things that only time and runs can do, and I think we put ourselves in a better situation to make better decisions at opportune times. We've been fortunate to be around Greg [Anderson] and appreciate all his hard work. We know we can go to the front on any session. There are probably 10-12 good cars that could do the same thing; its more competitive than any time we've ever raced, but Greg's power is as close to the top as you can get. Power is a must — not just power, but the whole package. Our overall package has proven itself to be really good."
The points lead is just a stone's throw away entering an event that Hartford won in his first season with his current engine program, and victory in Dallas would do a lot to regain momentum at a most favorable time. For Guarnaccia, the recipe is simple.
"We're just going to try to make good decisions," he said. "You have points and a half at Pomona, and it's exciting that way. Each race is a Countdown within itself, where you're even or just one round from being third or fourth. That's the way you have to look at it — as long as we don't fall into a hole, it will come down to the last race."