Rookie Top Fueler Massey Wants It All
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Ennis, Texas – Now that he has shelved his first NHRA “Wally,” Top Fuel rookie Spencer Massey has developed a need for greed.
“Truthfully, that was my goal,” Massey said from the back of his team hauler Friday afternoon at Texas Motorplex. “Going into the season as a rookie, I just wanted a ‘Wally.’ ” Named in honor of National Hot Rod Association founder Wally Parks, “Wally” is the gold-plated hardware awarded to each professional class-winner at a national event. Massey earned his first statue for legendary team-owner Don “The Snake” Prudhomme when he won the NHRA Route 66 Nationals at Joliet, Ill., in June.
“Course now, after you get a ‘Wally,’ you get greedy,” Massey said. “And now we’ve got to go for the championship.”
Qualifying for Round 2 of the Countdown to 1 championship began Friday for the 24th annual O’Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals at Billy Meyer’s all-concrete Motorplex. Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) emerged as provisional No. 1 qualifiers through two of four rounds for Race No. 20 of the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
Meanwhile, Massey’s title aspirations remain well-timed, considering the future of Don Prudhomme Snake Racing is at stake during the six-race Countdown. Prudhomme and his organization were blindsided last month when officials from primary sponsor U.S. Smokeless Tobacco announced the company would be pulling out of the sport at season’s end.
“It’s a shame that that type of stuff happens, and it happens all over any kind of motorsports,” Massey said of an announcement made shortly before the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis. “With the economy, it’s just the way things go.
“But at the U.S. Nationals and throughout the whole Countdown, as a driver, I really try not to think about that sort of thing. Snake’s been out here for many, many years. I have faith in him that we will not have a problem finding a sponsor. We will be out here. Snake does not want to quit. It’s in his blood _ he can’t quit. So basically, I’m just here to focus on getting into the races and going rounds and getting trophies. That’s my job.”
Massey began the weekend seventh in the 10-driver Top Fuel standings following last Sunday’s NHRA Carolina Nationals in Charlotte. And Massey, at 27, is living the dream.
“This here has been unreal,” said Massey, a Fort Worth native who considers The Plex his home racetrack. “I mean, not only just to be driving for the Snake and to be driving a Top Fuel car, but to come out and do so well. This team is an established team…won championships (with Dixon in 2002-03), so basically, everybody assumed that we should have come out swinging and winning races and going for the championship. Which we should. It’s been very awesome to sit here and be in a position to race for Snake, in my hometown. I’ve got like 20-plus people coming out throughout the weekend.”
Massey made his NHRA Top Fuel debut at this event last year. Driving Mitch King’s Top Fueler. Massey qualified 11th but was trailered in the first round of eliminations by J.R. Todd, who went on to win the event.
Massey is in the first year of a two-year contract that includes a team option for 2011. Skip Allum, Snake Racing’s general manager, said he is determined to see that Massey is afforded every opportunity to fulfill those terms.
“The team’s not for sale,” said Allum, Dixon’s former PR representative who has served in this current capacity since the 2002 season. “We’re looking for either an investor/partner similar to like Felix Sabates with Chip Ganassi (in NASCAR Sprint Cup) to come in. We’re not looking to merge…that’s not ideally what we want. Ideally, what we want is a sponsor.
“We got that (pullout) news sprung on us suddenly prior to Indy and needed to get the word out as quickly as possible that we needed sponsorship. But at the same time, given the economy and the fact things are tough for everyone, we didn’t want to necessarily say, ‘Boo-hoo, if we don’t get a sponsor we’re not going to go race next year. Somebody please give us some money.’ Snake’s idea was that if there’s somebody out there that’s a privateer…somebody that’s wanted to be a team-owner and doesn’t have all that capital invested (this is a good fit). His line the other day was, ‘Well, you could start from scratch and lose a lot of money or you could just throw a little bit of money in with me and just lose a little bit.’
“That said, if we don’t find something by the end of November we’re going to have some decisions to make. Do we not race anymore and he figures out what to do with his company and property? Or do we sit out a year and continue to look? We’re not thinking in those terms yet.”
Allum said preliminary discussions have begun with “some companies” for sponsorship beginning in 2010.
“The good news is it’s more than one conversation,” Allum said. “You don’t necessarily look for that angel to fall out of the sky and give you $3 millon-plus from one particular company. We realize it’s a luxury to do what we’re doing, but we employ 30-plus people and the related agencies that do business with us. It’s just racing cars but there’s people’s livelihoods, too. We feel a responsibility to keep it going.”
Prudhomme’s organization includes venues in Indianapolis and Vista, Calif., north of San Diego.
Allum noted that 2009 marked the 23rd season of U.S. Smokeless’ involvement with Prudhomme as both driver and owner. Prudhomme, who logged 32 seasons as a driver, earned four NHRA Funny Car championships during the 1970s. He recorded 49 victories in 68 final-round appearances – 35 in Funny Car and 14 in Top Fuel – before retiring in 1994. He has been a team-owner since and weathered similar sponsorship crises.
While the impending pullout of U.S. Smokeless went down as an ambush, Allum said Massey’s emergence as a contender was as-advertised.
“Obviously, we didn’t know Spencer on a personal level,” Allum said. “But as far as following along what he had done in the Alcohol days and IHRA and looking at his lights (reaction times) and reading some of his press stuff, we knew he had all the tools already and that it was a good package. We just didn’t know how good. If there was any element of surprise, it was just how good he really is in the car, with the sponsors, with the media.
“Snake’s been out here (on tour) for 47 years. He’s going to turn 69 in April 2010. Snake’s been out here for almost 50 years and people were coming up to him like, ‘Oh, you’ve made such a great decision. Spencer is such a wonderful young man.’ People that have known Spencer for years in the Alcohol, Sportsman and Jr. Dragster ranks, just walking up to Snake. We couldn’t be happier. He’s doing a great job.”
Massey said he is confident Prudhomme will work his corporate magic before the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona in mid-November.
“You know, Snake has lots of connections,” said Massey, who stood seventh after the conclusion of Friday’s time trials with a best 1,000-foot pass of 3.879-seconds at 306.53 mph. “Snake will come up with something. I’m not one bit concerned.”
Dixon paced the provisional 16-car Top Fuel ladder at 3.833-seconds and 312.93 mph in the Al-Anabi Racing Dragster. “Track conditions, with the sun going down, it tighted-up a whole bunch,” Dixon said. “We went up there and took a shot at it, and it worked.” Dixon added six bonus points to his total but remained in fourth overall.
Hight stood No. 1 after a second-session pass of 4.109- seconds and 305.56 mph in the Auto Club Ford Mustang. The Funny Car winner last weekend, Hight displaced teammate Ashley Force Hood atop a ladder that saw John Force Racing drivers hold four of the top five qualifying positions.
“The data shows it (the run) was safe everywhere, a good way to start the weekend,” said Hight, who added three bonus points to his third-place standing. “You see a 4.10 on the board, that’s pretty gutsy.”
Edwards, the Pro Stock points-leader and winner last weekend in Charlotte, paced both sessions with a best quarter-mile pass of 6.597-seconds at 209.46 mph in his A.R.T./Young Life Pontiac GXP. He added six bonus points to his total and leads Jeg Coughlin Jr. by 61.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
Krawiec, the reigning champion in PSM, retained the No. 1 position at 6.908-seconds and 192.36 mph aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod. Krawiec added six bonus points to his total, but trails overall leader Hector Arana by seven heading into Saturday.
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment