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Spencer Massey Gets DSR Ride

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 30 2010

Spencer Massey will be driving a Don Schumacher Top Fuel car next season. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Spencer Massey’s one-year hiatus from the NHRA’s Top Fuel ranks will end in 2011, when the native Texan will drive the Prestone/FRAM Dragster fielded by Don Schumacher Racing.

Massey, the NHRA’s Rookie of the Year in 2009, replaces Cory McClenathan in a DSR Top Fuel lineup featuring seven-time world champion Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown.

“Spencer is one of the most talented young Top Fuel drivers and a perfect addition to DSR,” team-owner Don Schumacher said in a statement from Indianapolis. “We expect him to battle Tony and Antron for the 2011 championship from the first race, and to be a great representative for the Honeywell Team of Fram, Prestone and Autolite.”

Massey won two NHRA national events for NHRA legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme in 2009 (at Joliet, Ill., and the second Las Vegas race), on his way to a sixth-place Top Fuel point finish. Massey’s efforts earned him the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, recognizing the sanctioning body’s top rookie. Massey beat fellow Top Fueler Shawn Langdon, Funny Car driver Matt Hagan and Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Doug Horne for 2009 rookie honors.

But Massey was left without a ride in January, when Prudhomme decided to shut down his team due to a lack of corporate sponsorship. Prudhomme was blindsided in late August 2009 when officials from U.S. Tobacco announced the company would end its 23-year association with him at season’s end. Prudhomme, 69, had been a team-owner for 15 years.

Massey’s 2009 season was the first of a two-year contract, and option for 2011, with Snake Racing. But the contract included an escape clause that voided the agreement if Prudhomme did not have funding for the entire 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule.

“This is a great opportunity,” said Massey, a 28-year-old resident of Fort Worth. “I’m driving for a drag-racing legend in Don Schumacher on a team with an incredible list of accomplishments. I know I can learn a lot from teammates like Tony and Antron, and just being around them will make me better.”

Massey was the only NHRA professional rookie to win at least one race in 2009. He posted a 32-21 round-win record (.604), with an average reaction time of 0.054-seconds.  His lone NHRA pole to-date was recorded at Atlanta Dragway in 2009. His career-best NHRA elapsed time for 1,000-feet is 3.789-seconds, and his top speed is 318.54 mph, both set at Richmond, Va.

In addition, Massey logged a 7-1 round-win record over the final two races in the Countdown to 1 playoffs, pushing his winning percentage over .600. He also led all drivers with a 0.882-second winning percentage on the Christmas Tree, leaving first in 45 of 51 races. He was a near-perfect 13-1 leaving the starting line during the Countdown, his lone miscue being a 0.008 red-light at Pomona against Brown.

“I had a heck of an opportunity with Snake,” Massey told RacinToday.com during an interview in January. “That’s a big honor _ I got to race a Top Fuel dragster for ‘The Snake’ and win two races. I want to continue to do more and win championships and race the rest of my life.”

Massey, the 2008 IHRA Top Fuel champion in a car fielded by Mitch King, spent the past season competing in IHRA match races and looking for another NHRA nitro ride. He had been linked to a possible deal with DSR since becoming a free agent in January.

“I got hooked on nitro and tire-smoke as a kid,” Massey said. “Growing up in Texas, Eddie Hill was my idol.” Hill clinched the NHRA Top Fuel championship in 1993 at Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex.

Massey’s road to the cockpit began as a crew chief for Scott Palmer’s NHRA Top Fuel team (2001-04). He also crewed for Ashley Force Hood’s Top Alcohol Dragster (2004) and Morgan Lucas’ TAD team (2005).

Massey’s driving career began in the NHRA’s Jr. Drag Racing League. He graduated from local bracket racing into NHRA and IHRA Top Alcohol Dragsters (2006-08), winning the NHRA’s Division 4 TAD title in ’06 and the Jegs All-Stars championship in TAD in 2007. Moving up to IHRA Top Fuel dragsters, Massey claimed the 2008 championship in a season that included four wins in five final rounds out of 10 races.

DSR’s Top Fuel lineup of Tony Schumacher, McClenathan and Brown finished 2-3-4, respectively, in the 2010 point standings while winning a combined 10 races. Schumacher’s six-year stranglehold on Top Fuel in the U.S. Army Dragster was ended by Larry Dixon of Al-Anabi Racing in the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona.

Schumacher, winner of six races in 2010, finished 102 points behind Dixon, now a three-time world champion. Brown, meanwhile, won the season-ender in the Matco Tools Dragster en route to a fourth-place finish, 224 points behind Dixon.

McClenathan, who finished 133 points behind Dixon in third, was released by DSR after the season-ender. A four-time championship runnerup, the 47-year-old McClenathan said earlier this month he does not intend to retire. Cory Mac, who joined DSR in 2008, won three national events in 2010 in a season that proved bittersweet.

“It’s hard to put that into perspective when all of a sudden the news comes down the pipes that you’re not going to be driving the car next year,” McClenathan said after being eliminated at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. “All I have to say about that is that it is what it is. My relationship with Don Schumacher still stands, and with all the sponsors on the car I feel the same way. We’ll go down the road and try to work on a new adventure.

“But, what a great season, with great guys working on the car. (Crew chiefs) Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler, and (car chief) Scott Okuhara and the boys did a great job. It’s the guys behind the scenes a lot of times who really keep it going: Dave McCombs, the Boyington guys (Tommy and Shane), Mike Knudsen doing the clutch, Michael Lance building the motors, Jason and Justin Jones (no relation) who do a breadth of stuff all over the car. These are the guys who really don’t get the credit a lot of times.

“The guys have done great this year and they have all the makings of a championship team. It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t stay with them and keep on working with them. I’ll still be around and they’re all my friends.”

McClenathan scored his three wins this season in eight final rounds, while adding seven semifinals and five quarterfinal finishes, five No. 1 qualifiers and a round-win record of 44-20. McClenathan, who will turn 48 on Jan. 30, set the quickest elapsed time in NHRA history (racing to 1,000-feet) of 3.752-seconds this season. His 20-year career numbers include 401 races, 34 wins in 65 final rounds, 77 semifinals, 128 quarterfinals and 38 No. 1 qualifiers. His career round-win record is 513-361.

Headquartered in Brownsburg, Ind., DSR consists of six professional NHRA teams. In addition to the aforementioned Top Fuel teams, DSR’s Funny Car lineup features the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger driven by Ron Capps; the Valvoline/Mail Terminal Services Dodge piloted by Jack Beckman and the DieHard Dodge driven by Hagan, the 2010 point runnerup to 15-time world champion John Force.

Since 1998, Don Schumacher Racing teams have won 151 national events in 294 final rounds and eight world championships.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 30 2010
One Comment

One Comment »

  • smac says:

    I think Medlen got screwed and Capps had something to do with it. I have a lot of respect for Ace, but you need to win races and at least try to play the game to survive and I know its an unfortunate fact of our we want it now spoiled society. There is more at play here what did John have 8 races to turn the team around that’s BS and Capps knows it. I think its time to replace another old driver at DSR that can only finish 2nd in the championship if he is lucky.