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Massey Set To Re-Fire His Stalled Top Fuel Career

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 11 2011

Spencer Massey will be driving a Don Schumacher Top Fuel car in 2011. (Photos courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fort Worth, Texas – Sidelined by the “rude awakening” that stalled his career in 2010, Spencer Massey plans to reintroduce himself to the NHRA Top Fuel ranks with a debut statement for Don Schumacher Racing.

“We’re excited to get the first race underway and go for that Wally,” said Massey, anticipating the 51st annual Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals later this month at Pomona, Calif. “We have a great shot at it. Everyone on the team is so excited with the way the car was running in testing and the way we’re molding together. I know it’s my first race back, but I feel we can qualify No. 1 and go for that trophy at Pomona.”

Massey, voted the NHRA’s Rookie of the Year in 2009, has replaced popular veteran Cory McClenathan as driver of the Prestone/FRAM Dragster. Massey’s “Road to the Future” was derailed last season when legendary NHRA driver-turned-owner Don “The Snake” Prudhomme reluctantly pulled the plug on his Top Fuel operation because of a lack of primary sponsorship.

Reduced to part-time NHRA spectator and IHRA match-racer, Massey landed the second high-profile ride of his professional career in November, when Don Schumacher added him to a Top Fuel lineup featuring seven-time world champion Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher and Antron Brown.

Separate tests in December and last week at Palm Beach (Fla.) International Raceway have convinced Massey that he and co-crew chiefs Phil Shuler and Todd Okuhara will be immediate threats at Auto Club Raceway Feb. 24-27. The race, Round 1 of the 22-event Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule, will kick off the NHRA’s 60th anniversary season.  Massey clearly is ready to return as headline news.

“It would be an awesome story, and we’re very capable,” said Massey, a 28-year-old native of Fort

Spencer Massey returns to the NHRA in Top Fuel in 2011.

Worth. “If I can just do my job and put my right foot down and get that car down the track, I don’t see it being a super problem. There’s a number of cars that can run the numbers now, but we have a legitimate shot. It’s not going to be that big of a shock if it happens, because this car is going to run so well.”

Massey logged over two dozen test runs at PBIR in separate sessions beginning in mid-December, consistently putting down laps among the quickest of his career – including his first 3.76-second effort among five runs in the 3.7-second range.

“And we ran really well in that last round (3.78), which is not a bad way to go to Pomona,” said Massey, who used the December program to acclimate himself to DSR’s in-house chassis. “I wasn’t completely comfortable in the car during the first session. The guys raised the roll cage, made some other adjustments and now I’m 100 percent comfortable. I can sit back and drive it just like I’m driving down the freeway, that’s how comfortable I am in this race car.”

Among his mentors was McClenathan, who won three national events and finished third in the six-race Countdown to the Championship behind three-time/reigning world champion Larry Dixon of Al-Anabi Racing and teammate Schumacher.

“Cory knows it (his termination) had nothing to do with me,” said Massey, noting that McClenathan still has access to the DSR facility in Brownsburg, Ind. “It was something that happened and I happened to be the guy taking that seat. He knows that and he’s searching for another ride.

“But the car does drive a little different. Snake’s car was a (Murf) McKinney chassis. These are pretty much like that, but the Schumacher guys had some engineers from IUPUI (in Indianapolis) help with the way they build the chassis. Both Tony and Antron and Cory Mac explained it’s still a Top Fuel dragster. I’ve driven a different number of them and these like to ‘work’ more. By that I mean they like to flex more, and they said it might be harder to drive. Just be prepared for it because it’s going to be running fast.”

Massey made one NHRA start last season, qualifying 15th for the O’Reilly Spring Nationals at

Cory McClenathan had a good season in 2010, but not good enough. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

Houston Raceway Park in Baytown in April. Ironically, he was trailered in the first round by future teammate Brown. Massey continued to avoid getting rusty by returning to the IHRA tour as a driver and tuner.

“I went back to drive for Mitch King and Paul Smith like I did in 2008, when we won the IHRA championship,” Massey said. “I wanted to keep myself active, didn’t want to become ‘rusty’ by sitting out an entire year. I believe it was seven races I attended, and it helped a lot. Trust me, I get back in the car and I thought, ‘It’s really been a while…’ I was a little nervous, thinking about what I might mess-up or what I might forget. But it all came back to me, just like riding a bike.”

Massey also spent time wrenching and tuning on the Alcohol Dragster he drove from 2006-2008. The car owned by Funny Car pioneer Gene “Snowman” Snow of Fort Worth is now driven by Chase Copeland.

Meanwhile, patrolling the pits as a free-agent was hardly the way Massey – a two-time winner as a rookie for Der Snake – envisioned what should have been his sophomore NHRA Top Fuel season.

“It was a rude awakening, but that’s life,” said Massey, who finished sixth in the standings and posted a 32-21 won/lost record in 2009. “You’ve got to have sponsors to be able to compete with these really, really fast race cars. You can’t spend the money out of your own pocket, like Snake would have had to do. I don’t blame him for not wanting to spend his family’s money one bit. He could still come back, but he gave me a heck of an opportunity by just putting me in that seat.”

The search for another seat, Massey said, didn’t require GPS. “Pretty much, that (DSR) was it. There’s not too many team owners to talk with,” Massey said. “If you thought about who would I go to, my options were really (Connie) Kalitta or Schumacher. Kalitta had his hands full because he’s got drivers sitting around looking for sponsors. Mr. Schumacher, we originally talked not about this deal, but if anything came about he would love to have me as a driver _ that I might be one of his first top picks. So I’m glad I attended all those races because it helped me to get where I am right now.”

Massey said the offseason has allowed him to adjust to his new braintrust, teammates and all the goodies housed at DSR in Brownsburg.

“Snake’s building was unreal. I remember walking in there the first time, all the stuff he had,” Massey said. “Walking into Schumacher’s building, there’s this massive shop and all the teams and all these CNC machines. They build their own chassis and cylinder heads in-house. It’s unreal to be able to almost build a complete Top Fuel car in our shop. It’s jaw-dropping to see everything inside there.

“Snake’s was a one-team operation run like this – very corporate, very business-like, very straight-up. Very similar. But unlike Schumacher’s deal, Snake didn’t have six other teams to worry about, so he was always down our necks; he was always worried about us, which was great.  Schumacher has all these teams and his electric company to worry about. But it’s helped make us all championship-caliber.”

Massey said Shuler and Okuhara, in particular, have put him at ease after only two tests. “They are

Tuner Phil Shuler.

great. I couldn’t ask for any more laid-back guys,” Massey said.

“Spencer is really good at what he does, which makes it easy for us to adjust to a new driver,” Shuler said. “We’ve had an easy transition including good tests in December and now for driver, crew and crew chief. We’ve made 25 runs between the two sessions and it’s gone smoothly. Since the third run, Spencer has gone straight as a string.”

In addition to The Sarge and Brown, DSR’s lineup includes the Funny Cars of 2010 points runner-up Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman, Ron Capps and Johnny Gray. DSR’s entire juggernaut participated in the inaugural PRO Winter Warm-up at PBIR, culminating with four rounds of side-by-side racing over two evenings.

“I’ve known Antron for a number of years and Tony is very open,” Massey said. “We’re getting along and talking about all the things that could happen. Myself and Antron, we want to be like Tony. He’s the machine – the man – and we’ve all got to go after Dixon. We’ve got to try to out-do him.”

Massey said he has been signed to a two-year contract with rollover options he hopes last for 20 years.

“That’d be nice,” said Massey, who added his ultimate dream is to eventually own, drive and tune a Top Fuel car. “It’s a big goal. But if you don’t shoot big you won’t get halfway there. It’s not something I’m looking at right way; it’s something I look for in the next 20 to 30 years. If I can do well enough and get enough sponsors and if I can be hands-on, I think that would make for a better driver, a better crew chief and a better businessman. It would be something very cool. Probably won’t happen, but it’s one of my goals later on in life.”

Right now, Massey feels the need to exceed the three wins and third-place finish recorded by Cory Mac.

“By far, yes,” Massey said. “Mr. Schumacher definitely wants every one of his cars to be in the top three in points, and one of his Top Fuel dragsters to win the championship. We should! We have the power, the funds and the manpower. Todd and Phil can make this car get down the track. Again, it’s up to me to put my foot down and get that car down the track. If those guys do their job and I do my job, who in the heck can beat us?”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 11 2011
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