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Massey Still ‘Feeling The Power’ At Texas Strip

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 24 2011

Top Fueler Spencer Massey is racing in some very familiar surroundings this weekend in Texas. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

ENNIS, Texas – After a lifetime of weekends spent at the Texas Motorplex, there is no separating Spencer Massey – 2011 NHRA Top Fuel championship contender – from the wide-eyed little boy who first “smelled the nitro” here at age 4.

“I’ve always loved living and breathing drag racing and I still do now,” said Massey, a native and resident of nearby Fort Worth. “Even to this day, I spend every weekend – even when I’m not racing – at a racetrack somewhere. I love drag racing and I can never get it out of my blood. And this is definitely my home track. I’ve been to every national event at the Texas Motorplex since it opened up in 1986.”

Massey’s father, Ray, brought Spencer to the grand opening of former Funny Car driver Billy Meyer’s state-of-the-sport facility in ‘86. The Motorplex’s stadium-style grandstands seemingly rose out of the flat farmland off State Highway 287 and the glistening, white all-concrete surface appeared to stretch into the horizon – well beyond the measured quarter-mile.

Young Spencer Massey was mesmerized. “I remember coming out here and seeing Kenny Bernstein, Darrell Gwynn, Gene Snow…all the ‘names’ were out here running,” said Massey, who turned 29 on Sept. 13. “And it was just one of those deals where I smelled the nitro, I felt the power as a little kid.”

Fast-forward to this weekend’s AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals, and Massey’s pursuit of his first NHRA Top Fuel world championship. Massey’s bid to kick-off the six-race NHRA Full Throttle

Spencer Massey brings his Countdown hopes to Ennis, Texas this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Countdown to the Championship with a victory was denied by teammate Antron Brown in an all-Don Schumacher Racing final of the fourth annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals last weekend in Concord, N.C.

Brown covered the 1,000-foot distance in his Aaron’s/Matco Tools dragster in 3.784-seconds and 325.14 mph to record his fourth win in the last five national events. Meanwhile, the rear tires on Massey’s FRAM/Prestone dragster lost traction at about the eighth-mile mark and he crossed the line in 4.533-seconds and 155.08 mph.

The outcome moved Brown past Del Worsham of Al-Anabi Racing and into the championship lead for the first time this season, while Massey sat 16 points behind in second heading into Friday’s first two of four rounds of qualifications. Massey ran 3.966-seconds at 304.80 mph to place eighth after the latter session. Worsham topped the time sheet with a second-round pass of 3.869-seconds at a track-record 318.54 mph. Brown lost traction during both of his attempts and was unqualified in 14th at day’s end.

Massey has won three national events in six-final round appearances and added two poles this season, his first with the DSR juggernaut. The Auto Club Road to the Future Award-winner as NHRA’s top rookie in 2009, Massey’s career careened off-track in 2010 after legendary driver/team-owner Don “The Snake” Prudhomme was forced to close down his Top Fuel team because of a lack of sponsorship. Massey competed in only one NHRA national event last year, at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown near Houston in the spring.

But when the calendar turned to September, he was back at The Plex in a couple of roles. One, of course, was that of driver-for-hire – marketing himself to Top Fuel team-owners looking to perhaps change their fortunes. That legwork paid off in late November, when Don Schumacher hired Massey to replace popular veteran Cory McClenathan in the very competitive FRAM/Prestone dragster.

“Last year, it was tough,” Massey said. “I knew eventually something would come about. I knew that if I kept my head high and did the right thing and kept my face out there something would come about. And thank God that Don Schumacher Racing had a great sponsor and they had faith in me and they put me in that seat and I’m having the time of my life. I couldn’t ask for a better ride.”

Massey also logged considerable time here in the familiar surroundings of the Sportsman pits. “Last

Spencer Massey and the Wally he won in Denver this year. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

year I also helped tune Chase Copeland’s Alcohol Dragster, the car I used to drive before I went Top Fuel,” Massey said. “The majority of races I went to, I’d go to with him, helping service cylinder heads, working on the motor and trying to tune the car. And last year we actually won the (Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series) event (at the Motorplex) in that car. So, I won an event here as a semi-crew chief last year but I’ve never actually won an event driving.”

Massey is, in fact, 0-2 at the Motorplex in Top Fuel, advancing to the semifinals in 2009 after suffering a first-round loss in his NHRA debut in 2008. “But I’ve been to the final round here in my Top Alcohol Dragster, I did very well in my Jr. Dragster days here – I won the track championship and Rookie of the Year in 1997,” Massey said. “Had fun many years Bracket Racing with my Super Comp Dragster – so I have a lot of history here. I’ve been down that racetrack a lot more times probably than a lot of racers I’m going to be racing against.

“I grew up racing in Division 4, from the Alcohol Dragster ranks and Funny Car ranks, and then my Bracket Racing when I was younger. So all the Sportsman racers that are racing and parked out there –those are all my friends. Those are my family. My entire racing family is going to be out here supporting me, and it’s great to be here amongst all my friends and family.”

Massey, whose car is tuned by Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler, is getting comfortable with the notion he is a bona fide title contender on a team featuring seven-time Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher. Massey also knows he can match reaction and elapsed time numbers against three-time/reigning champion Larry Dixon of Al-Anabi Racing.

“It’s kind of hard to fathom that,” said Massey, whose 33-14 won/loss record this season trails only Brown (41-11) and Worsham (40-11). “I mean, that’s amazing to say, ‘I’m driving a Top Fuel car for Don Schumacher and I’ve won three national events.’ But hey, I’ve got an actual legit shot to win the world championship in the NHRA _ and that’s unbelievable in my mind. I always say I’m living the dream. Literally, I’m living a dream.

“But there’s one thing about it – it’s real. I’m really doing it. I’m really driving the FRAM car that has a shot for the championship. And it’s one of the baddest hot rods in the country right now. If we get up there and do our normal thing and hit the gas, everything should pan out. Winning at Texas Motorplex in a Top Fuel dragster is something I’ve always dreamed of doing. This is where I got my first sight – my first fix – of nitro.

“And I see it in little kids’ faces now, when they come up to the ropes and get my autograph. It’s just unbelievable to have that experience. Whenever I see a kid’s face light-up after seeing a race car or feeling the power or getting my autograph it reminds me of my first time at 4-years-old and coming out here at Texas Motorplex and experiencing that, too, just like they are.

“That’s what brought me into the sport. That’s what brought me to where I am now.”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 24 2011
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