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Life No Longer a Drag For ‘Better Person’ Massey

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 21 2013

Spencer Massey says he now has a better handle on life and on racing. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

ENNIS, Texas – The life and times of NHRA Top Fuel driver Spencer Massey took a turn for the cursed last fall, the result of an indiscretion inflicted by a self-described “spoiled kid.”

“I believe I’m a better person now, and hopefully a better race car driver,” Massey said Friday afternoon at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, where the first two rounds of qualifying for the 28th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals was rained-out. The downtime allowed Massey – who assumed the Top Fuel point lead for the first time last Sunday – to work pit-side alongside his Don Schumacher Racing crew and enjoy the enduring pleasure of a career rescued from the scrap heap.

Massey was fired by team-owner Schumacher last Nov. 23, just 12 days after he had finished third in the final Countdown to the Championship point-standings to teammate/newly crowned world champion Antron Brown and seven-time champ Tony Schumacher. An ugly, alcohol-induced incident during the NHRA Awards Banquet prompted the elder Schumacher to release Massey, who had finished 50 points behind Brown.

And depending upon which version of the incident you heard/believed, Massey also had directed a racial epithet at Brown, first African-American to win a major motorsports championship in the United States.

“I’ve heard these questions before, and they’re questions that need to be answered,” Massey said politely from The Plex, all these months later. “A lot of stuff got blown out of proportion at the banquet that didn’t happen.”

Indeed, Schumacher stunned many in the industry when he re-hired Massey to again pilot his team’s third

Texas driver Spencer Massey arrived home as the Top Fuel leader. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Top Fuel dragster, as well as provide sponsorship via his Battery Extender Powered by Schumacher brand. Among those publicly on-board with Massey’s return was Brown – who along with Massey, denied the racial epithet rumor then and continues to do so now.

“Everyone welcomed me back at DSR and that’s the way life is,” said Massey, a Fort Worth native and resident who fell in love with Top Fuel racing as a wide-eyed 4-year-old during the Motorplex’s opening national event in 1986. “It’s been an eye-opener and a life-changing experience, all for the better. I believe I’m a better person now and hopefully a better race car driver.”

For sure, Massey can pedal an 8,000-horsepower rail. Spencer finished second to Del Worsham in the Top Fuel standings in 2011, his first full-season with DSR, and placed third last year. During both campaigns, Massey won four national events – the same number he has logged so far this season.

“The thing about it is, Spencer is a great driver and that whole Battery Extender car over there, they know what they’re doing,” said Brown, ninth in the standings after failing to qualify during Round 1 of the six-event Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C. “They’re a

Spencer Massey is winning Wallys. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

championship-contending team. He’s a great competitor and right now he’s leading the points so he’s the one everybody’s shooting for.”

But not on Friday. Persistent rain forced NHRA officials to cancel qualifying around 3 p.m., meaning the professionals in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle will have only two rounds Saturday to make their respective 16-vehicle fields. Qualifying is scheduled for 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m., with final eliminations set for 11 a.m. Sunday down Billy Meyer’s all-concrete racetrack.

“It’s (Saturday’s sessions) pretty huge,” said Massey, who assumed a 24-point lead over Shawn Langdon of Al-Anabi Racing despite losing to Morgan Lucas in the final at zMAX Dragway. “Last week we had four rounds of qualifying and Antron Brown didn’t make the show. You have to have all your stuff perfect, like we do every time. We made sure everything was in tip-top shape (Friday) and when we roll it up to the line it better be perfect. We have a lot of data for this track from the last two years, when we made it to the final round. Hopefully it’ll go straight down the track and we qualify No. 1.

“Certain tracks…it shouldn’t matter where you are because the car doesn’t know. But certain tracks drivers do well at. We’ve been to the final here the last two years and even though I’ve never won, I love this track. It’d be awesome to do it in my hometown and keep the point lead. The main objective this weekend is to hold onto the point lead. We’re going to keep our heads down and hope we’re holding that big Wally at the end of the year.”

Massey, who has compiled a 36-15 won/lost record this season, readily credits crew chief Phil Shuler for making him a bona fide contender on-track. And Massey readily admits the only reason he has this job is because his boss refused to permanently exile him.

“He’s the reason I’m here running right now,” said Massey, who turned 31 on Sept. 13. “He wanted to keep

Spencer Massey may go from being a 'spoiled kid' to being Top Fuel champion. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

our team together and me as the driver with his sponsorship. Don Schumacher is a great guy for taking me back and believing in me. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him taking me back and putting his name on this race car. I’m honored to drive that race car.”

In return, Massey embarked upon a program of anger management counseling and Bible study that is ongoing.

“That was something I wanted to do to help my situation, and dealing with life. And it’s helped me out tremendously,” said Massey, the son of Raymond and Sharon Massey. “There’s a guy in Fort Worth, a friend, that I’ve been talking to and it’s a very good program. Everybody in the world should talk to somebody like that on how to take on life. And I’ve attended a lot more Bible studies, too. I’ve always focused on the racing but you’ve also got to take time off in life. It’s opened my eyes.”

Massey noted that Brown, in fact, has become an inspiring influence in his everyday demeanor.

“Antron and I go to Bible studies together and it’s opened me up to everything in life,” said Massey, who won the Auto Club to the Future Award as NHRA’s Rookie of the Year in 2009 and then sat out the 2010 season after team-owner Don “The Snake” Prudhomme folded his team. “Through Racers for Christ (track ministry) we do Bible study every Friday morning before the race and talk about life. It’s something we both connect with. That shows you how good of a person Antron Brown is. He didn’t qualify last weekend but he doesn’t hang his head low, he keeps himself upbeat. We’ve never had a problem with each other and even more this past winter brought me and him tighter.”

Massey insisted his embarrassing alcohol-induced incident – during which he walked out on Brown’s acceptance speech, got into a verbal argument and spilled beer on a guest – was “a one-time thing. I never had a problem with alcohol in the past; it’s one of the things that got blown out of proportion.

“And I wasn’t told I had to do it (get counseling), it’s something I wanted to do. I did a bunch of sessions at the beginning of the season and I see my friend as a life coach. There’s not a set schedule for the sessions; anytime there’s a situation I can call him and he’ll help me through.”

Seven months ago, Massey acknowledged he had come close to losing “the biggest dream of my life” as a Top Fuel driver. That reality continues to scare him straight.

“For sure. It’s a constant reminder,” Massey said. “At any moment as a person you can mess-up and lose your dream. You can’t take anything for granted, is what I’m trying to say. Grasp every day as it comes along and love life.”

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

AAA TEXAS NHRA FALLNATIONALS FAST FACTS

Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex is located at 7500 W. Highway 287 in Ennis.

POINT STANDINGS: Top-10 following the 19th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and first of six races in the Countdown to the Championship:

Top Fuel _ 1. Spencer Massey, 2,174; 2. Shawn Langdon, 2,150; 3. Morgan Lucas, 2,144; 4. Doug Kalitta, 2,131; 5. Tony Schumacher, 2,112; 6. Clay Millican, 2,104; 7. Khalid alBalooshi, 2,087; 8. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 2,051; 9. Antron Brown, 2,050; 10. Steve Torrence, 2,044.

Funny Car _ 1. Matt Hagan, 2,214; 2. Ron Capps, 2,132; 3. Robert Hight, 2,128; 4. Jack Beckman, 2,122; 5. John Force, 2,116; 6. Courtney Force, 2,106; 7. Johnny Gray, 2,102; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 2,101; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 2,057; 10. Del Worsham, 2,037.

Pro Stock _ 1. Mike Edwards, 2,194; 2. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,184; 3. Jason Line, 2,147; 4. Allen Johnson, 2,134; 5. Shane Gray, 2,110; 6. Vincent Nobile, 2,095; 7. Erica Enders-Stevens, 2,085; 8. Greg Anderson, 2,083; 9. V. Gaines, 2,074; 10. Rodger Brogdon, 2,031.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Hector Arana Jr., 2,183; 2. Matt Smith, 2,150; 3. Hector Arana, 2,147; 4. Michael Ray, 2,135; 5. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,095; 6. John Hall, 2,094; 7. Eddie Krawiec, 2,085; 8. LE Tonglet, 2,082; 9. Adam Arana, 2,054; 10. Shawn Gann, 2,031.

2012 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown (Top Fuel); Bob Tasca III (Funny Car); Allen Johnson (Pro Stock); Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

MOST MOTORPLEX VICTORIES: John Force (Funny Car) seven; Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) five; Warren Johnson (Pro Stock) five; Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) four.

SCHEDULE:

Saturday _Lucas Oil Series Sportsman eliminations; Mello Yello Series Professional qualifying at 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.

Sunday_ Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.; Mello Yello Series Professional eliminations at 11 a.m.

TELEVISION: Saturday, ESPN News will televise 90 minutes of qualifying coverage at 11:30 p.m. (EDT).

Sunday, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will re-air 90 minutes of qualifying coverage at 3:30 a.m. (EDT). Sunday, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of coverage starting at 8:30 p.m. (EDT).

TRACK RECORDS:

Top Fuel _ 3.784-seconds by Brandon Bernstein, Sept. ’10; 324.05 mph by Spencer Massey, Sept. ’11

Funny Car _ 4.062-seconds by Matt Hagan, Sept. ’10; 309.63 mph by Jack Beckman, Sept. ’11

Pro Stock _ 6.550-seconds by Allen Johnson, Sept. ’12; 211.99 mph by Johnson, Sept. ’12

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.828-seconds by Hector Arana Jr., Sept. ’11; 197.22 mph by Michael Phillips, Sept. ’11

NATIONAL RECORDS:

Top Fuel _ 3.701-seconds by Antron Brown, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Concord, N.C.

Funny Car _ 3.986-seconds by Jack Beckman, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 320.58 mph by Beckman, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.

Pro Stock _ 6.471-seconds by Mike Edwards, April ’13, Concord, N.C.; 214.35 mph by Jason Line, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.728-seconds by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.

TICKETS: Available from $10 to $380 for weekend packages. Youth tickets for children 12-and-under start at $5. Texas Motorplex will upgrade all Friday’s rainout tickets to Saturday or Sunday southside tickets with a pit pass. Fans should bring their Friday tickets to the front gate for that exchange. Tickets are available by calling 800 MOTORPLEX (668-6775), or on the web at www.texasmotorplex.com or www.NHRATIX.com.

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 21 2013
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