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Massey has Top Fuel rivals eating his dust -- or mud

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Spencer Massey shows off the trophy from his $100,000 victory in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout for the Top Fuel class during the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis. (Photo by Ron Lewis)
Spencer Massey shows off the trophy from his $100,000 victory in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout for the Top Fuel class during the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis. (Photo by Ron Lewis)

Following a weekend of rain and more rain and even more rain at the U.S. Nationals, little was settled at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis by the end of Labor Day.

That was when the fields were supposed to be set for the National Hot Rod Association's Countdown to the Championship, which will begin Sept. 14 at Charlotte. The NHRA declared Sunday that the fields were completed for the NHRA's showcase race. But with Monday's washout, the NHRA reversed its decision and declared the pro-class fields open again for two more sessions of qualifying for Sunday eliminations.

Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines thought they were top qualifiers. The NHRA told them they were. Some racers thought they were sidelined for the finale of the so-called regular season. Then the NHRA told them they weren't.

However, one matter is settled. Spencer Massey won last Saturday night's inaugural Traxxas Top Fuel Shootout and brought the $100,000 winner's share of the purse to his Don Schumacher Racing team. And that is irreversible.

Driving the Prestone/FRAM Dragster, Massey closed the deal by running a 3.780-second elapsed time at 325.61 mph on the 1,000-foot course in the Shootout final in a battle of Texans. The Fort Worth native defeated Kilgore's Steve Torrence, who lost power in his Torrence Family Racing/Capco Contractors Inc. Dragster and settled for a 4.840, 155.70.

Massey did more than help the bonus race restore the luster to the 58-year-old U.S. Nationals. He did more than make up for his first-round loss the week before (his first early exit this season) that cost him his points lead. He did more than simply defeat Dave Grubnic and cool down the hot-streaking Morgan Lucas on his way to the final round. He did more than demonstrate he isn't going to go away with a whimper now that his sponsor has announced it won't return next season.

In the waterlogged weekend, he showed he was the Unsinkable Spencer Massey -- sending a clear message to his Top Fuel rivals.

Celebrating as the clock ticked toward 10 p.m., Massey said the symbolic oversized check he received Saturday won't be his last.

"We want that championship this year!" he said, anticipating another giant cardboard check at the NHRA Finals at Pomona. And the way he ran roughshod over the rest of the Top Fuel competition during the Shootout rounds and qualifying for the U.S. Nationals, Massey just might get his wish.

With his Winternationals victory in February, he was the first to fill a slot in the Shootout. But he said, "The week leading up to this race, it's been pretty nail-biting. Just making it into the Traxxas Shootout is huge. To win a race out here, especially this year, is amazing, because every car is bad to the bone."

Still, from a two-day test session the week before at Lucas Oil Raceway, he said he and crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler knew they had gathered plenty of relevant data for this crucial event.

"We knew we had what it takes to win. We just had to put it all together," he said. "With the weather we were having and the way it was looking, it was tough to fathom getting to run all three rounds."

Massey didn't make it down the track under full power Friday night in his first qualifying chance, so he perked up considerably when he improved 21 positions right away Saturday.

With his triumph over Lucas in the second round of the Shootout -- which served as Q3 -- he unleashed his 3.762-second showing at 324.51 mph that carried him to the top of the order.

"Coming into the first round [of the Traxxas Shootout Saturday] not qualified and having to get the car down the track and get the round win, that was a little bit tough," he said. "Honestly, getting that out of the way . . . Then I had to run Morgan [Lucas]. He ran low E.T. of the first round. So we had to push for it."

Massey said the Shootout semifinal "was like a final round. We knew we had to run well. Morgan was going to run well. It ran extremely well -- a (3.)76 and went to No. 1 qualifier.

"Then in that final against Steve Torrence," Massey said, pausing as if the incomplete sentence said it all, "that car has been running on a string all year long. And he's wanting to win just as much as I am."

The two are longtime friends through Division 4 bracket racing in the Southwest. "We know exactly what it takes to do this, an it's extremely hard," Massey said. And Massey did it in style.

However, inside the car, it didn't seem quite so stylish. Massey was aware that it was nighttime, that the dew was setting in, and that it was humid. And he certainly couldn't ignore the fact the visor on his helmet was fogging up. He said he tried not to breathe but that the humidity caused him to sweat profusely and that fogged up the visor even more.

"All I saw was lights going every which way," he said. But he said he remembered his conversation with Okuhara just before taking off in his sweat-soaked chaos. He kept reaffirming with Okuhara that all he had to do was "go A to B, right? Go A to B." Okuhara nodded and told him, "A to B -- but very fast."

It was a brilliant comeback for Massey, who had lost his points lead to Antron Brown at Brainerd two weeks ago in his first opening-round exit of the season.

"That was pretty devastating," Massey said of that weekend up north. "So we came in and did what we wanted to do. It was just right back to our old race car. That first round in Brainerd was almost a fluke. We just wiped that one out and came in here and did what we know how to do. It made us want it that much more. We already had been really hungry to run this Traxxas Shotout, because we were the first ones in it. And we said, 'Hey, we need to win it.' "

Winning the Traxaas Shootout was Massey's goal for two weeks. And being No. 1 qualifier to boot made it even sweeter. Before the event began, he said he planned to "take all of our great performances from all year long and bottle it into three runs in a row so we can get that $100,000."

Saturday night he said, "I think we did. Especially with that (3.)76, it showed we knew what it takes to get down the racetrack. I'm extremely happy for all my guys, for all the people at DSR. This would not have happened without the guys who work every day, including the guys back at the shop who build my chassis, to get these cars together."

Okuhara modestly said of himself and Shuler, "We do what we can, but he [Massey] is a great kid and he does a great job."

Said Massey, "Todd is a man of few words. But trust me, it's all up here [in his head]. What's not coming out of his mouth is going into the brain and he's putting it down into that race car. He's kind of shy in front of a camera. He's kind of shy to talk on TV or radio or anything. But he's not shy to talk to that race car. And he does it very, very well."

If Massey can hang onto his now-provisional No. 1 qualifying position Saturday, it will be his fourth of the year.

"I don't do it for the cash. I do it for the wins," Massey said. "To drive a race car that goes 330 miles an hour, this is my life's dream. If I had to eat dirt to do it -- don't tell Don [team owner Don Schumacher] -- I would do it."

But this past Saturday, Spencer Massey had his Top Fuel rivals eating his dust.


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