Wild week nets race win, early points lead for Elite Motorsports Pro Stock driver Jason Collins; What a week for Elite Motorsports Pro Stock driver Jason Collins.
From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, Collins had everything but the kitchen sink thrown his way at the season opening IHRA Summit Racing Equipment Mardi Gras Nationals earlier this month. But at the end of the day Collins was able to push past the obstacles and turn a potentially disappointing weekend into a big victory for the Patriot Performance team as he claimed his first Ironman since 2003 while taking the early points lead after one race on the 2009 IHRA Nitro Jam Tour.
Collins' saga began on March 3 as the team rolled out of Tuscaloosa, Alabama on its way to Belle Rose, Louisiana for testing the following day. Collins turned in some pretty solid numbers during the session, giving him plenty of confidence as the team packed up and headed south for the short trip to Baton Rouge for the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment Mardi Gras Nationals.
And that is where his turbulent weekend began.
Upon pulling into the track the team found that the tongue of the trailer had cracked, leaving the crew to spend the rest of the day on Thursday trying to repair the tongue and get through tech. Once the trailer was repaired, the Patriot Performance team went to work on fine tuning the car for race day.
Friday's qualifying sessions produced another set of highs and lows for the Alabama native as his first run of the weekend was scrapped due to traction issues.
But the car troubles didn't keep Collins down for long as he followed up his disappointing first run with a pass of 6.294 at 222 miles per hour in his second run, good enough to take the top qualifying spot and grab the Last Man Standing award given to the top E.T. during Friday's qualifying sessions.
"We were the second pair out so we were on pins and needles waiting by the scales to see if we would win the Last Man Standing," Collins said. "After all the cars ran, the 6.29 held up and the whole team was ecstatic."
Then the real fun began.
Holding down the No. 1 qualifying spot after two rounds in Baton Rouge, Collins and his team packed up and headed west for another race the following day. After a nearly four hour trip, Collins unloaded and immediately ran into his next obstacle of the weekend -- the transmission.
Transmission troubles resulted in a disappointing last place finish for Collins on Saturday as the team packed up and headed back to Baton Rouge for championship Sunday.
"From first to last in two days, it was an emotional roller coaster," Collins noted.
Despite Saturday's frustration, Collins received a bit of a consolation as he discovered his 6.294 pass on Friday held up the rest of weekend and he remained the No. 1 qualifier heading into Sunday's eliminations.
Collins pulled back into the State Capitol Raceway lot around 4 a.m. and the team immediately went to work on the transmission and clutch problems that plagued him the day before.
After a short night, Collins and his team hit the track again early Sunday morning and found that the problems had been fixed -- at least temporarily -- as Collins edged Scott Hintz at the line in round one with a 6.31 second pass at 222 mph.
But in the second round transmission troubles once again found the team as Collins' car broke midway through his bye run.
"The next round we got a much needed bye run and the car was on a super lap. We were at 2.682 at the 330 foot mark when the transmission tears up again," Collins said. "Thank goodness we were not racing anyone."
Between rounds Collins' team tore the transmission down and found little in the way of answers.
"We had the transmission in a million pieces. No one had any answer for our problems," Collins said. "We replaced sprags, buttons, shift pods -- everything -- and we barely made the call for the semi-finals."
In the semi-final round Collins found enough to get a hole shot win over Mark Martino, but again the transmission sputtered at the end of the run.
With no answers heading into the finals against John Montecalvo, the Patriot Performance team received a big break when Team Aruba lent a transmission and Collins and his crew made it work, edging Montecalvo by one hundredth of a second at the line to take the win.
"Things were a mad house. We were all tired and running solely on adrenaline at that point," Collins said. "We made the call to the finals with no time to spare and we took the win.
"Our team put in an immense effort. It just goes to show how you can go from hero to zero in just that fast."
After a great start to the season, Collins will try to put his wild weekend behind him and carry the momentum into Rockingham for next month's 38th annual Spring Nationals.
"Thanks to Patriot Performances, Jon Kaase Racing Engines, Team Aruba, mom and dad and the Collins Racing Crew -- they deserve this victory," Collins said. "It is a great way to start the season and we will try to keep the ball rolling."