Baytown: Scott Palmer debut preview

Scott Palmer excited about making official Top Fuel debut at O'Reilly Spring Nationals. BAYTOWN, Texas, April 7, 2003 - Scott Palmer can't be blamed for being a bit awe-struck when he pulls into the Houston Raceway Park staging lanes for the...

Scott Palmer excited about making official Top Fuel debut at O'Reilly Spring Nationals.

BAYTOWN, Texas, April 7, 2003 - Scott Palmer can't be blamed for being a bit awe-struck when he pulls into the Houston Raceway Park staging lanes for the first time during the O'Reilly Spring Nationals, April 11-13.

It will be the beginning of a new journey for the drag racer from Highlandville, Mo. After dreaming of driving a Top Fuel dragster for much of the last 20 years, Palmer, 39, officially becomes one.

Oh, there were four races last year when he attempted to qualify in Top Fuel, but didn't.

Those were merely the appetizer. The main course now comes with a regular crew, a plan of attack and enough financial assistance - a marketing agreement with O'Reilly Auto Parts Stores and vendors AC-Delco and Simple Green - to compete in 10-to-12 NHRA POWERade Series events.

It's enough to make this custom racecar painter giddy with excitement.

"I know when we get into the staging lanes we'll look around and say, 'Man, there's Larry Dixon . . . Doug Herbert . . . Doug Kalitta,'" said Powell. "We're still at that stage. I don't know if you get over that."

While he may be captivated by the moment, make no mistake, Palmer is here to race against Dixon, Herbert, Kalitta and the rest of the Top Fuel contingent. He plans to earn their respect, race conservatively and win some rounds of competition.

"We're not going to try and run 4.50s (seconds). We'll be trying to run in the high 4.60s and low 4.70s, just trying to ease into it," added Palmer. "We aren't going to try and set the world on fire.

"I went into it the same way when I first started driving my alcohol Funny Car in 1996. We want to qualify. We aren't going out there and try to run with Dixon, Herbert and Kalitta. I'd rather run a limited schedule this year than go in like gangbusters and be gone in a year."

Palmer was successful using the cautious style during his years driving the alcohol Funny Car. He would qualify at NHRA regional events, consistently run in the 5.80s and advance to the semifinals numerous times. That scratched his drag racing itch, as did racing his Super Comp car and his Pro Street Camaro before, but it didn't cure it.

His business-like approach to racing attracted the attention of good friend and Springfield, Mo., businessman Phil Scott. So much so, in fact, that Scott is a partner in Palmer's Top Fuel venture.

"I told him in the winter of 2001 that I was going to sell my alcohol car so I could buy a Top Fuel dragster," Palmer recalled. "He said he didn't want me to do that, and I told him when you work to guy all your equipment, that's the way you have to do it. He said he'd buy the Top Fuel car but that there were going to be a couple rules - I run the car like I did the alcohol car and that I be in charge. He said it was because I ran the car out of my own pocket; we'd go to the races and get in the show; and went to the semifinals quite a bit. They'd have to outrun us to win."

So Palmer had a dragster and a racing partner. Then he hired a crew, one that will prepare the car during the season.

"The team leader - we don't have a crew chief, as such - is Danny Moore, who's my father-in-law," said Palmer. "We've raced together for six years. Without him, we wouldn't have reached this level. We don't have a tuner, either, but we will be getting tuning advice from several top tuners."

Completing the O'Reilly's dragster's crew are team engineer Jim Wiens, who is in charge of the blowers and clutch; Jim Stilbaumer, who handles the computer and timers; Spencer Massey, who is the only fulltime crew member and will oversee everything; David Curnutt, the bottom end and engine specialist; Brad Ellis, cylinder heads; Chris Hammel, cylinder heads; and Bob Gardner, cylinder head maintenance.

Scott, owner of Ozark International Raceway, Rogersville, Mo., has hired someone to the run track on the weekends when Palmer is racing.

"We are very grateful to O'Reilly's for its support," said Palmer, who operates Custom Race Paint by Scott Palmer and Scott Rods Custom Trucks & Cars in Nixa, Mo. "I want to make sure I represent O'Reilly's the right way. O'Reilly's is based in Springfield (Mo.). We're all like family and I want to thank them for giving me the chance to chase a dream."

Last year, Palmer entered NHRA races in St. Louis, Memphis, Joliet, Ill., and Ennis, Texas. Although he did not qualify, he did establish career-bests in elapsed time (4.802 seconds at Ennis) and speed (302.89 mph at Joliet).

Those marks should be rewritten several times during the season as Palmer and his crew adapt to the rigors of the tour - and Palmer smiling all the time.

His qualifying schedule at the O'Reilly Spring Nationals is 4 and 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon and 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. Eliminations are scheduled for Sunday at 11 a.m., and Palmer plans to be included in the 16-car field.

-jls-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Larry Dixon , Doug Kalitta , Scott Palmer , Spencer Massey