Morgan Lucas Understands The Situation; Preparing For 2005 Title Run ENNIS, Texas -- At the beginning of the 2004 season, 20-year-old Morgan Lucas was setting his sights on his first Alcohol dragster national championship, this after finishing...
Morgan Lucas Understands The Situation; Preparing For 2005 Title Run
ENNIS, Texas -- At the beginning of the 2004 season, 20-year-old Morgan Lucas was setting his sights on his first Alcohol dragster national championship, this after finishing second in the final standings in 2003. He had one of the top A-fuel dragsters on the tour, a very talented team, the financial backing, and of course, the talent to make it happen.
That was the plan at the beginning of the year anyway.
Lucas will make his first Texas Top Fuel appearance when he competes in the O'Reilly NHRA Fall Nationals, Sept. 23-26, at the Texas Motorplex outside of Dallas. Kenny Bernstein (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of their respective categories of the $1.6 million race, the 20th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag racing Series.
NHRA insiders figured that a move to the nitro-powered Top Fuel dragster category was inevitable for the up-and-coming Lucas, just not in the way the current arrangement unfolded.
Following the tragic death of the talented Darrell Russell as result of injuries sustained in an accident in St. Louis, car owner Joe Amato was undecided what the future held for his Top Fuel team. After missing the next few races, Amato Racing announced they would return to competition at Brainerd, Minn., with the young Lucas behind the wheel of the Lucas Oil dragster.
"Darrell Russell was a true hero and it will be impossible to follow him," said Lucas, following the announcement of his selection as Amato's next driver. "I know I can't even come close to replacing him and what he meant to so many people, but I've made a vow to myself that I will do my very best to honor (Darrell) and his memory at all times."
Lucas made his Top Fuel debut at Brainerd and quickly showed that he was ready to compete with the fastest drivers on the planet. On his first-ever Top Fuel qualifying pass, the dragster's tires lost traction and eventually rolled through the clocks in just over 10-seconds. The second pass of the day was a completely different story. Lucas blazed down the quarter-mil in 4.596 seconds at 320.43 mph which
eventually earned him the No. 5 qualifying spot heading into eliminations, where he lost in the first round but was still satisfied with his first pro start.
"Everything goes by so much faster than in an A-fuel dragster," Lucas said following his debut. "People shouldn't be allowed to have this much fun. I couldn't be happier with everything."
While considering the opportunity to join Amato Racing, Lucas was concerned about a few of the outside factors involved with the situation. He knew there were people who would doubt his driving ability and his experience behind the wheel, or 'seat-time'. He also knew there would be some individuals upset with him just for the fact that he would be sitting in the cockpit once occupied by Russell.
"I felt that some people would understand the situation and some who wouldn't," Lucas said. "You always want something to go your way, hoping that it happens under the best circumstances. Obviously this situation did not occur under the best circumstances. However, I know that if something happened to me, I would want the team to go on. I am positive that is what Darrell would say to. There is no way I can replace Darrell. He was one of a kind. If I can be half as good a driver, but more importantly, half as good a man as Darrell was, then I'm doing alright."
Lucas was surprised when his phone rang on and on the other end of the line was Wayne Dupuy, Russell's crew chief and now his.
"Wayne called me on the phone to ask me if I would be interested in driving the dragster," Lucas said. "I was concentrating on my A-fuel car, and then this opportunity presented itself. I talked to Wayne once after the accident and that was to express my condolences. I mean, I would never call them to ask about driving the car because that is just straight-up disrespectful.
"Wayne said he had talked to several other drivers and different people involved with the sport, and my name kept coming up. I knew some guys were going to envy or despise me, but I can't worry about what they think. This was a great opportunity. I mean, there was Joe Amato knocking on my door asking me to drive his dragster. I realize that I have been given a lot of good opportunities in life, and I am very grateful for that. Those folks that are mad at me, what would they do in my situation? Would they turn Joe Amato down?"
"I think Morgan will do a good job for us," Dupuy said. "This isn't a deal where he's replacing Darrell because it's unfair to compare anyone to Darrell. He was a special guy who we'll all miss forever. We're starting a new chapter with Morgan and we need to look at it like a fresh start."
With the 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing season winding down, the Amato Racing team is using the last few events of the year to prepare themselves for 2005, when they plan on being a serious contender for the POWERade Top Fuel title.
"I know by racing in the last eight races of the season I can't be the rookie of the year next season, but I don't care," said Lucas. "I want to take these eight races to learn, to get over the little mistakes I might make, and get more comfortable in the car, like I am in A-fuel. I don't care about individual accolades, this is a team sport. It takes the whole team to succeed. We want to win the POWERade championship, that's the ultimate goal. That is something you do as a team, everybody wins."