GAINESVILLE. Fla. (March 12) – Rainy days and Mondays never get Morgan Lucas down.
Thanks to the second-quickest run in NHRA history, Lucas and his GEICO/Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster stormed to the title of the rain-delayed Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals on Monday afternoon.
Lucas is used to rain delays. His win in Memphis in 2009 was a carbon copy of this one as it too was postponed to a Monday finish because of rain. Lucas' three other wins – Pomona last year and Atlanta and Brainerd in '09 – also came after lengthy weather delays, although they were completed in one day.
No matter; Lucas will take a Wally any way he can get one.
"I would love to win one of these in a normal situation," Lucas said. "But the bottom line is – as (former Top Fuel champion) Larry Dixon said on the P.A. system earlier – there's no asterisks next to the wins when you talk about them in the history books. For us, when we put these trophies on the shelf, we don't really care how we get them. We just like to get them and know that we worked hard to get there and have it."
The victory was Lucas' first at the Gatornationals and first since winning the season-opener at Pomona in 2011. He also earned enough points Monday to lock up a berth in the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout to be held during the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, where the GEICO/Lucas Oil team could win $100,000.
It was just one of those kind of weekends. Lucas earned the No. 1 qualifier for the Gatornationals with a pass of 3.766 seconds at 326.56 mph, before the Aaron Brooks/Rod Centorbi-tuned dragster somehow found a way to go even faster during eliminations.
After his parachutes popped out early in a fortunate first-round win over Brady Kalivoda, Lucas stormed past Spencer Massey in Sunday's second round with a pass of 3.747 seconds at 322.73 mph that at the time was the third-quickest ET in history.
Monday, he went faster. In the semifinals against Doug Kalitta, Lucas rolled to a 3.746-second run at 321.50 mph. That set up a final-round date with Tony Schumacher. Lucas had lost to Schumacher in three final rounds before knocking him off in Memphis.
"I've been beaten by Tony in the finals before, and I've beaten him in the finals before," Lucas said. "When you race a guy like that, he's such a class act when it comes to being a good winner and a good loser. When you have to race him, you get more geared up to do the right thing and do the job. You don't worry about the guy trying to get in your head or anything like that.
"They've been running awesome. The guy's No. 1 in points, and that's for a reason: His consistency."
But Monday, Lucas was more consistent. As Schumacher smoked the tires, Lucas poured on the steam with a run of 3.743 seconds at 326.87 mph.
"You have to ride the wave while it's up because it's not always going to be up," Lucas said. "You can't always count on everything going perfect and smooth and always having success. We might go through a stretch of first-round losses or maybe not qualifying for a race. There's variables that can happen in this sport to everybody. You just have to be able to take it in stride.
"Right now, my confidence is sky high. I've never had a better group of guys to work with. It means the world to me to be part of this team."
Lucas now holds three of the five quickest runs in Top Fuel history, as his 3.743 is second, with the 3.746 fourth and the 3.747 fifth.
He credits Brooks and Centorbi for the team's resurgence. To go along with his Gatornationals victory, Lucas has two No. 1 qualifiers and seven round wins in three races under their leadership.
"Everybody on our team is extremely competitive," said Lucas, who is second in the Top Fuel points standings. "I think we've finally got really good chemistry going with the addition of Aaron and Rod. It's rejuvenated the whole program. Everybody's excited.
"Aaron, what I love about him is he's not afraid to be aggressive. I've never had a crew chief who thought like that. He's a cautious aggressive. He thinks about things in a really practical way. And it's nice having a crew chief who's close to your age.
"All the things we have right now are putting us in a really good direction."
Things are going in the right direction in Lucas' personal life, too. He recently became engaged to long-time girlfriend Katie Pallone, who joined Lucas in the Victory Lane celebration Monday.
"There's probably not a single person more excited than my fiancé, Katie," Lucas said. "She's just jumping up and down and she couldn't be happy enough for everybody. It's really exciting to turning this into that much more of a family effort."
Lucas dedicated the victory to the late Eric Medlen, who died in 2007 as a result of a crash in practice at Gainesville on a Monday nearly five years ago.
"I've always wanted to win one and dedicate it to him," Lucas said. "Something like this, winning here on Monday, it's almost too coincidental. It's really special to me to have this trophy on our shelf at home. To be able to honor him and (parents) John and Martha, it's a big win for us, and we're going to remember this one all year."