BRAINERD, Minn. – Morgan Lucas enters next week’s Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals as the defending champion, a two-time event winner in Top Fuel and fully content with how his team has performed at Brainerd International Raceway.
But it gets even better for Lucas heading into crunch time of the 2013 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series thanks to two straight final round appearances and a victory at last weekend’s race at Pacific Raceways near Seattle.
It seemingly adds up to the perfect scenario for Lucas to continue his recent momentum at the 32nd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway (BIR), Aug. 15-18. It is the 17th of 24 events in the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the penultimate race in the 18-event Regular Season. Last season, Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) joined Lucas at winners at the event, which will be televised on ESPN2 HD.
For a number of reasons, Lucas is once again looking forward to showcasing his 8,000-horsepower GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster in Brainerd. He’s running well at a key time in the season, which always improves morale, and the BIR event has always had special ties Lucas’ family.
“Brainerd is a special track to our whole family, since it’s been the Lucas Oil Nationals for almost 10 years,” said Lucas, who also won at BIR in 2009. “It’s pretty cool when you think about it since it’s my dad's favorite event, I’d say it’s easily mine, too, and my wife Katie enjoys going up there. The fans are so great. Something about it creates a good vibe and a positive attitude, and when we go up there, luck is on our side.”
Lucas will take much more than luck this year, as the team rounded into form at an ideal time. Before the three-week Western Swing, Lucas and his team tested in Indianapolis and the results were impressive.
It shifted the direction of the team, got everyone back on track and made them a contender at a critical time. They advanced to the final round in Sonoma, Calif., where they have had their share of struggles, and followed that performance by beating David Grubnic in the final round last weekend.
“The test session was a really big deal for us,” Lucas said. “We still have a lot to learn with the car, but it’s a lot closer than it was. We had to change a lot of stuff going into the season, and it’s never easy doing that. But it seems like it’s producing, and it seems like it’s starting to turn the corner.”
The win in Seattle bumped Lucas to seventh and the strong two-week stretch has him openly talking about competing for a championship in a loaded Top Fuel class.
Everyone is currently chasing Top Fuel points leader Shawn Langdon, who has won four times in his banner 2013 season. Three-time BIR winner Tony Schumacher is hoping to continue his success in Minnesota, as will defending world champion Antron Brown, Spencer Massey, who has three season wins in his Schumacher Electric dragster, two-time BIR winner Doug Kalitta and Norwalk winner and Langdon teammate Khalid alBalooshi.
But Lucas feels completely at home in Brainerd as well, ignoring any pressure that comes with having Lucas Oil as the event sponsor.
“To be completely honest, we don’t put any pressure on it,” Lucas said. “We’ve won the event twice, and I’ve won it three times when you include Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Fuel. We’re just really blessed there. Once you get over that hill, you don’t put any mandate that you have to perform. Over the years of owning your own Top Fuel team, we’ve been callous to the idea of having to win in that situation. You just don’t need to put that kind of pressure on yourself.”
Lucas also appears totally engaged as the Countdown to the Championship approaches. That’s no mistake, as Lucas sees everything coming together at the appropriate time.
“Brainerd is so crucial for us, not just because it’s the Lucas Oil Nationals, but because we need to get in the top 10 and clinch our spot in the Countdown,” Lucas said. “There are a lot of really hungry teams out there right now who are trying to get their cars pushed in.
“The car’s not there yet, and we’re still working on the consistency. We’re learning a lot about what it wants right now, and once you can anticipate things and can get ahead of it, you can tell the car what to do instead of responding to it. Our main focus is to win some races and try to show that we’re a team that people need to be concerned about.”
Everybody is chasing Matt Hagan in Funny Car, as the 2011 world champion is back in top form as the points leader with four 2013 victories. Plenty of championship contenders are lurking, including Johnny Gray, who is making a move in his Pitch Energy Dodge Charger and is tied for the category lead in wins this season with four. Brainerd’s all-time wins leader, John Force, will try to win here for the 12th time in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Others to watch include Force’s daughter, Courtney, a two-time winner this season, and past BIR winners Ron Capps and Cruz Pedregon, both of whom are in championship contention.
In Pro Stock, Mike Edwards is currently at the top after a banner season that has included four wins. Edwards also will be chasing his first victory in Brainerd. Other standouts include defending world champion Allen Johnson, who has posted four wins in 2013, Vincent Nobile, who has posted back-to-back wins in Seattle and Sonoma, Shane Gray, Enders-Stevens, Jeg Coughlin, whose four wins at BIR are tied with four other drivers for the most in Pro Stock history, and the Summit Racing Equipment team of Jason Line and Greg Anderson.
What makes BIR unique among other tracks on the NHRA circuit is its on-site camping, specifically, The Zoo campground, which has a reputation among drivers, teams and fans alike for being the place to be at the end of race day. With live bands Thursday through Saturday, a spectacular fireworks display, 24-hour food, a constant parade of partywagons, bonfires and rickshaw races, The Zoo is certainly a major part of the overall experience at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at BIR.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. No other sport offer fans an up close and personal experience like NHRA. Fans can stand within several feet of the crews as they crank up their high-horsepower machines.
For those wanting to make it a family affair, BIR and NHRA are offering an incredible ticket offer: Children 12 and younger will receive free general admission with a paid adult all weekend. Make sure to visit NHRA's popular Nitro Alley, where manufacturers and sponsors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and freebies.