Pennsylvania where it all began for Lucas, NHRA's most recent winner READING, Pa. (Aug. 17) -- When Pennsylvania drag racing legend Joe Amato selected Morgan Lucas to drive his Top Fuel dragster in 2004, it was the culmination of a lifelong...
Pennsylvania where it all began for Lucas, NHRA's most recent winner
READING, Pa. (Aug. 17) -- When Pennsylvania drag racing legend Joe Amato selected Morgan Lucas to drive his Top Fuel dragster in 2004, it was the culmination of a lifelong dream. Not only was Lucas realizing his goal of ascending to the top of straight line racing, he would be working for the sport's No. 1 Top Fuel driver of all-time and taking over the seat of the late Darrell Russell, whom Lucas points to as the person responsible for planting the seed of his love for racing at an early age.
"When I was a kid, like maybe 10 years old, I went to the drag races with my dad and I met Darrell Russell," said Lucas, who is now 25 and in his fifth professional season driving the GEICO Powersports/Lucas Oil dragster. "I was just this kid standing at the ropes trying to get his autograph and he said, 'Hang on a minute,' and went into his trailer. Next thing I know he came out with the front wheel of his dragster that he'd bent the week before. He signed it and gave it to me and I was just blown away. He immediately became my favorite driver.
"I spent the whole weekend getting all the driver's autographs and I showed it to Darrell right before we left. He sat down with me and we looked at all the signatures and he was just so cool to me. I said to myself I wanted to be just like him. I wanted to be a driver and I wanted to make sure I was always nice to people like he was to me."
As Lucas grew older and began racing himself, he always held Russell in the highest regard. When Amato hired Russell, Lucas followed his every move, cheering him on at all the national events. Then, tragically, Russell lost his life after a high-speed accident in St. Louis in the summer of 2004. After the initial shock of the accident began to subside, Amato started searching for a new driver, but Lucas never imagined he'd get the call.
"It just seemed to much to even comprehend," Lucas said. "I was racing my Top Alcohol Dragster and doing really well. We'd won some races and I started thinking I was ready to move up. Still, I never expected to drive for Joe Amato."
Nevertheless, the call was made and the Lucas hiring was quickly announced. Then the Moosic, Pa.-based team and their new driver were off to Maple Grove Raceway, the site of this weekend's 25th annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals, so Lucas could upgrade his license and begin his professional career.
"It all started at Maple Grove for me so obviously this is a really special place," said Lucas, who now owns his own two-car team with Shawn Langdon piloting the second rail. "It was cool because that same year I came in here and won the race in my Top Alcohol Dragster and it was the Lucas Oil Nationals back then so Mom and Dad were at the top end handing out the trophies. Mom was crying and Dad told me he was proud of me; that's an all-time memory right there.
"I think we have a chance to really do well again this time through. We just won our second race of the year on Sunday and we truly had to earn every round win against some of the best guys in the sport. It was very satisfying on so many levels and it also proved we can run with anyone out there and beat them.
"Both Shawn and I clinched our spots in the playoffs also so now that first wave of pressure is off and we can really just race and have some fun while we get ready for the Countdown to 1 begin. I can tell you, when your car is running like mine is right now, you wish every day was race day."