Team Chevy's Dave Connolly Hopes to Defend Heartland Park Topeka Title Torco Racing Fuels Cobalt Driver Coming off Recent win in St. Louis TOPEKA, Kan., May 25, 2007 - After doubling up in the winner's circle with his dad Ray Connolly at the ...
Team Chevy's Dave Connolly Hopes to Defend Heartland Park Topeka Title
Torco Racing Fuels Cobalt Driver Coming off Recent win in St. Louis
TOPEKA, Kan., May 25, 2007 - After doubling up in the winner's circle with his dad Ray Connolly at the recently completed O'Reilly Midwest Nationals in St. Louis, that little dose of success has breathed fresh air and new life into Dave Connolly's campaign to capture his first NHRA POWERade Pro Stock championship. With three consecutive top-five points finishes already in tow, and with what may be the best car and race-team combination he's ever competed with, the Torco Racing Fuels Chevy Cobalt driver is feeling bullish about his title chances in 2007.
"Without question, I couldn't ask for a better team or group to be associated with," said Connolly. "Victor (Cagnazzi) has put together all the right people toward creating a successful program, locating it in Mooresville (N.C.) in the heart of NASCAR and building a beautiful new shop and now we're ready to make a run at the championship. Evan Knoll is about the best team owner a driver could have and Torco Racing Fuels is about the best sponsor a team could have. Even when we got beat in Las Vegas, Evan said to me, 'I'm not going to tell you how to drive. You know what to do.' He's very loyal to his drivers and his teams.
"Tommy Utt, our crew chief, and John Utt, our clutch guy, do a great job. Tommy's like a second dad to me and John's like a second brother, and we've all worked together from just about day one. John was with me when I made my first Pro Stock pass in Chicago in 2003, and other than a small timeframe, Tommy's also been right there with us. We can talk openly with each other because the whole team chemistry is there. Our engine program has done extremely well. We're consistently No. 3 and 4 on the backhalf and with a little time, we're going to be right up in front. I also have a great teammate to work with in Jeggie (Coughlin). We were friends long before we were teammates and none of that has changed. We were both in a slump after Atlanta, but he also drove extremely well in St. Louis."
Although Connolly just notched his first win of 2007, it would be difficult to describe his first seven races as a slow start. The Torco Racing Fuels Chevy Cobalt has certainly been good enough to run at the front of the pack at a number of eliminators, advancing to three semifinal rounds (Pomona, Houston, Las Vegas) before bagging his first victory on May 6 at Gateway International Raceway. Somewhat uncharacteristic of the 24-year-old Ohio native, though, is that he's been on the receiving end of a pair of holeshots that has sent him home early on raceday.
"From a driver's perspective, when things are going great, they're going great," said Connolly. "And when they get a little rocky, you sometimes second-guess yourself too much. Maybe that's why when things are going good you have that extra rush of self- confidence. I don't know if that has a big role to play or not, but this year, we've run exceptionally well. This Chevrolet is about the best car I've ever had, but my driving hasn't always been there. I even noticed at the beginning of the year that the car's been so good that maybe I haven't driven as well as I should.
"After losing my second holeshot at Atlanta, that put a fire under my butt and made me go to work. I've been practicing a lot, ever since Atlanta, going into St. Louis and after St. Louis. I'm comfortable in the car now, and after getting back to the winner's circle and feeling what that's like all over again, that's not something that ever gets old. It has me hungry and pumped up for the rest of the season, probably hungrier than I've ever been, right now."
One of the promising young drivers on the NHRA circuit, Connolly made his Pro Stock debut at Chicago in June 2003 following a successful Sportsman tenure. He earned a third-place points finish in 2004 and advanced to four straight runners-up before capturing his first-ever win at Brainerd (Minn.) in August. After finishing fifth in the points standings in 2005, last season Connolly tied for the class lead with four wins in seven final-round appearances to finish third in the POWERade standings for the second time in his young career.
One of his Pro Stock trophies last year came at Heartland Park Topeka when Connolly defeated Kurt Johnson in the finals. That was part of a run (that began at Atlanta) in which Connolly advanced to the final round in six out of 12 races (including four wins).
"We've definitely had a lot of luck there at Heartland Park," said Connolly. "We were runner-up to Greg (Anderson) when he was dominating in 2005 after losing our sponsor, and we picked up the Carrier Boyz for one race. Last year we ended up winning, and I can't tell you why, but the track's been very good to us. We're definitely excited about going there this year, especially after coming off the win at St. Louis.
"Like any other sport, whether it's basketball or football or golf, I think a driver can get into a mental 'zone' where everything just seems to go right. Knowing that I've been practicing all week prior to a race gives me the confidence of knowing that I'm as prepared as I can be - that's all you can do. I'm not going to the line thinking, 'If only I'd practiced a little more.' That way I can go up there and just drive. When you continue to drive well, that's when you hit your hot streak and get on a roll. It kind of sticks with you. Right now I'm feeling pretty good about the rest of the season. The performance of the Torco Racing Fuels Cobalt is better than anytime in the past. We go out to Farmington (N.C.) a lot to test and we've been running the wheels off both cars - and it shows. We've been very fast to date, and I think our whole program as a package has gotten better."
With the extra week off due to the Bristol (Tenn.) postponement, Connolly says the team is adjusting to the revised schedule and staying busy by freshening a sufficient supply of motors, cleaning trailers, stocking parts, and mentally getting prepared for the upcoming summer stretch that will eventually determine the final eight spots in the Countdown to the Championship.
"We're in a pretty strong position heading into the summer," said Connolly. "Tommy's (Utt) always been a guy that's done extremely well at getting a car down a hot racetrack. Even last year, when the tracks got hot and greasy, that's when we got on a roll. I've dropped the ball a couple of times this season, but that's water under the bridge, and with the new points system, if we can be one of the eight cars that qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, then anything's possible."
It's been a productive year to date for Connolly. In addition to his win at St. Louis, the Torco Racing Fuels Chevrolet driver won the preseason, non-points Pontiac Pro Stock Showdown in Las Vegas in February, has claimed 12 round wins to date (.667), posted career-best numbers in e.t. (6.594 seconds) and speed (209.95 mph) at the ACDelco Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., and is currently second in the POWERade Pro Stock standings, 201 points behind first-place Greg Anderson.
"We're trying to catch Greg," said Connolly. "But making up 10 rounds in 10 races is going to be tough, especially on a good team like that. If we can keep the 'two' or 'three' spot (in the standings), then we're only a half round and 10 to 20 points down from Greg come Indy. The deficit looks big now, but when they make that cut before Indy it's only a half round, or possibly a round if we can keep that 'two' and 'three' position. That's our goal right now, but that's if we can fight off the rest of the group. Jason (Line), when he gets hot, he can come on strong. Allen Johnson's been fast, Kurt (Johnson), Warren (Johnson), Mike Edwards, there's so many good cars these days that it's a matter of keeping lane choice and driving the best you can when it counts."
During the month of June, the 2002 NHRA Division 3 Super Gas champion will take advantage of the geographical convenience of the racing schedule to enter his Super Comp bracket dragster at four national events beginning with the Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Chicago on June 7 - 10. The chance of sharing the winner's circle once again with his dad becomes a distinct possibility.
"It's almost like I'd rather see him win than myself," said Connolly, "and I'm sure he feels the same way. We've done it twice now. We did it in Chicago in 2004 where we both won. In the finals at Memphis a couple of years ago, we both went to the finals, but he broke and I blew the tires off pretty bad. At St. Louis I watched him win right in front of me and I was jumping up and down, and then I thought, 'Oh shoot, now I have to get the job done.' My dad got me into racing, so sharing the winner's circle is really something.
"My brother just got back from Europe. He was in college and I haven't seen him in awhile, so right after Topeka, I'm going to grab my little sportsman trailer, head north and stay in Ohio for about a month. Looking at my schedule right now I'm planning on running Chicago, Englishtown, Norwalk and Bristol. It will keep me pretty busy, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I don't get the chance to hit these many national events. I'm young, so I'm going to do it while I can."
-credit: gm racing