Northern Nationals -- Saturday Notebook A FAMILIAR FACE Roughly midway down pit lane on the Top Fuel side at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park you will find a pair of tire marks painted on the pavement where a certain rig was parked just last...
Northern Nationals -- Saturday Notebook
A FAMILIAR FACE
Roughly midway down pit lane on the Top Fuel side at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park you will find a pair of tire marks painted on the pavement where a certain rig was parked just last year.
As it turns out, that pit box actually belonged to the winner of last year's race and eventual Top Fuel World Champion Spencer Massey.
This weekend Massey's replacement Del Cox Jr., driving the same car that won this race one year ago, is parked just a few feet down from that mark.
Could it be dejà vu all over again for team owner Mitch King, Cox and their crew?
It certainly was for Massey who dropped by the track Saturday afternoon to watch his first IHRA race since signing with Don "the Snake" Prudhomme late last year driving the U.S. Smokeless Top Fuel dragster with the NHRA.
"It brings back lots of good memories. We had a lot of good times in the IHRA with Mitch King and Paul Smith and many, many Ironman trophies. We won four of those things last year and the championship so I am finally glad to make it out here to a race," Massey said. "Our seasons have conflicted this year so I haven't had the chance to make it out, but it is very cool to be able to hang out and support the guys and just be here again. It is just like old times."
And what a year it has been for Massey.
From 2008 IHRA Top Fuel World Champion to victory lane on the NHRA side, Massey has been living the dream. Massey, who won four IHRA races last year including going to victory lane right here at the '08 Northern Nationals, has been to two final rounds and is just outside of the top five in NHRA points this season.
"It is definitely a dream I have always wanted. Don't get me wrong, last year was my life dream and I was living it, but driving for the Snake and having that kind of operation is just an unbelievable thing to be a part of," Massey said.
Now Massey hopes that dream will continue for Cox, the new driver of the Mitch King Motorsports Top Fuel dragster. Cox, who has already claimed two Ironman trophies this season, is just off of Massey's pace from a year ago sitting second in points behind Bruce Litton.
Cox, parked just a few feet from where Massey was parked last year, hopes a little of that luck will rub off on the team this weekend.
And Massey doesn't mind helping Cox find a little of that magic.
"We were just looking at our spot from last year and they are in the same spot we painted for the wood blocks for the tires so that is just cool," Massey said. "We had a lot of good memories here and hopefully we can continue with the same luck we had last year with Del driving this weekend.
"I couldn't think of a better way to spend my weekend back with the IHRA than to be sitting here Sunday afternoon celebrating with Del, Mitch and the crew. How much better could that be?"
BROTHER VS. BROTHER
When Dom Lagana went head-to-head with his brother in a Top Fuel dragster during a match race at Epping three weeks ago, it was one of the few brother vs. brother matchups in the history of Top Fuel drag racing.
One week later the brothers Lagana went head-to-head trying to make the same eight car field, another rarity in the drag racing world.
Now the brothers will be once again looking to qualify together in one of the toughest Top Fuel fields of the year, a field that includes a dozen teams trying to make a field that will, when it is all said and done, most likely see the bump spot dip into the mid-four second range.
"There are a lot of stout cars here this weekend and everybody out here is capable of running really good," Lagana said. "The bump should be really low so we are a bit nervous about getting both cars down and at least getting one of them qualified, hopefully both.
"It should be quite a race."
While the brother vs. brother matchup and the stout field will make for some great entertainment, the real story this weekend is that of Lagana continuing a journey that began with his father many years ago and has led to young Dom, only 23 years of age, taking over what has essentially become the family business.
"I guess it is something for my dad to be proud of. I guess it is neat carrying on the family tradition," Lagana said. "I mean it is not a real job, we don't make any money, but it pays for itself in other ways.
"It is gratifying and self satisfying to see everything you do over the week go down the track and see all your hard work pay off. It really is a thrill to be able to do this."
Lagana drives the second Lagana Family Racing Top Fuel dragster, a bright blue rail with the words Twilight Zone written in gold lettering down the side -- a tribute to his fathers racing days. Dom joins his brother Bobby who drives the black and gold POW-MIA dragster.
Bobby has been racing for nearly a dozen years now, getting his start in Top Fuel in the late 90s. Since then he has gone on to 11 final round appearances and four wins.
For years the low budget team consisted of the same thing, Bobby driving the car and Dom and Bobby Lagana Sr. helping make it run.
Now, after years of watching his brother go 300 miles per hour week in and week out, it is Doms turn to take the wheel.
Dom got his Top Fuel license late last year and made his long awaited debut at a match race in Epping earlier this year going head to head with, who else, his brother.
And Dom will be quick to admit that it was a bit nerve-racking to not have the assurance of his big brother looking the car over.
"That first lap we were both nervous. There were two things that I was nervous about. The first was that me or Bobby were always on the outside of the car looking things over and making sure everything is right so that was killing me that he wasn't out there checking things over," Dom said.
Then of course there was the pressure of putting on a good show for the fans.
"The second thing was that I didn't want to screw up because there is a lot of pressure at a match race because we were the show. If you screw up it puts on a bad show for the fans," Lagana said.
Finally, there was the tension on the starting line as Bobby Lagana Sr . was forced to watch both of his sons go at it for the first time .
"I guess he and my uncle stood in the middle," Dom said with a laugh. "They didn't want to favor one or the other. He is always fired up and I guess we are harassing him and paying him back for all of the years riding around in the ramp truck."
After making an incredible side-by-side pass down the track, a pass that saw both cars dip into the four-second zone, the two brothers then traveled to Grand Bend attempting to make the same eight car field.
While both cars did make the field, both were knocked out in the first round. Now the two are back at it again looking once again make the same field this weekend.
So the question remains, with two brothers trying to make the same field and trying to go for the win, how much information sharing is there between the two?
More than you think.
"I have asked him for a couple of pointers and he is always willing to help," Dom said. "But after all of the years I spent working on his car there isn't much left that can surprise either one of us."
AMONG THE ELITE
When you are the head of a major racing operation and a driver as well, the pressure can sometimes be a bit overwhelming.
Especially in your first year on the job.
But whatever you do, don't tell Richard Freeman that.
Despite being in his first year at the helm of the three-car Elite Motorsports Pro Stock operation, Freeman and his team haven't had the typical bugs associated with a first year operation.
In fact, through six races this season, the Elite Motorsports bunch are first, fifth and seventh in points, with Freeman and points leader Frank Gugliotta right in the thick of the championship hunt.
"We come in here are we are all either in the top five or just outside and have been consistently making nice runs all year," Freeman said. "The team has progressed immensely. It is tough with three cars and one guy overseeing it, but we are gaining and we have a tremendous group of people all the way around. J.R. (Carr), myself, Frank and our crews -- it is all going really well."
But making sure all of the cars are running well and are competitive is only a part of Freeman's job. Along with helping Gugliotta in his quest for a championship, Freeman is going after wins and points as well.
And with Gugliotta already showing the team's true potential, with a win and consistent laps among the fastest of the weekend, Freeman knows it is only a matter of time before he joins his teammate in victory lane.
All it takes is baby steps.
"I will tell you what, I would love to get to a final. We have stepped up and just like Frank said last year, I only qualified in the top half once and I haven't been out of the top half this year," Freeman said. "To me we have to take small steps and the win will come. I am not worried about that."
While Gugliotta's win last weekend was definitely a big accomplishment for the Elite Motorsports group, the real sign that the team had arrived came in Dallas when all three cars made it to the semifinal round.
"That was a big weekend for us. It showed what our entire team and our cars are capable of," Freeman said.
With four races remaining in the season, this weekend is without a doubt one of the biggest of the year for Freeman and his trio of cars as he tries to chase a championship and get all three cars into the top five.
But to do that, Freeman will have to contend with one of the most competitive Pro Stock fields in years with less than a single round separating first and fourth in points.
"I am sitting fifth in the world, Frank is first and J.R. is right behind us. We have to continue to make strides in what we are doing and not worry about everybody else," Freeman said. "There is a great group of people out here. I have raced a long time and I have never been around a better group of people."
FIGURING IT OUT
Two weeks ago in Grand Bend was like a dream come true for Tony Pontieiri.
At least for a little while.
Debuting his brand new '69 Camaro in front of his home crowd, Pontieri struggled in his first few trips down the track until finally breaking through with his first full power run on Saturday night -- breaking all of the track records in the process.
Pontieri surprised even himself with a blistering 5.974 second lap at 241.93 miles per hour to put him on top of the charts in Pro Modified and give him a bit of advantage entering Championship Sunday.
Once there, however, the problems that bit the team on Friday struck again.
Pontieri lit the tires and had to let off on all three of his runs Sunday afternoon, squeaking by Chris Russo who had problems and coasting across the line on a bye run before finally seeing his luck run out against Kenny Lang in the semifinals.
Two weeks later, it seems Pontieri has put that inconsistent performance behind him.
Pontieri is back at it again with another blistering lap made during Friday evening's qualifying round at the IHRA Northern Nationals at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park in Martin. Pontieri ran an incredible 5.961 elapsed time at 241.07 miles per hour in only his second full power run, once again putting him on top of the charts.
So what is difference from two weeks ago to today?
A short drive back to the shop.
"The same old story. On your way home you always figure out all of the problems," Pontieri said. "If we could leave the park and drive down the road two or three miles and come back we could have everything figured out. When you are in the park you are always chasing something, you have a ton of pressure.
"When we were on the way home we knew exactly what the problem was and we got it taken care of."
Now all that is left is for Pontieri to try and carry over his newfound wisdom into Sunday while trying to remain on top of the charts Saturday night.
"We were just so aggressive in Grand Bend. We tried some different clutch discs in the car and it wasn't happy," Pontieri said. "That is why it made that one run and after that in eliminations against Kenny it just knocked the tires right off.
"When we came home we were sitting at the shop looking at the computer, looking at the car and looking at everything we had and it was the same old story.
"We said we just have to come here with a different concept and we did that today. It has worked out pretty well."