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Frank Manzo Battles to Defend NHRA Lucas Oil Alcohol Funny Car Championship First Stop: 53rd Annual U.S. Nationals INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 28, 2007 - Last season Frank Manzo captured his 10th NHRA Lucas Oil Alcohol Funny Car championship after...

Frank Manzo Battles to Defend NHRA Lucas Oil Alcohol Funny Car Championship
First Stop: 53rd Annual U.S. Nationals

INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 28, 2007 - Last season Frank Manzo captured his 10th NHRA Lucas Oil Alcohol Funny Car championship after driving the Lucas Oil Chevrolet to six national-event victories (including his eighth U.S. Nationals title) and seven final-round appearances. On the eve of trying to defend his crown at this year's 53rd U.S. Nationals at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis, the Morganville, N.J., resident finds himself in the thick of another championship battle and in a virtual dead heat with fellow Alcohol Funny Car standout Jay Payne. So far in 2007, Manzo has captured national-event victories at Atlanta, Brainerd (Minn.) and Reading (Pa.), and this past weekend at Cecil County Dragway (Md.) he scored a much-needed divisional-meet victory to keep his Lucas Oil title hopes firmly alive. Manzo's national-event win at Reading was his 70th all time and only four other drivers in the history of the sport (John Force, Warren Johnson, Bob Glidden and Pat Austin) have reac hed that mark.

Manzo currently holds both ends of the national record for the Alcohol Funny Car category setting an elapsed-time mark of 5.454 seconds last October at Virginia Motorsports Park, and a speed record of 265.74 mph earlier this year at the ACDelco Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. While driving down to Cecil County Dragway (Md.) last Thursday from his home in New Jersey, Manzo talked about his run at an 11th NHRA Lucas Oil Funny Car championship and the upcoming U.S. Nationals.

What is it about Division 1 that makes it such a competitive region for Alcohol Funny Car? "The divisional races are just as tough as the national events. We have a good bunch of guys, everybody wants to win and I think between all of us we've kind of raised the bar pretty high. You got (Bob) Tasca, you got Paul Gill, Jay Blake's Follow A Dream with David Ray, and Mickey Ferro, we got the young kid Cox, his car is capable of running 5.60s. On a slippery racetrack sometimes it isn't all about power."

How did it feel to get your 70th win? "I wasn't really thinking about it when it happened, They told me down at the end of the racetrack. There's a lot of emphasis right now trying to stay with Jay Payne for the Lucas Oil World Championship down the stretch here. I don't think we thought about it too much. We did Wednesday afternoon in Reading and when you lay around there for three days in the rain, a lot of the fans had gone, and the flavor of a national event had kind of passed. It looked like it was going to rain again so we were just hoping to get it over with and get out of there."

When you first started racing did you think that you would achieve 70 national-event wins? "I was hoping for one. You get the first one, and then before you know it, if you race long enough, you have three or four. If you're a lucky guy like me you get five or 10, and next thing you know, the numbers keep adding up and you get to where I am now."

What are some of the 2007 championship scenarios that are beginning to unfold? "This thing could shake out a number of different ways. Right now there's a lot of hype on me and Payne running for the championship. There are a few other guys who could get into the picture, but right now, in Sportsman racing in our class, you can only take the best five out of the eight national events you go to. I've already gone to eight national events. Jay Payne has already gone to eight national events. Counting only national-event results, we are tied with the exact number. If I go on to win two more divisional races and Jay Payne wins two more divisional races we would be tied for the World Championship. Then you would go down to the tie breaker. Do I know what that is? No. Do I care to know what it is? Not really. I have to win two division races (prior to his win at Cecil County Dragway) and I'm just going to get in my car and race. The thing is, I need two more wins in division and I only have three more opportunities. I could go to 10 more races if I wanted but the next three I go to, I can take the results from two of those three. There's a lot of pressure and Jay's probably feeling the same pressure. We'll both do the best we can and let the chips fall where they may."

What does it say about your ability to race as long as you have and your ability to be successful? "Honestly, I think I'm a lucky guy. I have a great team, a supportive wife, Michele, and I'm lucky that it is the way it is. People say you make your own luck. We've worked hard all year and we went through a five or six week stretch where we couldn't get past first or second round. The bracket to the fuel shut-off, the shaft that drives the supercharger broke, we had a rocker arm break for no reason at all, so you got to have a little luck on your side."

It looks as though lately you've been on a roll. "We haven't done anything different, it's just that now the breaks are going our way. It's simple. We've been pretty fortunate at some of these races. We go out, and make a good run, and when we make a bad run, it was at the time when the other guy was having trouble. Or when I didn't drive well one run, it was a time when my Lucas Oil Chevrolet was real fast and the other guy didn't have a fast car, so it's been working out."

There's a lot of hard work that goes into making your Lucas Oil Chevrolet a winning racecar. "All my guys work hard at it. John Glade, Scott Siesing, Fred Bauer, Ed Hofmann - from the time we pull into a racetrack, we have one thing on our mind and that's to win. It's not, can we qualify? It's can we win? We work hard all week and then we have a plan on how we're going to run the car for qualifying, we have a plan if the weather changes, how we're going to run it that day, and then if everything goes according to plan, we get to be the last one to leave Sunday night."

You captured your 70th career victory at Reading, one of many venues where you have been quite successful over the years. "I've been driving an Alcohol Funny Car at Maple Grove since 1976. I pretty well have an idea how the track's going to be under different types of conditions, with the heat, if it's cool, I know the type of weather conditions we're going to have. At the same time, and I hate to keep talking about it, but I seem to have a little luck when I go to those races. Atlanta is the same way. Indy for years was horrible, but recently we've done pretty good there. In the past, we've gone to Indy and lost in the first round. It's the kind of race where you work a little harder, where you have everything prepared maybe a little bit better, and if our plan works then we have a great weekend."

Indy has been a special race for you over the years. Can you talk about what it means to win there so many times? "Indy is a different kind of race. You're there for a pretty long time, five, six days, and you make a lot of runs on your car. I try to treat Indy like it's a regular race. But we all know it isn't. I tell my wife, sometimes it feels like an endurance race. You want to be able to run your car, you want to be able to qualify, but at the same time, on Monday, when eliminations start, you want to have your equipment as fresh as you can so that when you go into the race you have your best chance of winning. Hopefully, we can do it again. There will be a lot of other great teams coming, but we'll do our homework and with a little luck we can end up where we want to be Monday night."

-credit: gm racing

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , John Force , Bob Glidden , Frank Manzo , Jay Payne