Connolly, Torco Chevy Pro Stock Team Focus On Round Wins That Lead to Championship At 24, he's the youngest Pro Stock driver still in contention for the 2007 NHRA POWERade Series championship. He also happens to be the current point leader...
Connolly, Torco Chevy Pro Stock Team Focus On Round Wins That Lead to Championship
At 24, he's the youngest Pro Stock driver still in contention for the 2007 NHRA POWERade Series championship. He also happens to be the current point leader and the one with a two-race win streak.
It's all been a bit overwhelming for Dave Connolly, but the Elyria, Ohio, native is nonetheless primed for what he hopes will be a solid run to the championship. There's no question he got off to a good start in the first of four Countdown to Four races when he simply outran the rest of the field to capture the U.S. Nationals on a hot Labor Day in Indianapolis.
How good was it? Well, he defeated the series pacesetter, Greg Anderson, in the title round, by eight-thousandths of a second.
Connolly would not hold a 14-point advantage over Anderson were it not for the new Countdown format that reset points for the top eight drivers prior to the Indy event. At the time, Connolly was 174 behind Anderson, but the shuffle in points left him only 10 behind his rival -- 2070-2060. And his victory in Evan Knoll's Torco Racing Fuels Chevy Cobalt provided the slim margin that now separates Nos. 1 and 2.
"It was a big win just to get four rounds under our belt," said Connolly. " We only have four races before we make that second cut to stay in the top four cars just to make sure you have a shot at the championship. These are just four grueling races before you make the final cut. None of them are going to be easy."
The second of that quartet of events -- the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals -- unfolds at Memphis Motorsports Park, Sept. 14-16. The surviving four drivers duel for the title at Las Vegas (Oct. 28) and Pomona (Nov. 4).
"It's kind of nice to have everyone else chasing us," added Connolly, "but we won't approach the next three races any differently. We just try to win as many rounds as possible. We could have an early exit at Memphis and then we'd be caught behind the 8-ball again.
"It was nice to get that one win out of the way. It was the U.S. Nationals . . . that was pretty incredible. But it is just one step. If you look at the big picture, it's no different than winning at Memphis, Dallas or Richmond (Va., sites of the next three races)."
Although young in years, Connolly is long in drag racing experience. Born into a racing family -- his dad, Ray, is a multi-national event winning Sportsman racer -- Dave began attending races early and began racing as soon as he was old enough. He has two Sportsman national event victories -- at Chicago in 2002 and Seattle in 2004, where he also was runner-up in Pro Stock. He finished in the top five (third, fifth, third) in his first three professional seasons.
Dave and his dad have shared the winner's circle several times, Chicago2 in 2004 and St. Louis this year, with Ray Connolly winning in Super Comp both times.
While developing into one of Pro Stock's finest young drivers, Connolly has become one of the most proficient, and feared, at the starting line. His quick reflexes resulted in numerous hole-shot round wins. Overall, he has won 14 races in 26 final rounds in his first 100 events, but it wasn't until this year, his second with Victor Cagnazzi's team, that he became a legitimate title contender.
"It's been kind of incredible," said Connolly. "Last year we struggled a bit at the beginning of the season. After we made a crew change, we went on to pick up four wins with the crew we have now. We have continuously gotten stronger. With the same team, we've come out and won five races so far, which is our best in a season, and we still have five more races to go. And we are leading the points, thanks to the new playoff system, but we've come together as team -- everybody Victor has put together. It's awesome.
"The performance level of the whole team has improved and I don't see it falling down. I'm just happy that I am a part of it. I'm a small ingredient in the whole recipe.
"I can't thank (crew chief) Tommy Utt enough for getting the car up and down the track like he has. And even though we outran everybody at Indy, we are still going testing on Tuesday before the Memphis race. There is still room for improvement and we want to stay ahead of everyone. In Pro Stock, if you sit still too long you'll be looking ahead at somebody. You have to keep plugging away. The guys in our engine shop definitely are and our on-track performance has really excelled.
"We enjoyed the week-and-a-half since the U.S. Nationals, and now we have to put that out of our mind and get focused on Memphis."
Connolly will be doubly-focused this weekend. He'll be at the controls of his Super Comp dragster, too, using the experiences to fine-tune his already potent reaction times.
"I plan on racing as much as I can to stay sharp for the rest of the year," he said. "I'm racing Super Comp at Memphis and Richmond (Va., Oct. 7). I want to get as much seat time as possible to stay ahead of everybody."