Baca's tuner relishes Richmond's level playing field RICHMOND, Va. (Oct. 3) -- Mach 1 Air Services crew chief Rick Henkelman set world records and routinely challenged for national championships when he drove and tuned his own Top Alcohol...
Baca's tuner relishes Richmond's level playing field
RICHMOND, Va. (Oct. 3) -- Mach 1 Air Services crew chief Rick Henkelman set world records and routinely challenged for national championships when he drove and tuned his own Top Alcohol Dragster (TAD). Since taking over the tuning duties on David Baca's 8,000-horsepower, nitromethane-burning Top Fuel car, Henkelman has been working towards the same successes at the highest level of drag racing.
So far, although operating with a sizable lack of on-track knowledge in comparison to the other crew chiefs in the class, Henkelman has held his own, methodically inching towards the perfect tune-up that will allow Baca to contend for the POWERade title.
As the 2006 season draws to a close with national events in Richmond, Va., Las Vegas, and Pomona, Calif., Henkelman takes comfort in the fact he's finally on even footing with his peers. For the first time, he'll have the same data in his log book as the others, simply because the series has already visited Las Vegas and Pomona earlier this year, and no one has visited Virginia Motorsports Park (VMP) near Richmond, the site of this weekend's inaugural Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals, since 2000.
"We all have the same starting point here," Henkelman said. "Nothing left over from six years ago will be relevant at this point. That's not to say crew chiefs with hundreds of runs in their books won't still be able to make better guesses than others, but at least we're all taking guesses together to some degree.
"Part of the growth of this program is getting through each event and learning how to run the Mach 1 car under all the various circumstances one encounters during the year. Each track is different, each day is different, each run is different. The more experience you have, the better you'll be, and we're gaining a ton of experience each weekend."
Henkelman, Baca, and team manager Bill Windham point to a five-year program to get the Mach 1 Air Services team to the championship level. Although this is just the first of those five years, the group has already shown flashes of brilliance, recording a runner-up finish in Pomona and numerous other round wins throughout the year.
"I think we'll see a marked improvement for this team next year, and really starting now, due to the fact we've already seen Las Vegas and Pomona," Henkelman said. "I've always been intrigued and motivated by making racecars go fast. These are one-of-a-kind animals and nothing can prepare you for them besides going out and racing.
"In my opinion, we're doing well and we're meeting our modest goals. Next year I expect to win some races and become a permanent fixture in the top 10. After that, the sky's the limit. It's an exciting time to be on this race team."