Lucas Oil Raceway
Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals
August 28 – September 2, 2013
It was “Go Time” for the Litton Racing Team at Indianapolis. The “Big Go” in Indy, the 59th Annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, is the world’s most prestigious drag race. It’s considered the Super Bowl of drag racing, which is why it is called the “Big Go”. As one ESPN commentator said, “This is the race that’s on every drag racer’s bucket list to win. A major league pitcher may have a mediocre pitching career but if he can just pitch one no hitter, he will be in the Hall of Fame. A drag racing team could do nothing special in their drag racing career but if they win at Indy they are added to a very elite group.” The “Big Go” attracts big car counts, including the top alcohol dragster class where 25 cars registered, but only 16 make it to the first round of eliminations. The team was stoked with a second engine in reserve and dogged determination as they rolled into the steamy 95-plus degree raceway on August 29th.
The first qualifying run on Friday wasn’t exactly what the team was hoping for. According to driver Bill Litton, the car took off slower than usual but then hooked up down the track. “It got a little bit loose but I managed to get it back in the groove.” Crew Chief Anthony Dicero decided to experiment a bit with the bell housing, and felt this was the best run to do it. The car ran a 5.72 at 256 MPH. That put Litton on the bump spot at the end of Q1.
In the second qualifying run, the car stayed in the groove and went straight down the track, but it was slower and Litton got pushed down a spot. His time was 5.78 at 254 MPH. Dicero knew it was time to pull out all the stops. The crew installed a new engine in hopes of outperforming Q1 and Q2.
Qualifying run #3 on Saturday started with the newly replaced engine and a new lease on life. The swap-out gave the car a lot more power, but the crew missed on the clutch set-up. Although Litton picked up more speed, he was in an undesirable spot at #22 in the line-up.
The scorching heat really hampered the car’s performance. Injected nitro cars are at a disadvantage in such hot weather. With an air temp of 96 degrees and the track temperature hovering at 130 degrees, Dicero was scrambling to find the right tune-up for the hot weather. “We need to add some more counterweight to make it run better in the middle. And once we do that, the weather is going to come to us, and we should be in.” It was a critical moment for Litton and his team to figure out the best strategy. The team had one last shot at the show on Sunday.
The next day brought lower temperatures, fresh hope, and renewed confidence. The crew prepped for qualifying round #4. Dicero made some major real-estate changes in addition to the new motor, including more compression and more clutch. And it paid off big time – Litton had an outstanding run of 5.44 at 267 MPH – his career best MPH! Dicero observed, “Bill did a wonderful job of getting through the tire-shake zone and not peddling it and not aborting it.” That moved the car from the bottom of the ladder into the top eight. The team was poised and ready for the first elimination round. The level of excitement was palpable.
The heat hung heavy in the air for elimination round #1. After 40 minutes of sitting in the hot staging lanes waiting to approach the starting line because of a track “oil down,” the fuel temperature started to skyrocket. Dicero tried to determine just how much more aggressive they needed to get with the timing because of that spike in fuel temp. He had to make a wild-card call at the starting line. Would it be enough? Would it deliver what they needed to qualify?
Litton did a short burnout, backed up and lit the top bulb pretty quickly. As the tree lights came down, his adrenaline pumped up and, as per Morgan Lucas’ input, he judo kicked the accelerator to the firewall. “I could see him out in front of me… just a little bit,” Litton said. “But I just couldn’t catch him. I was just hoping we would.”
Litton came within a couple hundredths of a second of all the other A-fuel cars, but it wasn’t enough to move on. His ET was 5.55 at 257 MPH. With the adrenaline still pumping within Litton and the crew, the loss was a hard knock to take. The team was finished at Indy.
But in many ways, it was the beginning of a new era, not the end. The team was amped with a better breed of enthusiasm for breaking through to this level of competition at Indy. They were up against the best racers in the world and held their ground extremely well especially given their underdog status.
Dicero commented, “Nobody left here with their heads hung low, because the car has turned a corner performance-wise, and made 5 consecutive runs in a row that were decent and respectable, and within the margin of other cars.”
Litton added, “This accomplishment gave our team some momentum and energy that’s hard to describe. Suddenly, we can see some bigger things are achievable and we can reach them.”
So, think of it this way: You are at the “Big Go” and you are one of the teams that doesn’t leave before elimination rounds. How exciting is that? The Litton Racing team felt the energy, felt the excitement, and felt the prospect of the next win because they knew their potential. Now it’s on to the next level of achievement.
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