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NHRA Season Opener: Guts and Gusto

February 14 – 17, 2013

Hearts were racing in Pomona this past weekend as thousands clustered to see NHRA’s season opener under sunny skies and summer-like temperatures.  Qualifying rounds began on Thursday, February 14th, Valentine’s Day, as Team Litton spiffed up their sweetheart dragster and kept their fingers crossed for a good starting run.

New crew members making final preparations in the pits.

Some new experienced team members gave extra bench strength to the pit operations, with Warren Weber, George Taylor, Clay Copeland, Ken Thompson, and Crew Chief Anthony Dicero’s dad, Don Dicero, lending a hand.  Anthony was full of colorful comments as usual as they prepped the car on Thursday, keeping a hopeful but realistic perspective.  “Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug, all in the same day.”But Thursday’s “line up and wait” for the first qualifying run turned out to be a bust.  Driver Bill Litton was all suited up and ready to roll when event coordinators put a halt to qualifying because they had to clean the track after an engine blow-up.  That delay lasted two hours.  So the team’s collective brain-trust went into neutral until their next chance at 3:30 pm.

Spare engine being installed when a broken crankshaft is discovered between runs.

The stats on that run were a good starting point, with an ET of 5.8 and 248 MPH.  But something wasn’t quite right.  “That run sounded weird from the start,” according to Dicero.  The motor had plenty of power but it smoked the clutch, which was a brand-new part.  But that wasn’t the worst of it.  In tech tests directly after the run (for weight and fuel composition), the run got disqualified because the nitro level was too high, off by 6 tenths of a percent. Pre-tech standings put the Litton team at 12 out of 16, but the “DQ” made that a moot point.  Undaunted and undeterred, Litton remarked, “Even on a bad run it feels good,” since it was his first full pull after enduring the off-season.  Tony Schumacher stopped by the pit later to give Bill a few solid pointers as the crew prepped for two qualifying runs on Friday to test their mettle before eliminations began.  After some clutch adjustments, Friday’s first run just after noon was better than solid.  The car performed a commanding burnout, and the run tripped the clock with a 5.6 ET at 257 MPH.  The nitro level passed muster this time.  But sometimes the biggest frustrations happen off the track, not on it.  Within an hour of that run back in the pits, the crew discovered the engine’s crankshaft was broken.  This was a major setback and meant the entire engine had to be replaced before the next run scheduled at 3:30 pm.   The crew did have a spare engine waiting, but the replacement and tuning time was pinning them up against the wall to make that second run.

Litton ready to roll in first elimination round, but the engine had too much gusto.

With new heads on it, the second engine sounded meaner than the first in the pits.  The clock was ticking but not slow enough.  Their deadline came and went.  The team couldn’t get that second engine properly ready in time, and the second run of the day never happened.  Now it was on to Saturday for the first elimination round. Chief Anthony was going for the gusto on this round. But it proved to be more gusto than the car could handle.  The engine was just too hopped up — with too much timing and too much fuel.  It smoked the tires, Litton pedaled once but the car in the other lane stuck and pulled away to the point that Litton backed off to save parts.  Putting the car on the trailer after the first round of eliminations was hard to take.  Anthony said “I just tuned it up too much, it’s as simple as that.  I flat out missed the setup.  We went for their jugular, and I missed. I knew the other car was quick in qualifying so I thought I had no choice.”  But Dicero added, “I couldn’t have been prouder of Bill. He did everything perfect.” The crew agreed that with the parts and the pieces they have, they have the capability of being a great team.  They just need more runs under their collective belt, with no more parts breaking.  Litton and team are hoping to get some practice runs in, possibly at Phoenix to keep hopes revved up until the next competition in Las Vegas March 29th – 31st.