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Speed and Struggle: Four Days at Seattle

25th Annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals

Seattle, August 3-5, 2012

Televised on ESPN2 Saturday, August 11 from 10-11 am PT

When Bill arrived at the Pacific Raceways track in Seattle on August 2, he was in for a pleasant surprise. Crew Chief Anthony Dicero had given his A-fuel nitro dragster a mechanical make-over from one end to the other. Driver and hot rod were ready to race. This would be Bill’s first competitive run on any track, having just earned his NHRA A-Fuel Nitro License in Bakersfield, California, the prior weekend.

That competitive adrenaline had an entertaining outlet on Thursday. Spencer Massey (top fuel points leader) came by Litton’s pit area and invited the team to race go-karts with his team at a go-kart track near Pacific Raceways. The track owner gave the group exclusive use of the track, which proved to be a great way for Litton to warm up his skills and for Massey to clock a few fast laps.

Curiosity was growing about rookie Litton – Courtney Force’s crew came by the pit to meet him, as well as some TV and magazine reporters for a quick interview. After Litton walked the track to get acquainted, it was back to the hotel early to prepare for the first round of qualifying the next day.

Friday, Aug. 3

The first day of qualifying rounds came with a few surprises. Bill’s racing shoes didn’t pass inspection because the model that Simpson had recommended didn’t have a cover over the laces and a high enough top! Luckily, Simpson was there with a product marketing display and they swapped them to the compliant model on the spot. Simpson was also able to install a mandatory safety device in his helmet called an eject system. Then it was warm-up time.

The crew tested the car on the jack stands in the pit area numerous times to make sure it was running optimally, especially because now the car had a different nitro fuel pump and fuel system, a new ignition system, and several other mechanical modifications. Everything seemed to be running well and the crew was getting pumped for the first run. But then, the unexpected happened — the engine backfired on residual nitro and the power plant needed to be completely disassembled. Crew Chief Anthony Dicero and the team tore it down and discovered a blown head gasket and damaged head.

Since it was Litton’s first run at a national event and the racing community was watching, Crew Chief Anthony made the safe call of sitting out the first qualifying round to focus on fixing the engine problems. Once they were done, time ticked away slowly as the crew and driver waited for the second qualifying round at 6:30 pm against Ray Martin of Anchorage, Alaska.

With the sun hanging low at the end of the track for that second round, Anthony’s call paid off. Martin managed to edge out Litton, but Litton threw down a 5.6 elapsed time (ET) at 257 mph. It was a solid run for Litton and the crew was elated.

Saturday, Aug. 4

Saturday’s qualifying round started out on a high in the pit. But when the car left the starting line, the story changed. The car started to smoke the tires. Then it dropped a cylinder (which stopped the smoking of the tires), but a few feet later it picked the cylinder back up and continued down the track. Chief Anthony Dicero thought the engine appeared to be a little too aggressive, but it was another solid run of 5.60 and a personal best speed record for Litton at 261 mph.

Sunday, Aug. 5

This was make-or-break time for Litton. Sunday’s run would be a David and Goliath match-up with rookie Litton lining up against Chris Demke, points leader and former champ in this first round of eliminations. Nerves were on edge as Crew Chief Anthony explained the strategy which included changing the staging sequence and the first time in the left lane. As the Christmas tree lit up, the car rolled a few feet and the throttle was applied a fraction of a second too slowly – which didn’t allow the fuel and ignition timers to work optimally. Demke sent Litton and team packing with his 5.36 ET at 269.4 mph to Litton’s 5.89 ET at 259 mph. Some hard lessons learned… as Team Litton remains hungrier than ever and are now setting their sights on Indy three weeks from now. Master Tuner Tom Conway will be joining Crew Chief Anthony Dicero and the team at Indy to search for the elusive winning tune up combination.

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