32nd Annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals
August 15 – 18, 2013
You could call it the Texas Two-Step this past weekend in Brainerd, Minnesota, for the 32nd Annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. Two West Texas natives formerly hailing from hometowns within 75 miles of each other, Bill Litton and Mark Taliaferro, got matched up on the quarter-mile track for the first round of eliminations. But before we take you to the finish line, let’s look at what led up to that nitro vs. blown alcohol dance.
The Litton Racing team started in Indianapolis the weekend before (August 10-11) for some test runs. Crew Chief Anthony Dicero, crew member Tony Woodside and Richard “OZ” Crampton from Morgan Lucas’ team overhauled the car before Litton got behind the wheel for the first of two test runs. The dragster had some of the best early numbers it has ever had, but Litton let up on the accelerator for part of the first test run and the car ran a 5.82 at 294 MPH.
The second test run didn’t merit numbers that were going to shock the world, but Dicero said that analyzing the data proved valuable. “I’m very happy with what we learned from the changes in the chassis, the wheelie bar and the BDK valve being changed to regulate the fuel, everything appears to be there. As for the new BDK valve, we learned that no two regulators are exactly the same in how they regulate and spring tension or in how much leakage they have. We still have a little bit of chasing to do with the main jet, but we’re going to try and get that on the flow bench this week and get that sorted out before we get to Brainerd.”
Things were looking good as the team packed up and headed to Brainerd on August 16 for the 32nd Annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. According to crew member Woodside, “It’s running better than it’s run yet, so we’re very excited to go to the next race and see what we can do.”
Crew member Dustin Gatliff assisted Chief Anthony on the crew and, being one crew member short, Litton got in on some of the pit crew work at Brainerd. In the first qualifying round, the car ran 5.80 which put it at #10 in a 16-car field. Not much changed in the second round. The dragster ran a 5.56 and picked up the cylinder that was dropped at 260 MPH, keeping the car in the #10 spot. Crew Chief Anthony thought the car was moving in the right direction, but wanted to find some more horsepower so he completely disassembled the engine and rebuilt it before the final qualifying session.
But the final session of qualifying brought some setbacks. Litton felt a good pull at the step. “We shot off the line really well with a very fast 60-foot time. It was a lot of G force, and then the tires broke loose and it just did a really wild vibration… I backed out of it.” According to Crew Chief Dicero, just two seconds down the track, the Litton car started shaking violently. The shaking was so intense that “it broke the magnetos on the car and broke the mag drive, pulled all the spark plug wires out and broke some bolts in the steering.” The shake went right into tire smoke, moving their qualifying position down to #14 in the line-up.
That set the stage for a tough first elimination round. Bill Litton was lined up against Mark Taliaferro – both Texas natives with problem-plagued cars at that point. Their Texas two-step turned out to be more of a series of missteps as each car took off from the starting line.
Possibly as a result of the vicious tire shake in the last session of qualifying, the ignition battery shorted out. “It was something we did not notice until the car was running on the starting line for first round of eliminations,” said Chief Anthony. The crew came up with a solution on the fly but there was too little time to switch over the generators and plug in the mags again. As a result, the team was left with one mag plugged in and one mag plugged in to the crank trigger as the car launched.
Taliaferro’s car also had major problems, slowing his speed to 149 MPH. So even though Litton’s car sputtered down the track at 178 MPH, he held off Taliaferro until the two dragsters were side by side at the finish line in a split-second finish. Litton remarked, “I saw Taliaferro out of my peripheral vision come and go twice so I thought we were going to get him. We were chasing him down, we were building speed on him. And at the finish line he only got us by three thousandths of a second.”
But the team didn’t leave Brainerd without gaining some ground on their tune-up combination, and earning some respect not only from their fellow competitors, but also themselves. The crew did a stellar job of adapting to last-minute problems on the starting line. Dicero said, “Right there is the sign of a good team. We get this thing turned around and it will definitely be a sign of wins to come.”
Next, it’s on to Bowling Green, Kentucky, for the Division 3 LODRS North Central Regional Races August 23 -25, with a quick pit stop in Indy for more testing.