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Lucas hopes cool weather helps

- dscott@charlotteobserver.com
Thursday, Sep. 13, 2012

The weather is cooling, which coincides nicely with the start of the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship this weekend at the O’Reilly Nationals at Concord’s zMax Dragway.

Top Fuel Dragster driver Morgan Lucas hopes that’s a good thing.

Lucas is the sixth seed in the countdown, and his three victories this season are bettered only by points-leader Antron Brown and second-seed Spencer Massey, who both have four (fourth-seed Steve Torrence also has three).

Lucas’ triumphs have something in common: Two of them came in the relatively mild temperatures of the spring – the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., in March (mid 70s) and the O’Reilly Spring Nationals in Houston in April (mid 80s). His third triumph came a month ago in Brainerd, Minn., where the weather was also a crisp 75 degrees.

Lucas, who also had four No. 1 qualifiers in the season’s first six races, cooled off as the summer set in. He’s not sure the blistering hot weather had anything to do with it, but he’s happy that autumn is approaching.

“I think at the beginning of the season, the car was more consistent,” Lucas said. “And that might have given the impression that we couldn’t do anything wrong. Then, when things got hotter in the middle of the season, we kind of got lost. But winning at Brainerd got us back on track.”

Lucas, 29, is in his ninth season on the Full Throttle circuit. He’s not been much of a factor for a championship, his best season coming in 2005 when he finished fifth.

“In the past, I probably would say I was terrified to go into the Countdown,” he said. “I’d almost wonder if I was worthy. I’d barely skinned by to get in. But this year, I think we really have a chance to chase that championship.”

Lucas is the son of Forrest Lucas, who owns Lucas Oil Products, a prominent NHRA sponsor. Morgan Lucas got his break into the sport when he took over the ride of Darrell Russell, a mentor and idol of Lucas’s who died in a crash in 2004.

Lucas was trying to break into the sport at the time and had gotten to know Russell, the NHRA’s rookie of the year in 2001. Russell gave the young Lucas a bent tire rim from one of his races, a gesture that Lucas has never forgotten.

“He made me feel welcome and at home and really motivated me to pursue drag racing,” Lucas said. “A lot of people in motorsports get a big head – and I can’t say I’ve been innocent of that all the time. But Darrell was always the same guy: Consistent, good to the fans and sponsors and guys like me.”

After Russell was killed, Lucas was picked to replace him in Joe Amato’s dragster.

“Wow, just a lot of mixed emotions,” Lucas said. “There was still a lot of heartache and sad memories. But I just took it on and tried to be a good teammate and accept the situation for what it was.

“But it was an awesome honor.”

Lucas now drives for a team owned by his father. He has two new crew chiefs – Aaron Brooks and Rod Centorbi.

“We didn’t get to this point by playing conservative,” Lucas said. “I think we’re in a much better position now than we’ve ever been.”

And the temperatures for Sunday’s finals at zMax? Expected to be in the high 70s.

Want to go?

O’Reilly Nationals zMax Dragway

Tickets: www. charlottemotorspeedway.com; 800-455-FANS

Schedule:

Friday

7:30 a.m.: Gates open

8 a.m.: Sportsman racing

2 p.m., 5 p.m.: Pro Mod qualifying

3 p.m., 5:45 p.m.: Pro Stock (car, motorcycle) qualifying

4 p.m., 6 p.m.: Nitro (Funny Car, Top Fuel dragster) qualifying

Saturday

7:30 a.m.: Gates open

8 a.m.: Sportsman eliminations

12:15 p.m., 2:45 p.m.: Pro stock qualifying

1 p.m.: 3:30 p.m.: Nitro qualifying

2 p.m., 4:30 p.m.: Pro Mod qualifying

Sunday 9:30 a.m.: Gates open 11 a.m.: Driver introductions

Noon: Nitro round 1

1 p.m.: Pro Stock round 1

1 :30 p.m.: Pro Mod round 2

2 p.m.: Nitro round 2

2: 45 p.m.: Pro Stock round 2

3:45 p.m.: Nitro semifinals

4 p.m.: Pro Stock semifinals

4:15 p.m.: Pro Mod semifinals

5:10 p.m.: Pro Mod finals

5:15 p.m.: Pro Stock finals

5:30 p.m.: Nitro finals

Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14

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