The weather is cooling, which coincides nicely with the start of the NHRAs Countdown to the Championship this weekend at the OReilly Nationals at Concords zMax Dragway.
Top Fuel Dragster driver Morgan Lucas hopes thats 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 OReilly 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 seasons first six races, cooled off as the summer set in. Hes not sure the blistering hot weather had anything to do with it, but hes 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 couldnt 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. Hes 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. Id almost wonder if I was worthy. Id 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 Lucass 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 NHRAs 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 cant say Ive 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 Amatos 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 didnt get to this point by playing conservative, Lucas said. I think were in a much better position now than weve ever been.
And the temperatures for Sundays finals at zMax? Expected to be in the high 70s.
Want to go?
OReilly Nationals zMax Dragway
Tickets: www. charlottemotorspeedway.com; 800-455-FANS
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
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