Ahhh, Italy. The land of romance, rich cuisine, religion, Renaissance art, and breathtaking scenery…hallowed haunts of da Vinci and Michelangelo…birthplace of Lancia, Ferrari, and Lamborghini…home of picturesque beaches and mountain splendor . . . the perfect place to unwind with a goblet of Chianti, with background violins playing the soothing strains of Verdi and Rossini.

It’s also a pretty effective place to get away from the snarl of an 8,000-horsepower engine that gobbles nitromethane in ungodly gulps and a headache-inducing list of  responsibilities.

Morgan Lucas found that out this month.

The National Hot Rod Association Top Fuel driver and fiancée Katie Pallone took advantage of some rare time off from Full Throttle Drag Racing Series competition to travel to Italy for a vacation. And that, Lucas said, made his disappointing performance at last weekend’s Charlotte race more palatable.

Lucas had been on a magic-carpet ride through the first four races of the season, winning the Gatornationals and earning three No. 1 qualifying positions. He had been as high as second in the standings. All are exceptional achievements in a Don Schumacher Racing-dominated start. The three DSR drivers — Spencer Massey, Antron Brown, and Tony Schumacher have been selfish about advancing to final rounds, winning races, and leading the standings.

So Lucas, in his words, was trying “to ride the wave while it’s up.”

It came crashing down at Concord, N.C., at the Four-Wide Nationals (and a format he never was crazy about to begin with). He qualified his GEICO/Lucas Oil Dragster No. 14 at zMAX Dragway. That showing was more reminiscent of his 2011, when he failed to qualify three times and started from the bottom half of the order 15 times.

He was lucky to make the field at No. 14, at that. He came from outside the lineup in his fourth and final qualifying chance, and jumped in with his first complete pass of the weekend.

“For whatever reason, we just couldn’t get a handle on it,” Lucas said. “We got behind the 8-ball early and never really got back around it. I’ve never had a lot of luck here [at zMAX Dragway]. It’s not any particular person’s fault. It’s just a rough weekend for us.

“We had a lot of good ones, and I’m sure everybody else is going to have bad ones, too,” he said. “It’s one of those things where we’ve got to get back on top of it. This was just a bad weekend. I’m not going to hang my head about it. It’s just one of those things we’ve got to be able to recover from.”

He said his and Pallone’s trip to Italy “was a good place to press reset. I probably would’ve been a lot more ticked off after this weekend had I not been to Italy first.


“Italy was one of if not the most fun vacation I’ve ever had,” Lucas said. “It was a really cool, neat place. There were a lot of fun people that we met. We just had a great time. I can definitely recommend it to anybody who wants to take a really fun, romantic, all-around great vacation.”

To refocus on his job and what he needs to make next week’s O’Reilly Spring Nationals at Baytown, Texas, pay off, he and his team remained in suburban Charlotte to test. Part of his mission was to right the team ship, and part of it was to be ready when the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff begins at this same racetrack in September.

“We’ve got to keep working,” he said after losing in the opening round Sunday. “We’ll test and hopefully come up with something good so when we come back here in the fall for the Countdown, we’re on our A-game.”

It’s way too over-reactive to say Morgan Lucas’ season is in ruins. But if Italy can turns its ancient ruins into fascinating history, so can the Top Fuel driver with a strong 2012 foundation.