Bullseye On His Back, Points Leader Massey Heads Home To Texas

Top Fuel racer Spencer Massey recorded an advertisement last year for sponsor FRAM that in the NHRA community has become as quotable as Burger King’s “Where’s the Beef?” tagline or Dana Carvey’s smug “Church Lady” zinger “Well, isn’t that special?”

In the commercial, Massey, who prides himself on being quick at the Christmas Tree, encourages fans to come to FRAM’s display on the Manufacturers Midway and try the simulated electronic starting device. “Come on down and see if you can beat MY reaction time,” he invites . . . at least a dozen times a day on the racetrack scoreboard screen.

Before that, Massey punctuated every interview with the phrase “I’m lovin’ life!”

Now he has a new motto. After winning the April 15 Four-Wide Nationals final at Concord, N.C., the Don Schumacher Racing driver said his objective was to “try not to beat ourselves. That’s been kind of our motto lately, not to overpower [the track] and beat ourselves. If we can go A to B, hey — they’ve got to beat us. They’ve got to outrun us.

That’s a reasonable slogan. But he’ll be the only one not trying to beat Spencer Massey.

Beating Spencer Massey is the one thing every Top Fuel driver wants and needs to do right now. The Prestone/FRAM Dragster driver has won three of the season’s first five races and will carry a 13-2 elimination-round record into this weekend’s O’Reilly Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway at Baytown, Texas.

It’s the place that launched Massey’s Top Fuel career — the day after the NHRA event there in 2008. So the Fort Worth native might have some added incentive to keep his mojo alive.

“Our goal always is to try to win the trophy, and our plan is to do that by winning rounds,” Massey said. “We go up to the starting line every time, playing it smart and not doing anything to hurt ourselves. But we’re never complacent. We should learn something every day and always try to get better.”

Oh, he’s getting better, all right — better than he did the time before and better than his competitors.

Take, for example, his performance at zMAX Dragway in the most recent race.

Massey rewrote his national speed record at 332.18 mph during eliminations. By itself that was a startling feat — 322-plus miles an hour. But even as he rode up the return road following his victory, Massey saw Graham Light, NHRA’s senior vice-president of racing operations, and shouted out to him, “Don’t slow us down!” Said Massey, “I want to go faster.”

But what made Massey’s Four-Wide performance so monumental was that his speed mark came after Tony Schumacher had become the first ever to run 330 mph on a 1,000-foot course. About 10 minutes after Schumacher’s plateau, Massey topped Schumacher’s 330.23-mph speed with a 330.55. In the final round, beating closest opponent Tony Schumacher in the four-abreast format, he posted the 332.18.

(Schumacher, runner-up who then had to drag a 28-race winless streak to Hosuston), delivered the news to Massey. “He was just as ecstatic as our crew guys,” Massey said. “And trust me, Tony wants to win. It has been way too long since he’s been in the winners circle.

“I wouldn’t have even guessed it,” Massey said of the feat. “We were just trying to go down the racetrack.” He said crew chiefs Phil Shuler and Todd Okuhara might have been trying to hit a 332-mph speed but if so they never told him.

“That just tells you how awesome this Prestone/FRAM team is working with Phil Shuler and Todd Okuhara,” Massey said.

In 2008, Massey had a “regular gig,” driving Gene Snow’s A/Fuel dragster in NHRA competition. At close friend and veteran owner-driver Mitch King’s urging, Massey made a few runs the day after the NHRA Houston race that year in King’s Bexar Waste / Sunset Cove / La King’s Confectionery Dragster and earned his Top Fuel license.

Within 20 days, he had won the IHRA opener at San Antonio and the second IHRA race of the season, at Rockingham, N.C.

The following week, he got back in Snow’s A/Fuel dragster in NHRA competition and won the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway to lead the standings in both the IHRA Top Fuel class and the NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster category.

That, he said at the time, “is beyond my wildest dreams right now. I keep on telling people that, then something else good happens and it just gets better.”

It got even better, for NHRA legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme signed him to a contract before the year was out. Massey won the IHRA championship, then began his NHRA Top Fuel career in 2009 — and won the Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award as NHRA’s top rookie.

He sat out a year and, as he still does to this day, worked on the crews of racing friends. He came back with Don Schumacher Racing last season and is hitting his familiar stride.

Now, not even a tornado, thank God, has been able to touch Massey lately.

His buddy Mitch King lives in Galveston, Texas, and King’s old-fashioned ice cream parlor and candy store on the historic Strand there took a direct hit from Hurricane Ike. In the past few weeks, Massey’s area of Texas has been trying to recover from the effects of vicious tornadoes. Massey escaped the devastation that took place in the Dallas / Arlington part of the Metroplex, but the truck stop where he regularly washes his motorhome and fills it up wasn’t as lucky.

“It was my Petro that was on all the news where the big rigs were flying around,” Massey said. “We were lucky that it didn’t hit Fort Worth. Everybody is all shook up. It’s really sad about all the homes and businesses that were lost. At least no one was killed. I’m just happy to wake up in the morning and be able to wiggle my toes . . . let alone drive a race car.”

So Spencer Massey not only is a formidable force in the Top Fuel class, right now, his perspective and his gratefulness makes him among the class of the class, as well.

About the author

Susan Wade

Celebrating her 45th year in sports journalism, Susan Wade has emerged as one of the leading drag-racing writers with 20 seasons at the racetrack. She was the first non-NASCAR recipient of the prestigious Russ Catlin Award and has covered the sport for the Chicago Tribune, Newark Star-Ledger, St. Petersburg Times, and Seattle Times. Growing up in Indianapolis, motorsports is part of her DNA. She contributes to Power Automedia as a freelancer writer.
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