Spencer Massey likes to compete. Whatever it is, he makes it a competition, even if it’s against himself.
When he worked for Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, he would get together in Brownsburg, Ind., with fellow Top Fuel driver Shawn Langdon for poker games. On the weekends, they transferred their contests to dragstrips across the country, wagering beers for who had the best reaction time when they lined up side by side during qualifying sessions.
Prudhomme, in mock shock, exclaimed, “I’m spending hundreds of thousands of dollars out here and you’re betting on beers?!”
Massey said his Prestone/FRAM Dragster crew tries to beat the others in the Don Schumacher Racing pits in servicing and warming up the car between elimination rounds.
He dares himself to dig into the mechanical guts of a sportsman-class race car and fine-tune it to its best — even when the car isn’t his. That’s what he did during his first weekend off after seven consecutive weekends of U.S. Nationals and Countdown competition. He drove from his Fort Worth home down to the Texas Motorplex to help his friends prep their cars for the final two races of the season.
“You know how I am — I can’t get away from these dang race cars or racetracks,” he said. “Even in my off week . . . even playing with a race car, even though it’s not my car, it’s still relaxing.”
Massey won’t be playing and he won’t be relaxing at this weekend’s Big O Tires Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He’s No. 2 in the standings, 104 points behind leader Antron Brown and the Matco Tools/Aaron’s Dragster team.
He plans to qualify as well as he can and last as many rounds as he can at this race and the Nov. 8-11 season finale at Pomona, Calif., in a car that is plenty capable of carrying him to a fifth and sixth victory this year. But even the aggressive young Texan knows Brown would have to falter uncharacteristically for him to earn the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series championship.
“It’s going to be tough to do. But anything can happen,” Massey said. “It’s not that I’m going to totally concede or say it’s his race or his championship to win, but man, we’re 104 points out. Antron . . . if he goes, I believe, a total of three rounds in the next two races, even with us winning it, it’s still going to be his. It was a lot easier to win this championship a week ago, before Reading, I’ll tell you that.”
Brown isn’t letting up. He said he has “to stay humble” but said, “We’ve got to go in here and not leave one I undotted and one T uncrossed . . . not go in there in defensive mode. We want to keep attacking.”
The top three Funny Car contenders — leader Jack Beckman and rivals Ron Capps and Mike Neff — are separated by 54 points.
No. 3 Neff, the early-season points leader for John Force Racing and four-time winner in seven finals this year in the Castrol Ford Mustang he also tunes, said, “I’m just happy to be in contention.”
The story lines with Beckman and Capps are more entangled. After a much-publicized crew-chief and team swap following the first Las Vegas race, in April, Capps’ struggling career was jump-started, seemingly at Beckman’s expense. But Beckman, with Todd Smith tuning, and Capps, with Rahn Tobler as crew chief, are in a tug-o-war for a first series crown.
“Don [Schumacher] makes these changes with a lot of thought. I took a lot of flak. People thought I am stealing Jack’s crew. It kind of hurt me personally,” Capps said. Pledging his complete support for the decision, Capps said Beckman “is the same way. This is what we do for a living.”
He said, “It was difficult because I felt like it was a no-win situation. If we go out and we did what we did — went to six final rounds in a row — I’m doing it in Jack’s old car. Set the quickest run in history. Well, I did it with Jack’s old team.
“I watched actually when Jack came over to our team. He brought a sponsor, came into Whit Bazemore’s car, and Don asked Whit to help him with driving that car,” Capps said. “You sometimes wonder what [Don is] thinking, but everything usually turns out like gold. All you can do is give him your full support because he gives you everything you need to win, and you can’t ask for any more than that.”
This weekend could be heartwarming for one DSR driver and maybe heartbreaking for another — or maybe heartbreaking for both if Neff and Force have their way.