When PDRA star Melanie Salemi announced she would be jumping into the cut-throat Radial vs The World class there was zero doubt her team would be a contender at some point — what’s shocking is how quickly they achieved that status. Salemi climbed into the seat of the Eddie Whelan-owned 2019 Camaro and proceeded to smash the RvW field at the World Street Nationals winning the event just days after revealing her plans to the world.
Even with all of her experience wheeling a supercharged Pro Mod, Salemi knew getting behind the wheel of the car for the first time she would have to keep an open mind to learn there nuances of a new car on an entirely different tire than she was accustomed.
“This was my first time on anything other than a big tire, and I can tell you I wasn’t nervous, but I knew it was going to be a new experience, so I went in with a different mindset. I had to go back to four or five years ago when I first started racing the Pro Mod versus the dragster I was racing prior to that because I had to learn how to feel this race car and how to experience something different again. The basic functions in the racecar are the same, other than the short burnout, which I’m not a fan of,” Salemi says.
Salemi quickly adapted to the new car, so when eliminations began she was ready. That paid off early since Salemi faced tough competition right off the bat. In the first round, she lined up against former Sweet 16 champion Mark Micke and laid down a 3.61-second pass to pick up the win. In the second round she faced off against Mike Decker III and she was able to squeak by for another round win — but more importantly, she earned a bye run to the finals with that victory. During the bye run, husband and tuner Jon Salemi put a big tune-up in the car that led to a stunning .896 60-foot time, but the Camaro began to wheelstand and the wheelie control cut power to prevent any issues.
In the final round, Salemi had a date with Steve Jackson, who recently won RvW at No Mercy 10. Going into this matchup Salemi was ready to draw on all of her skills and experience to give Jackson all he could handle.
“I knew going into the finals that Steve was .009 on the tree in the semis, so I’d have to step it up a little bit. I ended up being .007 on the tree and he was .047; we both went 3.58, but I was just a bit quicker with my ET and on the tree so that granted me the win. We didn’t have a lot of runs on the car so Jon was almost guessing on where he could push the car. We knew we needed to go fast, we knew where we couldn’t go, and we knew where we had been with the tune-up. He had to make a decision on where he wanted to be with his tune-up and that all worked out great, along with my light,” Salemi explains.
Seeing the outcome of the race on the scoreboard was thrilling for Salemi, especially considering this was the car’s first outing and the level of competition she had just beaten.
“Honestly, I hadn’t looked at the scoreboards all weekend…I don’t know why. Jon always tells me what I’ve run the majority of the time, but I always know before that because I can see the scoreboard. During that run, I knew Steve wasn’t beside me and I couldn’t see him so I was fixated on that scoreboard. I saw the win light come on, I saw the time come up, I was super excited, but nobody said anything on the radio. Finally, by the time I was getting off the racetrack, Jon came on the radio to let me know I won. I knew I had won but I also knew they were on the starting line having a celebration and I was having my own little celebration inside the race car by myself,” Salemi says.
Salemi’s plans remain unchanged at this time with the new radial car — in January the team will return to Florida to compete at the U.S. Street Nationals at Bradenton Motorsports Park, then it’s off to South Georgia Motorsports Park for Lights Out 11 and the Sweet 16 3.0 shortly thereafter.
You can hear Melanie talk about her big win and other topics RIGHT HERE on The Dragzine Podcast.