Brainerd International Raceway, site of the 24th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Friday through Sunday, is a special place for NHRA Top Fueler Morgan Lucas.
In last year's BIR event he debuted Joe Amato's Top Fueler, clicking off his fastest pass up to that date in the second round of qualifying (4.596 seconds, 320.43 mph) and he went on to win the Top Alcohol Dragster series title.
"It's special because I enjoy the fans here," said the 21-year-old Lucas, who replaced Darrell Russell, who was killed in a race accident before BIR's event. "But it's also special just because we won it last year in the alcohol car. To me, every race you've won before you want to come back and try and win it again."
Lucas qualified fifth but lost in the first round of Top Fuel eliminations at BIR last season. He said he has only won consecutive Top Alcohol Dragster finals once.
"When it happens believe me we're not going to think we don't have to work as hard for the next one because we're going to," he said.
Lucas has been working hard on his record. He has won 34 of 57 rounds, earning runner-up honors five times, posting two holeshot wins, qualifying for every national event this season, qualifying no worse than eighth this season. He is two points away from fourth place in the NHRA Powerade Series in Top Fuel points. Two of his runner-up finishes were back to back at St. Louis and Denver.
"We've done a lot in a year's time because we never really looked at it like I was a rookie," Lucas said. "I thought I've got just as much experience as these guys the whole time. My outlook is if these guys can do it why can't I and if I can't do it then I don't need to be driving them."
Lucas said his 320 mph blast last year at BIR was memorable.
"That to me was huge," he said. "You watch TV you see it happen to everybody else and you wish you could do it. You do it and you actually get to feel what they feel. It's a pretty big honor."
Lucas wasn't used to that kind of speed and he compared it to Star Trek's warp speed vision on television.
"In my peripheral (vision) it went from I could see it real clear because I was used to that amount of Gs in my fuel car to just getting distorted," he said. "Stacking a G and a half on top of somebody is intense."
Lucas said his Top Fueler clicks off a faster speed at the 600-foot mark than his Top Alcohol Dragster did in the quarter-mile.
At the most recent national in Sonoma, Calif., none of this mattered. He lost to eventual runner-up Doug Herbert on a red light in the second round after qualifying fourth.
At Brainerd International Raceway
Pit and spectator gates open, 8 a.m.
Final registration and tech inspection (Pros, TAD/TAFC and Comp only), 8 a.m. to noon
Sportsman qualifying, 9:15 a.m.
Comp Eliminator qualifying session, 1 p.m.
TAD/TAFC qualifying session, 1:30 p.m.
Pro Stock qualifying session (PS Motorcycle/PS Car), 2:30 p.m.
Nitro qualifying session (Funny Car/Top Fuel Dragster), 3:30 p.m.
TAD/TAFC qualifying session, 4:30 p.m.
Comp Eliminator qualifying session, 5:15 p.m.
Pro Stock qualifying session (PS Motorcycle/PS Car), 5:30 p.m.
Nitro qualifying session (Funny Car/Top Fuel Dragster), 6:30 p.m.
Secure track, 8 p.m.
Pit and spectator gates open, 8 a.m.
Sportsman eliminations, 9:15 a.m.
Comp Eliminator, Round 1, 9:30 a.m.
Pro Stock qualifying session (PS Motorcycle/PS Car), 10 a.m.
TAD/TAFC qualifying session, 11 a.m.
Nitro qualifying session (Top Fuel Dragster/Funny Car), noon
Comp Eliminator, Round 2, 1 p.m.
Pro Stock qualifying session (PS Motorcycle/PS Car), 2 p.m.
Nitro qualifying session (Top Fuel Dragster/Funny Car), 3 p.m.
TAD/TAFC, Round 1, 4 p.m.
Secure track, 6:30 p.m.
Pit and spectator gates open, 9 a.m.
Prerace ceremonies, 10 a.m.
Final eliminations, 11 a.m.
Secure event, 4:30 p.m.
Last year Lucas beat points leader and former points champion Tony Schumacher in the second round in the Memphis, Tenn., national that preceded BIR's event.
"I got out of that car and I can honestly tell you that was the best feeling I've ever had in my life," said Lucas, whose quickest elapsed time is 4.474 seconds and his top speed 328.94 mph.
Lucas earned the second most points of any Top Fueler last year after BIR (in the last eight rounds he racked up 502 points to finish 16th). Coincidentally, he racked up 502 points in the first eight races this season.
He said there is no racer this season that has stood out. Doug Kalitta, No. 1 in points, and Tony Schumacher, No. 2, each have four wins. Larry Dixon (third place) has two wins and Dave Grubnic (fourth) has one.
Lucas' goal is to stay alive in the points chase.
"It would be nice to win the race, yeah," he said. "I'm not setting my goals too high because we have long-term goals so you can't just think of one race."
Lucas has another goal -- to race in a Funny Car like his friend Ashley Force intends to do in the near future.
"I'm so jealous actually because that's what I want to do," he said. "Someday, believe me, I'm going to stage up against her. There's no doubt in my mind that I'm going to drive a Funny Car sometime in my life."
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