CONCORD, N.C. — Mike Salinas had an inkling he would make history when he staged his Scrappers Racing dragster in the left lane at zMAX Dragway on Saturday night.
As the 61-year-old stared into the night through his foggy visor, fully aware that the cool track conditions were a breeding ground for speed, the possibilities were pressing on his mind.
Salinas was preparing to break the 340-mph barrier for the first time in Top Fuel history.
Deep breath. Green light on the tree. No more thinking, only doing.
A minor mistake with the brake handle off the line cost Salinas a few thousandths of a second, but the 12-year Top Fuel racer kept the dragster straight and shot down the strip. As Salinas triggered the parachutes and approached the top end, a 3.824-second elapsed time lit up on the scoreboard.
“From half track on, it was moving pretty good and I knew it was going to be a good run. So when I passed the boards, I looked up and saw 64 and I was like, ‘Man, I thought it was going to be a little faster,’” Salinas said.
His speed: 338 mph.
One of the fastest runs in Top Fuel history, but still not the record-breaking 340-mph mark that Salinas had been hoping for. However, the anticipation of greatness he’d felt while staging hadn’t been wrong.
When Salinas reached the eighth-mile at zMAX Dragway, he was traveling 300.80 mph, making him the first Top Fuel driver to break the 300-mph barrier at the eighth mile.
“The start of the year, we said, ‘That’s something we want to do,’” crew chief Rob Flynn explained. “We rolled out in testing, had our spare car out and we actually ran 299 (mph) with that. So we knew we were in the conversation.”
Last August, Phillips Connect formed the “Phillips Connect 300 at the 1/8” program, setting a $30,000 bounty for the first driver to break the record. With that target in mind, the Scrappers Racing team has slowly been inching their way closer to the NHRA history books, adapting an all-or-nothing mentality in regard to their goal.
“We kind of set ourselves up for this. When the conditions were there and we had nothing to lose, really, we just said, ‘Let’s throw all we can at it,’” Flynn said.
Despite struggling to put the pieces together during competition this season — with only one win and final round appearance in 16 races — Salinas has never wavered in his faith that a breakthrough was coming.
“We’re goal achievers, so we knew it was coming, we just didn’t know how quick it would be,” Salinas said. “I’m not one of the veteran guys that’s been doing this a long time. So, to be able to do this and be the first at it — Kenny Bernstein and me.”
In 1992, Bernstein was the first Top Fuel racer to go 300 mph in a dragster on a quarter-mile.
More than 30 years later, Salinas reached the same speed in half the distance.
While it took months of planning, perfect track conditions and the right calls by crew chiefs Flynn and Aaron Cave, Salinas admitted it also came down to a conversation he had in the cockpit of his dragster on the starting line.
“This is the honest to God truth. I talked to my car and I rubbed the injector and I said, ‘OK, baby, it’s time,’” Salinas said with a chuckle. “And it worked.”