Author: Littlefield, Brad
Date published: December 3, 2010
Fresh off his 14th NHRA Lucas Oil Top Alcohol Funny Car championship - his 12th in the last 14 years - Frank Manzo stands as the best Sportsman driver of this or any era.
Manzo leads all NHRA Lucas Oil racers in several statistical categories. He has 14 national and 20 divisional championships. He has nearly 200 combined national and divisional wins. His latest championship was bolstered by an unprecedented active streak of 30 consecutive wins in his last 30 national event final-round appearances.
"Unbelievable," said Manzo. "We're happy if we can go two weeks in a row, to be honest with you. We just keep digging and working as hard as we can. There are a lot of great cars out there."
Manzo, whose career final-round win-loss record of 91-24 (.826) indicates how automatic he is in the money round, hasn't lost in a final since he red-lighted away a quicker e.t. opposite Jay Payne in the final of the 2006 season opener. A continuation of the dominant streak was pivotal this season as four of his six wins occurred by stopping his closest challenger for the championship, Mickey Ferro, in the finals of the Gainesville, Chicago, Englishtown, and Norwalk events.
"If it goes the other way, Mickey wins the championship," said Manzo. "Those races were really important. You don't realize how important they are until you look back on it at the end of the year. Mickey has proven himself. He has a consistent, fast car, he has a great team, and he's a great driver."
The final tally of Manzo's 808 points to championship runner-up Ferro's 787 is a margin of just one round, but the race for the title wasn't as close as indicated. Ferro was able to inflate his points total with six consecutive wins to end the season. Third-place finisher Payne was the last driver with a mathematical shot of tying Manzo if he would have won the last three events of the season, but Manzo owned the tiebreakers that would have determined the winner.
Manzo distanced himself early in the season with a streak of 20 consecutive round-wins by scoring at his first four national events, along with divisional wins in Norwalk and Reading. A perfect season was still in play until July 4, when he shook the tires in the semifinals of a Division 1 event in Lebanon Valley, N.Y., and lost to Todd Veney. Manzo completed his scorecard after that with divisional wins in Rising Sun, Md., and Englishtown and a national event win in Brainerd, and he added another national event win in Charlotte for good measure. He wouldn't lose again until October, during which he lost to Veney again in Atco, N.J., and his otherworldly streak of 10 victories and 41 round-wins at the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals was ended at the hands of Paul Gill.
"We had a lot of good runs in '09," said Manzo. "We started off in '10 with some good racing in Gainesville and some wins that came after that. To get the job done, we had to make some really good runs."
Indeed, Manzo came up big when it counted. His first win of the season occurred in a final round that featured the first side-by-side 5.4- second runs during eliminations in class history. Manzo was good on the starting line as well as on the racetrack, and he simply didn't make any bad runs with his new Murf McKinney chassis until late in the season.
"With the new car, we made about 54 runs before it shook the tires," said Manzo. "It shook every run we made over the last three races except the final run in Charlotte. We didn't do a very good job at the end of the year. I'll spend a lot of time thinking about it this winter."
Manzo, as part of his agreement with Al-Anabi Racing, will once again spend his winter in the Middle East tuning Sheik Khalid Al Thani's doorslammer and aiming for a second straight championship doing so in Qatar. With a full season under his belt of managing his own racing and the racing schedule and preparation of Al Thani's Pro Extreme entry, Manzo hopes to find balance in his 2011 efforts.
"I go to six or seven Pro Mod races, plus I work on the Pro Mod all week," said Manzo. "Trying to run the Funny Car and the Pro Mods is tough, and I'm trying to manage it a little better. Hopefully, I can adapt to the two-car deal better than I did this year. I had a great year, but I let my car get off-balance down the stretch."
Manzo thanked his wife, Michele; crewmembers John Glade, Fred Bauer, Ed Hofmann, and Scott Siesing; Al-Anabi Racing; Lucas Oil; Hoosier Tire; and JEGS. Glade, his right-hand man, has been a part of all 14 of Manzo's titles, which date back to 1981.
As he celebrates the accomplishments of the 2010 season, Manzo will approach his title defense with the same moxie that has propelled him to outwork his opponents throughout his career. The 58-year-old New Jersey native uses the pair of second-round losses that ended his season and the unreal performances in Pomona by his competitors - notably the 5.449, 266.00-mph run by Tony Bartone - as motivating factors for 2011.
"This might be the best thing that could've happened to us," said Manzo. "Maybe getting our butts kicked at the last two or three races of the season got our attention. I know I'm behind and that I don't have an advantage anymore, so maybe I'll pay better attention when I'm working on the car and test a lot harder.
"Maybe Jay, Mickey, or somebody else will be the champion. I've been on a pretty good roll for the last 14, 15 years, so I'm entitled to a bad year; I was hoping that year would come around 2020. I'll tell you what: You better grab a good seat; it's going to be one helluva show."