Author: Burgess, Phil
Date published: May 18, 2012
Through three qualifying passes and Saturday's first two rounds of Top Dragster eliminations, Rob McKinley Jr. and crew chief Bill Massey were pretty proud of the consistency of their 6.0-second supercharged dragster. Now in their third season together in the class, they had good feelings about their chances of winning the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries.
After qualifying No. 2 with a stout 6.05, McKinley defeated Sportsman star Anthony Bertozzi in round one with a near-perfect 6.056 on a 6.05 dial, then trailered Phil Unruh with a 6.04 on a 6.03 dial.
Sunday's third round brought another win ticket when Gary Mock red-lighted, but McKinley and Massey were surprised that the car only ran 6.09 on its 6.02 dial.
"We were really concerned something was up," said McKinley. "We got back and looked at the data, and the engine was fine, and that gave us the inkling that we had a driveline problem."
With the class being hot-lapped, they weren't able to trace the problem but raised the dial to a 6.07 to be safe against Division 4 Top Sportsman standout Keith Raftery.
Fortunately for them, Raftery red-lighted because their car's performance plummeted dramatically on the pass and ran just a 6.24 all out.
"That's when we knew we'd burned out the high-gear clutch [in the transmission]," said McKinley, who ran the car to the finish line to try to gather data for the final. "When we got back to the pits, we checked the transmission fluid, and it was burned up. We only had 25 minutes between rounds, so we couldn't fix it, so we changed the fluid and did everything we could to cool it and the engine as much as possible."
Taking their best-educated guess, they dialed a 6.30 for their final-round match with Todd Schumert, but there still was more drama on their plate.
"We also were worried about oil pressure because the engine was so hot," he confessed. "Rolling in there, the game plan was not to break on the burnout, so I didn't do a full burnout so I could at least launch, and if the oil pressure didn't come up, I was going to shut it off."
There was double-good news for the team because, when the Tree turned, McKinely nailed a clutch .008 light and the oil pressure responded, allowing McKinley to chase Schumert down with a near-perfect 6.303 to create the meet's best package.
"We were happy; we really had to earn this one," said McKinley. "It was great to win our hometown race. I have to thank Steve Boggs and Tom Conway for helping Bill with the tune-up, Mike Manners for all of this support, and especially my wife, Susan, for all of the support and letting me chase the dream. It's been great, really neat."
The key race: Raftery's semifinal red-light saved the day for McKinley, whose dragster slowed to a 6.24 on his 6.07 dial. The full pass also allowed the team to gather pertinent data that allowed it to win the final.
The runner-up: Schumert, of La Place, La., who was runner-up in Top Dragster at Royal Purple Raceway in the Division 4 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event in early March, was making his first NHRA national event final-round appearance. En route to the final, Schumert defeated Robert LeJuene, William Kruse, Denny Hills, and Brandon Chauvin.
Fast facts: Although McKinley was the event winner, the performance star of the show was Michael Kile, who drove his Reher-Morrison-backed dragster to passes of 6.02 at 230.88 mph and 6.00 at just 231.40 to lead the field. Kile also ran 5.98, but the run was below the class' 6.00 minimum. Kile red-lighted in round one. ... Hills was perfect on the Tree in round one but had a lot of close company because seven other .00 lights were recorded in the opening stanza.
Did you know: McKinley is the owner and president of LD Systems, which provides sound, light, and video services to the entertainment industry, including concerts for groups like 3 Doors Down and Papa Roach, as well as touring productions and special events like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Quotable: "Last year, my wife lost her prize Labrador, Emma, who was her champion dog; she was one point away from her championship status when she unexpectedly passed. My wife allowed me to paint Emma's name on the front wing of the car, so this one's for Susan and Emma, who now has her champion status." - McKinley
Best packages: 1. McKinley (Conroe, Texas), .008/6.303 (6.30 dial) final; 2. Kruse (Alvin, Texas), .001/6.560 (6.55 dial) round one; 3. Chase Murray (Orange, Texas), .008/6.416 (6.41 dial) round one. ND