What a start to the year for our Paton Racing Top Fuel Dragster Team! Fresh off a career best season in 2016 I didn’t think it could get much better but only two races into this, my fifth season with the team, it is shaping up to be the best yet….

In a previous blog post I spoke of that elusive 3.8 second pass that we had been working towards all last year. At the NHRA World Finals in Pomona that moment came and we didn’t just squeak into the .80’s – the car (tuned by John Stewart) rocketed to a 3.84 at 319 mph, an instant new career best E.T for driver Shawn Reed and our team owned by Barry Paton. The Top Fuel field has grown increasingly quicker and that 3.84 was unbelievably only good enough for the 15th spot, but it got us in the show and ended 2016 with a solid record of qualifying at each of the seven races we attended.

Over the winter there were significant changes made to keep up this momentum, as you may have read about here on DragRaceCanada- the largest being a new multi-panel carbon fiber body, which is not only forty pounds lighter than the previous fiberglass one piece body but will now allow the car to twist on launch and arch as it is engineered to do, improving E.T and speed while reducing strain on the chassis.

Adding to the new look are a pair of ultra-cool front wheels designed and built by Barry’s good friend Mike Curtis (owner of Curtis Speed and Custom) that feature the Paton Racing 50th Anniversary logo. Mike Curtis is shown here with Barry and Jimmy Shine hanging out with us in Pomona!

What else contributed to a career best season in 2016? How about Todd and Barry’s first ever round win in NHRA Top Fuel competition. This came in Epping, New Hampshire where Todd beat Brittany Force in a not-so-pretty engine expiring race, but we got the W. Rookie Cameron Ferre drove the car in Charlotte where he as well added a round win in his first Top Fuel race to an already impressive driving career.

From starting off the year with a career best 3.93 and ending it with a 3.84, to seemingly smaller victories such as a 60-foot time improvement of 0.030 or better, it was most definitely the year of growth. Big or small these are major stepping stones in the success of our part-time Canadian team.

As expected, Washington based driver Shawn Reed was the most fired-up at the end of last season. He brought his sponsor Hughes Oilfield Transportation completely on-board, signing a three-year deal with Barry and keeping us busy with ten races on the schedule this year including the Western Swing and the final 3 races of the Countdown to the Championship.

As I said, keeping up the momentum was the goal this year and so far it has gone to plan. At the Winternationals in Pomona last month we improved once again on that career best E.T with a 3.81 at 313 mph that had everyone cheering on the starting line. Still, a round win for Shawn had yet to happen.

Phoenix started off a bit rough. Friday qualifying was two-rounds of tire-smoking attempts hampered by a clutch issue that was diligently found by Mark and fixed that evening. Saturday we were back on track, running a 3.83 at 307 mph to line up against Doug Kalitta on race day in the desert. The beauty of drag racing is that anything can happen. Before the first round of eliminations on Sunday we have all of the necessary parts prepared to go 4 rounds that day regardless of who is on the opposite side of the ladder. The plan is always to give the driver in the other lane a run for their money and Shawn did just that in round one, edging Doug Kalitta with a 3.92 to his 3.97 to finally drink that Mello Yello on race day.

Winning first round was exciting but seeing that win light come on against Steve Torrence to go to the semi-finals was incredible – it was all of the hard work and every late night at the shop, it was every sacrifice made in order to chase this Top Fuel Dragster around the country, it was for everyone who has supported our team and who I knew was watching back home on NHRA All-Access. To top it off Barbara Hughes herself (co-owner of Hughes Oilfield Transportation) was in attendance, riding in the tow vehicle after each run on Sunday to be the first to congratulate her driver.

The people are what make this sport and I have to once again note Scott Palmer and his crew. After losing second round they serviced the motor in their dragster, put a fresh rack of rods and pistons in and brought the entire ready-to-run motor down to our pit for our team to use in the final round if needed. Making plans for the finals was surreal and I couldn’t help but smile as I frantically mixed nitro while my guys put the finishing touches on the motor now ready to fire up for the third time that day. Pulling into the lanes (which were eerily quiet with only three other cars lined up) I had never been more nervous-excited, we had come this far and I didn’t want the day to end yet!

We ended up bowing out in the semi-finals to eventual race winner Leah Pritchett. Shawn saw her ahead just before the finish and smartly lifted, not wanting to hurt parts. Going into Gainesville next weekend the goal of consistency remains the same regardless of any pressure of a repeat semi-final performance. Shawn currently sits 7th in points and since we will be sitting out the Las Vegas event before going to Houston, it would be nice to have a strong showing at the Gators to stay in the Top 10!

Posted by Yvonne Potter

Bruce Biegler Photos