“Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is a success” – Henry Ford….

After making several changes over the winter our Paton Racing team went into Gainesville with an excited open-mind, wondering what this newly front-halfed top fuel dragster was capable of. Last season was the busiest and most successful season our Paris, Ontario based team has had in recent years, highlights include a few round wins and a career best 3.81 at 324 mph run.

My time during the off-season was spent at the shop doing parts inventory, refreshing the tool black coating on the chassis and assembling racks of rods and pistons. Just two weeks before the race, the car was re-wired and plumbed with the goal to be a copy of the Lagana family ‘Nitro Ninja’ dragster. But that was not the only goal this year. Mark and I often discussed ways to better service the car between runs to be quicker and more efficient, knowing that going rounds on Sunday was possible given our trip to the semi-finals in Phoenix last year. The few changes made, influenced by the Torrence Racing and Lagana teams were essential to our own success in Gainesville.

One of the things I love about drag racing is it’s as if there are two races in one weekend, the qualifying race and then a new race day on Sunday. I had the opportunity to be on the Drag Racing Discussion panel at the Motorama show in Toronto in early March and discussed this along with my role on the Paton Racing team, our plans for the season and the future of drag racing with some of the sport’s biggest names such as Ron Capps and Jeff Lutz. It was humbling and empowering to sit in front of a couple hundred people and chat about living my dreams and chasing new ones.

We struggled in qualifying in Gainesville, maybe it was new car blues but many teams fought with the heat and tricky track. Our best qualifying effort was a 4.12 good for the 12th spot, but Sunday was a brand new day and the first round match up against Pat Dakin set the tone. It was a great close race with Shawn making his first full pull of the weekend to a clean 3.83 at 322mph over Dakin’s 3.89. At this point we had our hot rod back thanks to Dom Lagana and John Stewart and their patience and knowledge throughout qualifying to get it sorted out just in time, and we went from there. Three rounds from there to be exact, beating Tony Schumacher and #1 qualifier Clay Millican to make it to the final round against Richie Crampton.

From the second the car heads towards me on the burnout, my adrenaline does not slow down until the next run. That’s all part of why I love what we do, but sometimes adrenaline can be distracting. When Scott Palmer, his crew and the ‘Capco boys’ flooded our pit to help get the car ready for the finals I was able to step back and soak it all in for just a second. It finally hit me – we have a shot at this thing, we could win the Gatornationals. It was one of the most emotional days of my life, and as our car roared to life in the water box before the final I stood 200 feet down the racetrack and smiled knowing that no matter what happened this was a moment none of us would ever forget.

It’s hard not to dwell on the ‘what if’ or the ‘should have’ but just trust that our time for a win will come. Bobby Lagana says it best, that racing is all about family and friends and it was incredible to have so much support from such great people. There were no losers as Richie, a good friend of Shawn’s got his first Top Fuel Wally in Gainesville. It was also a thrill for our new sponsor Global Electronic Technology (affiliated with Kalitta Motorsports) to have both Global sponsored dragsters in the final round, and we could not be more proud to represent them. None of it would have been possible without Barbara Hughes and Hughes Oilfield Transportation who have been with our team since Shawn started his Top Fuel career. A runner up finish, what a way to kick off the year! One race down, nine to go and Shawn currently sits 12th in points. Charlotte is up next before a month off ahead of Bristol.

It’s wild to look back to three years ago when Shawn ran his first NHRA Top Fuel race at the Gatornationals and we did not qualify. Now after going to the finals this past weekend at the same iconic race, I can’t help but wonder… what’s next?

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Posted by Yvonne Potter – Photos by Bruce Biegler