What’s good PEAK Squad? Dan Fletcher here and I want to take this moment to wish everyone a Happy New Year! In my world, the holiday season is also known as the other season, ‘cause in the Fletcher family there’s really only two; racing season and the get ready for racing season!
While I’m always a little sad when racing finally wraps up for the year, it’s also nice to step back for a few weeks. I have a huge laundry list of maintenance for race cars, trucks, trailers, and motor homes, but if I have a schedule slip here and there at least I’m not missing a race. At least as of right now I’m not, lol. The getting ready for racing season seems to get shorter and shorter these days!
When last we spoke, I had my hands full with trailer repair and maintenance. Look, I’m blessed to be a professional racer, but make no mistake, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. The trailer needed one axle, a pair of brake assemblies, all the wheel bearings, and it got six new tires. In addition to the obvious expense, it was quite a bit of work, and pretty physical work at that. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m pretty much a one-man band; well, the band is, shall we say, getting pretty well-seasoned. I’d love to start farming this sort of work out, but that’s crazy talk given the constraints of the current DFR budget as configured.
Speaking of well-seasoned, the trailer is a 2000 model year T&E stacker that literally has to have almost 600,000 miles on it, no exaggeration. Everything that rotates has been changed out multiple times and I had it painted a few years back but talk about a testament to quality. I’d say it’s probably the best investment I’ve ever made, but that might be selling my motor home short. It’s a 2003 model Freightliner truck conversion with a C15 CAT engine that has the better part of 500,000 miles on it. I bought both of these units new, and replacement cost today would be astronomical, so it’s definitely a maintain and keep them forever plan at this point.
Well, I managed to get all my ducks back in a row tow rig wise and it was back on the NHRA trail for the Maple Grove national event in Reading, Pennsylvania. Maple Grove has always been one of my favorite facilities, going way back to before I even started NHRA racing. Tucked away in the hills of Amish country, its super scenic and often times super fast, especially once you get to later parts of the year.
I went with both the ATI Performance Stock Eliminator car as well as the Micro Strategies Super Stock Camaro. Everything was prepared and as ready as could be, and the weather forecast was great. The drive up I-95 from North Carolina went smoothly, and I was excited for the weekend. Well, that was until the weekend actually got started. Often the travel is the hardest part, but not this time, as I experienced more mechanical problems with one of the cars.
I’m no one, please don’t take it the wrong way, but generally I have my ducks in a row. Preparation is my strong suit. I’m not rich, we eat a lot of bologna and Ramen noodles, but the race cars get the best of everything. Well, after the last qualifying run the Super Stocker had a silly transmission failure, and there was no time to repair it before the first round of eliminations. I was resigned to having lost in that car and pretty much put all my eggs in the other car’s basket. Well the other car’s class ran first and I lost. Now I’m pretty much screwed, time to just load up and do the pit walk of shame.
Not so fast Sparky. Against my better judgement, which is clearly a misnomer in my case, I limped the Super Stock car up to the starting line for round one. I literally wasn’t even sure the car would make it to the burn out box, but I was hoping to put on enough of a show that my opponent didn’t realize I was broken. Fortunately, the staging lanes at Maple Grove run downhill and I was able to get the car to the Christmas tree under power. Now was time to hope for divine intervention and a red light in the other lane.
Sweet Baby Jesus, you just can’t make this stuff up; my opponent red lighted, and I was barely able to idle the car down the track to get towed back to the pits. Now I had until the next morning to make the required repairs before round two of eliminations. The only problem here is that the spare transmission was still being repaired and was on the DL. What to do, what to do…
Well one of my longest and greatest sponsors is ATI Transmissions, but they weren’t at the track, so that option was out. Thankfully, one of my racer friends that was at the track owns and operates a thriving transmission business. Don’t panic, call Sepanek. Jack Sepanek. Yahtzee, I say. Jack and his wife Katie took it back to their shop, fixed it, and had it back to me by 9pm. I put it in the car that night, finished everything up early the next morning, and reported for second round of eliminations an hour or two later. Fast forward two days and five rounds later, and I’m holding NHRA Wally #107, tightening my grip on second place all time only behind PEAK Squad Captain John Force. Did I mention that you can’t make this stuff up?
I went to one more NHRA race in 2023, the divisional event at Rockingham, which is a mere two hours down the road from my humble abode. I lost early in the Stocker but went rounds in the Super Stock car. The track wasn’t good, and by that, I mean the starting line traction was less than stellar. Many of my peers struggled, and the way this deal goes is late at night, deep into the event, it seems as though they just want to get done and don’t do much in the way of track prep. When you have a somewhat violent, wheel standing car, traction is kind of important.
Well, my car made a hard move to the right while it was straight in the air and almost took out the Christmas tree. I had to literally let off the gas while airborne and crash land it to avoid a collision. Fortunately, I have skid plates strategically placed under the frame to protect the oil pan from being driven through the hood in such a situation, but no bueno for sure. Suffice it to say, moving forward at these lesser events with that particular car, I need to take some power out at the hit to safely navigate the often-sketchy conditions. I’m sure you’ve all watched Street Outlaws; same deal.
So, with NHRA done for the season, my focus turned to the Chevelle wagon bracket car. As previously mentioned, it’s the funnest car in the fleet to drive. It does awesome wheelies, hooks in a car wash, has an old school stereo system, and best of all has a long roof. It might be a big ole lumbering wagon, but it goes 6.30s at 108mph in the eighth mile and prints et slips, which is obviously a huge part of turning on win lights.
North Carolina affords me the opportunity to race till near December, and I’m all for taking advantage of said opportunity. Good paying events that are close to home, close enough that I don’t even have to take the motor home to some of them. When it’s only an hour or so from the house, I’m all about little wheels rolling out. Pickup truck, small, enclosed trailer, and a breakfast sandwich at the Mickey D’s drive through on the way to the track. Back to how I started out 30 years ago!
Happily, things finished up on somewhat of a high note. The wagon got ‘em for a 10k footbrake win at Roxboro, a little old school eighth mile track north of Raleigh, and then a couple weeks later carded a runner up at a 10k top bulb event at Virginia Motorsports Park.
It’s so hard to win these days you can’t be too disappointed with a Runner Up, but it’s hard not to be when you don’t finish the job. I red lighted in the final by 0.003 of a second, and while my opponent made a good run, it was a beatable run. But guess what, he was green, I wasn’t, and that’s all it took.
So, that’s a wrap for 2023. It was a good season for Dan Fletcher Racing, but it could have been great, and I mean really great. I won the one NHRA national event at Maple Grove but lost in the finals at Gainesville and Bristol. I also lost in the semi-finals of two others, all of which were by the slimmest of margins. That’s a potential of four more wins that could have taken me over the 110-win mark, which was kind of my goal for the year. Compound that with early season engine troubles and late season transmission woes, and it was a bit on the frustrating side to say the least!
I guess I just need to be encouraged though; all the cars are running great at this point and I’m super pumped for what lies ahead in 2024. The Super Stock car with the LS motor is finally on point, and I plan to make a serious run at the NHRA Championship next season. The wagon bracket car is going to be massaged to fit an NHRA class, so that will be a new and hopefully fun deal as well. The first race of the year will be the PRO Allstar Shootout event in Florida in the beginning of February. This is a HUGE invitational event, paying $250k to win in Top Fuel and Funny Car. They’re also having a 32 car invite only Super Stock race that’s paying $30k to win. I’ve been invited, and so has that Force character. Hopefully we can give the #PEAKSquad something to squad up about…