SONOMA, Calif. (July 25) -- It wasn't until CatSpot Organic Cat Litter Top Fuel veteran Scott Palmer started racing for businessman Tommy Thompson a year and a half ago that he was able step up his game enough to run with the top teams in the NHRA Drag Racing Series. It's been a wonderful blessing for the lifelong fan-turned-driver and yet part of competing at the highest level is the big-time challenges that occasionally arise.
"When I was running part-time all those years I had to run defensively," Palmer said. "I liken it to the way my grandparents said it was here in America during the Great Depression because we had to save everything we could. We'd take parts and pieces others were throwing away and make them work. We really didn't have a choice if we wanted to race.
"Now CatSpot and Tommy Thompson gives us everything we need to go fast. We're no longer happy just to make the field. Now we come into every race expecting to run well, and I think our record is showing everyone we're a legitimate team. When we race the big guys now, they don't take us for chumps. They run us hard because they know we can beat them, and this is just our second full year with a true race budget."
Ironically, when he was cannon fodder for the big guns, the only places Palmer could regularly fight on somewhat level footing was at racetracks with dodgy surfaces. Less-than-perfect racetracks curb the advantages of high-horsepower teams as they can't unleash their full potential for fear of over-powering the track and smoking their tires.
Low-buck teams have to play it safe to avoid breaking parts so they tend to run better at lesser tracks because they're not pushing the performance envelope too hard.
But that's all changed for Palmer now that he can push for wins, but alas the NHRA has altered the game a little with less track prep each weekend.
"We've got all the parts we need now," Palmer said. "We've got Jason (McCulloch, top-flight crew chief). We're running the six-disc clutch now. We've finally got all the stuff to go fast and the NHRA turns around and takes the track prep away.
"Now we have all the problems the big teams have trying to tip-toe down a lot of these tracks. But in Sonoma, the track's always so good that we can try to go fast again. I can't wait to get to the racetrack."
Fresh off an upset win over three-time world champ Antron Brown, Palmer is now solely focused on this weekend's 31st annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
"It takes a different mindset to say, let's go win, for real," Palmer said. "It takes more time than people think. To win you need to have balls. And it's definitely cool to know you are capable of winning races by beating people, not just wishing for luck."