Palmer feels like a winner despite first-round loss
Topeka, Sunday: The results of Sunday's O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka list Scott Palmer as losing in the first round, but in his mind Palmer came out a winner.
He qualified for his first NHRA POWERade Series event in his fourth try this year and he raced veteran Cory McClenathan in the opening round, all positive accomplishments for the rookie Top Fuel driver from Highlandville, Mo.
"Just qualifying made our whole weekend," said Palmer of his O'Reilly Top Fuel dragster crew. "We were all happy to do that. This was the smoothest weekend we've had."
Pre-race testing and a new supercharger invigorated the car's performance. Palmer qualified 14th with a 4.883-second, 287.90-mph run.
In the first round, he and McClenathan were side-by-side until Palmer's car began spinning the tires, enabling McClenathan to pull away. McClenathan's engine broke near the finish line and Palmer was closing in when his car's blower belt broke.
"The car got loose and moved toward the center line on that run, and then the engine dropped a cylinder," recalled Palmer. "I saw his engine blow but that's when our blower belt came off."
McClenathan, the No. 3 qualifier, won with a 4.848 at 277.43 to Palmer's 5.133 at 221.16.
New combination boosts Palmer's confidence
Topeka, pre-race: Heartland Park Topeka is a 3.5-hour drive from Scott Palmer's residence in the Springfield, Mo., suburb of Highlandville, but there could be quite a few of his family and friends making the trip to Topeka on this Memorial Day Weekend.
Palmer's mission is to make sure they see him compete in the O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park.
This will be the rookie Top Fuel driver's fourth NHRA POWERade Series race and he's still looking for his first berth in Sunday's 16-car field. Although it has been exasperating at times, it wasn't unexpected. Palmer and the crew of his O'Reilly Auto Parts/ACDelco/Simple Green machine have picked up a multitude of tuning ideas and some of the experience necessary to compete with the veteran teams that comprise much of the Top Fuel entry list.
"I was disappointed after our last race at Atlanta," Palmer said of his 20th-place qualifying finish. In attempting to be competitive, he went against his racing principles and put too many new parts on the car, including a supercharger (blower).
"We didn't have a magic wand to make the motor run better. We have several tuning advisors from other teams and they were telling us we needed a new blower because we needed more power. Well, we put the blower on and we did have more power, but there were too many other changes we needed to make to compensate for more horsepower and we didn't run quicker."
So Palmer and his crew regrouped. They returned to the Springfield area and made those changes, then went to Noble, Okla., and tested last week. The results, he reported, were quite positive.
"We just needed to go down the track," Palmer said. "We made three runs to half-track and our incremental numbers were as good as we ever had. We changed the whole combination around and got it to where the car leaves the starting line harder."
He had been consistent in his first two races, running times within one-thousandth of a second of each other, 4.836 and 4.837 seconds, but they still weren't quick enough. "Running 4.80s just won't get the job done," Palmer said. "We are excited about racing at Topeka because we do consider it our home track, and we'd like to do well here for O'Reilly's, too," he continued. "This is a short trip compared to our first three races at Houston, Bristol (Tenn.) and Atlanta. Now all we need to do is qualify."
Palmer will be getting some encouragement from special guest Larry Phillips this weekend. Phillips' is a five-time road racing champion who already has a win here on Heartland Park's road course.
"We're going to have our apparel trailer at the Topeka race for the first time," Palmer said. "(Funny Car driver) Bob Gilbertson (also sponsored by O'Reilly Auto Parts) and I will be selling our t-shirts and souvenir items."
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