Mac Tools U.S. Nationals
Last-minute heroics place Baca in quickest field ever
"It was do-or-die time for this Mach 1 team and we did it," an elated Baca said at the top end of O'Reilly Raceway Park in
"That pass right there tells me all I need to know about this team and what they're capable of. They could have thrown up their hands and given up but the stayed calm, got after it, and delivered for Mach 1 and all our other sponsors. What an effort!"
Baca opened qualifying for the 52nd annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals with a broken clutch finger that negated his Friday-night pass. Saturday morning, a faulty air valve made his fuel combination too rich, which ultimately led to an engine explosion. Strike two. Later in the day, he made a representative run of 4.604 seconds, one position shy of making the field. The clock started ticking.
"A 4.60 for our first run down the track? I'd take that any day," Baca said. "The problem was it was Round 3 when we were able to make our first run. The proverbial 50-cent parts breakage really put us behind. Actually, in this day and age it was more like a $100 dollars worth of parts failing, but the end result was the same."
With their backs against the wall, Baca and the Mach 1 Air Services race team knew they needed to step on it during Sunday's final two qualifying sessions to make the field, which was capped at 4.585 seconds. Racing for the first time all weekend under bright sunshine, the surface of the track was slicker than it had been since the start of the event and Baca's 8,000-horsepower racecar was too hopped up to stay connected in Sunday's first attempt.
"This place was asking for more than any of us had ever given it before," Baca said. "That's why we see such an awesome bump spot. We knew the sun coming out wasn't good for anyone to get down the track with any kind of number but we had to step on it because we had no choice. We had to run a 4.5, period, and it looked like the track wasn't going to hold it.
"The biggest thing is we wanted to salute the memory of Bill and Joan Entzminger, the parents of Mike Entzminger, who is the CEO of Mach 1 Air Services, who both passed away last month. They were great people, great Americans, and they will be missed. We desperately wanted to have a good showing for them."
With one chance left, Baca delivered, making perhaps his biggest run of the year.
"It's Indy, it's our biggest race, you have to be here," said Baca, who was the first driver in history to run a 4.4-second pass at this facility in 2003. "Now we can all breathe a sigh of relief, take a five minute break, and get ready for race day. After going through this ordeal, I like the momentum we have going."
Baca will face points leader Doug Kalitta in Round 1.
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