Hi guys! By now, I’m sure most of you know how we did in Parker, Arizona last weekend at the second to last race of the 2016 season. Since my last blog post went over so well, I thought I would do another one over the race and everything that has gone on to get us to last weekend. So here we go!
I’m not sure how other drivers feel when they move from class to class, but I can say for me, there were a lot of emotions as I’ve moved from PWC to where I am now. In Personal Watercraft, I had so much fun and met some of my lifelong friends, so leaving that class and moving into a full sized boat was kind of hard in some aspects. But at the same time, my whole last season of PWC, I knew that I had a boat waiting for me at home that I was going to move into and I was so excited for that new chapter that I left PWC feeling excited and ready to move on. I remember the feeling I had before my very first pass in my red open hydro and I felt so nervous because I had absolutely no idea what it was going to be like but also feeling so excited because I felt like so many new doors were opening for me. My first year in the open boat in Modified Eliminator was a tough one. We weren’t competitive because we had a blower motor trying to run 10 seconds in a 1/4 mile. It wasn’t working well at all. The next year, when we moved to Top Eliminator, the guys promised we’d be more competitive and they were definitely correct. To that point, I didn’t feel like I had proven myself. I kind of doubted myself by thinking, “Am I even going to be good at this? What if this isn’t for me?” but that year is the year I believed our team proved that we had what it takes. The first year in TE, we ran for the championship in Lucas and SDBA and ended up Runner-Up in both. I won my first race, which I can remember was, at that time, the #1 most exciting moments of my life. To this day, it’s still in the top 5. That day I felt like I was on top of the world. We ended the year on a high note. The next year, we showed up at the first race intending on running another year in TE. I came out of the toter home in New Athens, Illinois, and I could tell my dad and Barney had an idea running through their minds. They had that look in their eyes. They looked at me and said “What do you think about running Pro Eliminator this year?” It caught me by surprise, and I of course said that it would be a complete dream to do that. In the back of my mind, I was thinking, “Wait, no, I can’t compete in Pro Eliminator. I watched my dad race PE for my whole life and those guys are way too tough. I can’t compete in that class.” Eventually, I asked my dad, “do you think we can even be competitive in PE?” he answered, “Shelby, I promise you that we will win at least one race this year in Pro Eliminator.” I didn’t necessarily believe him, but I trusted him. We moved into PE that year, won 4 races, 2 championships, our Father Daughter Championship, and created many more of my Top 5 moments that I will never forget. The next year, we stayed in PE, won 4 races, 2 championships, Lucas Oil ET Driver of the Year, and most importantly, bought the Pro Mod. Now let’s get to the important stuff:)
I remember the day we bought the Pro Mod. We were in San Angelo, Texas, and we heard through the great vine that Kyle Brawley might be interested in selling his Pro Mod. I went with my dad to go talk to him, and in probably less than an hour, we had ourselves a pro mod. I was on cloud nine. I had already done my capsule certification in hopes that this would happen someday, and I couldn’t believe it was real. Growing up, I imagined racing, but the thing people might not believe is I never saw myself where I am now. The things that are happening now are way beyond my little 10 year old imagination. I don’t even know exactly what I imagined racing would be like, but I know that I didn’t imagine it like this. I used to look up to Pro Mod racers like Jarrett Silvey, Daryl Ehrlich, Bryan Sanders, all who now race Top Fuel. But when I looked up to them when I was a kid, I absolutely NEVER imagined myself in their position, racing the same class they did. I thought that was impossible. So, obviously, just having a pro mod in my grasp was beyond my wildest dreams. We started purchasing different parts for the pro mod before the 2015 season ended, and it was very exciting. But I couldn’t help but be sad when my last race in my open boat came about. Phoenix 2015 was very bittersweet for me. I won my 5th championship, but knowing that I might not ever race the boat that has been so good to me was completely heartbreaking. It might sound crazy, but it was like that boat and I were best friends. It kept me safe, it won me races, championships, helped me gain amazing friendships that I’ll have forever, and bonded my dad and I more than ever (which is hard, trust me. We’ve been besties since I was born). I was also worried for the next chapter. I came back to the other points in my career where I wasn’t sure if I would prove myself, but I felt like it was more important than ever to prove myself. My parents had invested in me more than ever, my team was willing to take off work to go across the country just to help me follow my dreams, and now national television is going to see if I could make it in Pro Mod. It might sound crazy, but I felt like the pressure was incredible. I was constantly feeling bad about the money and the time spent by others because of me. We went to the first race of the season feeling excited and ready to see what our new motor could do. Since this motor was different than what most people in drag boats run, it was going to be an interesting ride to figure it out. It was tough, and a lot of work, but the guys worked until late at night on Saturday to get my motor back together to hopefully get my license that Sunday at the season opener. It took us quite a few tries, but we got my license on my 21st birthday (also one of my Top 5 favorite memories. Maybe I should start saying Top 10? There’s so many). Throughout the season, we worked on my boat literally every single race because one thing or another went wrong. There was everything from barrel valve leaks, to hurt heads, to ignition problems, to a ton of starter problems. We were struggling. A ton. It was like we’d get our spirits and momentum up, and then the race gods would shut us down. There were a couple times where I let us down. Red lighting by -.008 and -.005 in consecutive races when you have the chance to go to the semi finals makes you beat yourself up for weeks. I think I was more negative than my team though. They would keep saying, “Shelby, when we get this figured out, we’re going to be competitive. We’re gonna have our time. We believe in you” and that meant more to me than anything. I remember going into Parker and just hoping we could get the race in before any wind came up. We didn’t get any runs on Friday because of mechanical problems and then because of wind. That didn’t make me feel confident at all. That meant we had two shots on Saturday to qualify decent and for me to feel confident on the light. We had just changed gears in the v-drive so I really wanted a couple shots at the light before Sunday came around. We ran well on Saturday, and I was a happy girl. When I woke up Sunday morning, I remember feeling weirdly calm. Usually I get pretty nervous on Sundays. I have my little rituals. I tend to pace. I don’t really like talking after I get out of my pit to go to the water. I feel like all racers have their little things that they do. But for some reason, I felt confident and calm. It was weird. But I do remember thinking “I really hope we didn’t come all the way to Arizona to lose first round. I really don’t want to disappoint my team.” We went out first round and I cut a good light, ran a good number, and won the round. Barney came on the radio and told me we won, and I got excited of course. Barney says he takes the headset off after he tells me when I win so I don’t blow out his ear drums (LOL). I found out that if we won second round, that we would have a bye to the finals. This felt like our shot. But for some reason, if I win first round, I feel like that’s a win for us. I mean, of course I want to go farther, but I feel like first round is always the toughest to get through for me personally. So second round, we go out, cut a good light, run a good number, Barney comes on the radio and says “WE HAVE A BYE TO THE FINALS!!!” I freaked out. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like everyones hard work had paid off. I may or may not have done an embarrassing excited dance on national television. But, ya know, it was an exciting day, so who cares? Going back to the pits was the best thing ever. Seeing all of my teams faces made my heart happy. I could feel their pride. My mom and dad were so happy. It felt like this is what we had worked all season for. Seeing their faces that happy made all of the stress worth it for me. We ran our bye, I red lit, but we ran a good number. That made me a little nervous, but I knew what I had to do. Going into the finals was exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time. I wondered, “how in the world did I get here? These are the days that I couldn’t even dream about because they used to be so far out of my reach. Now it’s here.” I wanted it so bad. It felt like a championship was on the line. We got on the water and sat and sat as we watched the wind pick up. After Bill Miller crashed, I remember coming on the radio and asking Barney if that was really what I just saw (it’s kind of hard to see what a wreck looks like or how bad it is from the rope). He said yes but that he almost saved it and that it was a pretty low speed crash and then he told me that he gave everyone the thumbs up. I was relieved of course and as I sat there next to Rick Allen, I felt myself thinking, “I really don’t want to run this” only because I personally believe the TAH class is the most dangerous class and I didn’t want to see another wreck and I for sure didn’t want to be involved in one. As I began to have more trouble keeping my boat straight on the rope, I could see other drivers struggling as well, and we watched rescue try to calm the water, I had a feeling they were about to call it. Ken Dollar came and told us they were going to get us off the water and that we were done. It was a relief and disappointment all at the same time. I knew that if they called it, we would get 2nd because of the previous round. I felt like Lucas Oil made the right call for everyones safety and that is the most important thing. I came back to the pits and saw my team and they still had grins on their faces. I was so proud of them and I could tell they were proud of me. I almost forgot what that felt like. Most importantly, I felt like I had finally got the chance to prove myself in the Pro Mod class. It took us awhile, but we did it. We proved that we deserved to race in this class with all of the tough competitors that I race with. It was an incredible feeling, and even though I didn’t get my first win, it gave my team and I the confidence to know that we are going to get a win sometime soon, whether it be at the World Finals or next season. Making it to a final was one of my goals for this season, and knowing that we reached it even though I started to doubt we would, was absolutely amazing. I left that night feeling like I was on cloud nine again. I’m a lucky girl.