TOPEKA — NHRA Top Fuel driver David Grubnic looks at Heartland Park Topeka as his personal slump remedy.
Grubnic is experiencing a bit of a dry spell, having yet to advance past the second round in any of the first seven NHRA events this season.
But all he has to do is remember 2005 and 2012. In both instances, Grubnic pulled out unexpected victories at Heartland Park that snapped some major droughts. So he’s confident he can do it again during this weekend’s Kansas Nationals.
“It’s been a great track for Kalitta Motorsports,” Grubnic said of his team, which has won 10 times at Heartland Park — Grubnic’s two wins, one by Doug Kalitta in 2006 one by Hillary Will in 2008 and six by the late Scott Kalitta, the most by any driver in the Top Fuel class.
Grubnic’s win in 2005 was the most memorable of his 18-year career. When he upset two-time Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon in the finals for his first career win, Grubnic, a native of Brisbane, Australia, became the first non-native North American to win a Top Fuel event in NHRA history.
To that point, he had gone 152 races without a win, and had been a runner-up six times, including four times in 2004.
“To be a bridesmaid that many times and not get the win, you started doubting whether you could break through or not,” said Grubnic, 40. “I remember going through the finish line, and seeing that win light come on, it was like driving through a brick wall, and I just shattered all these bricks, and it was a huge relief to finally break through.
“So many times you go to a final … (John) Force went to nine finals (before winning). For me, it was like am I ever going to win this, so yes, it affects you psychologically.”
Grubnic would win again in 2006 at Gainesville before going another six years — or 124 starts — until last year, when as the No. 7 qualifier, he knocked off Spencer Massey at Heartland Park.
“It’s tough to go that long without a win,” Grubnic said. “We have a standing goal, every event we go to we try to qualify No. 1 and win that event. As soon as we drive in the gate, we believe we can achieve our goals. To go six years without a win certainly tries the patience. But that’s what this sport is about. It’s frustrating, but when we do get that win, it makes the whole thing gratifying. “
Throughout the winless drought, Grubnic never lost confidence in Connie Kalitta, the owner/crew chief of the Candlewood Suites dragster, or in himself.
“Even though mechanically, there are all these things that have to be done right with the tune-up for the cars to get down the race track, the other aspect of it is you have confidence coming into these events and believe you can win,” he said. “If you ever lose that confidence, be it driver, crew chief, or the crew, it can have detrimental effects.”
Grubnic, who sits a precarious 10th in the Top Fuel standings, cannot explain why his team is so comfortable at Heartland Park compared to other 1,000-foot drag strips on the circuit.
“I wish I knew,” he said. “We have raced here for a long time and have a lot of data, but (atmospheric) conditions change, track preparation varies, and so on. But why we’re so good at Topeka, I don’t know why it is. Whatever it is, we’ll take it, and we enjoy it.”
Grubnic, who lives year round in Bozeman, Mont., is a computer geek, and besides racing the car, he contributes as the IT guy for Kalitta Motorsports’ two Top Fuel and two Funny Car teams, handling networking and computer programming issues.
“Drag racing is so technical,” he said. “When we come to an event, we’ll look at atmospheric conditions. We don’t lick our finger and stick it up in the air and say, ‘It’s this.’ Now we have sophisticated weather systems, and we’ll take samples of the air and use formulas to calculate what we want to do with the super charger and the engine compression ratio. This is done and updated every 15 minutes.
“The professional side of drag racing has come a long way, and it is becoming a lot more sophisticated. And we have to be. The level of competition, when you’re dealing with cars that are within two or three hundreds of a second of each other, it takes that little edge to out-do your competitor.”