NHRA: Career-best season thus far has driver and blind crew chief/team owner dreaming of championship

The Permatex/Follow-A-Dream Top Alcohol Funny Car driven by Todd Veney and owned by Jay Blake in action earlier this season. (Photo courtesy Follow-A-Dream Racing)

When Jay Blake said prior to the season that 2015 could be the best season ever for his Follow-A-Dream team, it was a prediction based upon hope and optimism.

But following this past weekend’s Lucas Oil Route 66 Nationals in Joliet, Il., Blake’s prediction is coming true in reality and performance.

Driver Todd Veney (Photo Courtesy of Follow-A-Dream Racing)

Blake and driver Todd Veney are on the team’s biggest roll ever. They’ve won three of their last five Top Alcohol Funny Car races – at Richmond (Va.), Lebanon Valley (Pa.) and a week ago at Norwalk (Ohio) – along with semi-final finishes at Maple Grove (Pa.) and this past Sunday at Route 66.

“We are definitely on a roll,” said Blake, whose team is based out of Marston Mills, Mass. “Things have really come together, the team has never given up and has worked really hard and it’s finally showing us promise and happiness.

“We’re very excited to be No. 1 in regional points and No. 2 in national points and it’s July, so things are good. We’ve made some changes and adjustments, and all the little things we did just all came together at the right time and it’s happened.”

Veney, of Indianapolis, is ranked a career-best second in the national TAFC standings, just 10 points out of first place.

“I’ve never been part of a team where we’ve had top speed at half the races we’ve been to this year,” Veney said. “Doing 264 mph consistently is really getting with the program.

“This car can make a lot of power. … There’s a lot of really good cars (in TAFC) that have never gone that fast, so it’s nice to be part of it.”

Compared to where the team was after the first few races of the season, its overall fortunes have done a complete 180-degree turnaround.

Crew chief and team owner of the Follow-A-Dream race team, Jay Blake (Photo courtesy of Follow-A-Dream Racing)

“I never really thought of it as a slow start, things happen,” Veney said. “We had breaks in some of the races we’ve won that we couldn’t have counted on. If just one of those wouldn’t have happened, then we wouldn’t have won.

“We lost in the first race to a guy who, after he got out of his car, and he said, ‘I can’t believe I beat you. I don’t know what to say.’ I just shook his hand and said congratulations.

“Then, we broke something at Charlotte, so we never even came and ran in the first round – so it’s not like we got beat there. Something that should never break broke; we couldn’t fix it in time. And there’s been five races since then and we’ve won three of them.

“So, I don’t look at it as a slow start. Things happen to everybody. … The last five races have been real good. If we get some breaks in the next (national event), we could be No. 1 (nationally).”

The team has six races left and is hoping its good luck of late will continue all the way to its first-ever NHRA TAFC championship, something Blake has been chasing for well over a decade.

“This is a very, very humbling sport,” said Blake, who is the only blind crew chief and team owner in a major motorsports series in the U.S. “You can win one weekend and not qualify the next. One of the great things right now is Todd is doing a great job and has a lot of confidence in himself and in the race car.

“When he’s up there, that gives him peace of mind to relax and do his job. That’s a big part of it, plus the team is feeling great. We always felt we had all the pieces and just have to hope the breaks go your way and you have to be prepared. We’re prepared and we’re just going for it.”

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Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”