NHRA Pro Stock is tough but welcome challenge for Australian driver Shane Tucker

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Achieving success in NHRA Pro Stock competition is built one round and 1,320 feet at a time.

But for one budding racer on quarter-miles across the U.S., the distance to success is more like 8,300-plus miles.

That’s how far it is for Shane Tucker, from his native home in Gold Coast, Australia, and his adopted home and the location of his weekday business in Dallas, Texas.

After five years of building a company that specializes in external facades for commercial buildings back in his native land, the 34-year-old Aussie has spent the last five years building a similar business in Texas, while also working on making his mark in American drag racing.

Business here in the states is good. The 34-year-old Tucker now has 50 employees, a fabrication factory and by the end of this year, will make a complete transition where his Australia branch will become solely based in the U.S.

Now, the next big thing on his agenda is to build his Pro Stock program — in its first full season after four previous part-time campaigns — and challenge for the championship.

Shane’s father and crew chief, Rob Tucker, is a veteran drag racer in Australia who has enjoyed considerable success behind the wheel down under.

Now the elder Tucker is doing what he can to make his son fast, competitive and potentially turn him into a NHRA champion.

“My dad raced Pro Stock for 40 years in Australia,” Shane Tucker, who won the Australian Junior Drag Racing championship at the age of 16 (his sister Kristen also races competitively), told NBC Sports. “I jumped into a Pro Stock car when I was 19 in 2005 and started my (professional racing) career in Australia.

“A couple of years later, I got picked up by a team in the U.S. here and started doing some development driving here. But unfortunately, the sponsorship never eventuated.”

Tucker then went out on his own and picked up some major sponsors on his home turf including Monster Energy and Milwaukee Tools.

“I had some good success there and in 2013, we figured if we were going to do eight to 10 races a year, we might as well do it here in the U.S., it’s the same amount of money. This is the pinnacle of drag racing in the world and it’s where we want to be.

“Maybe we bit off a little bit more than we could chew, but we’ll chew like hell and maybe come out shining on the other end.”

Admittedly, it’s been a bit of a struggle for Tucker to climb the Pro Stock ranks here in the U.S. In his two most recent races, at Virginia two weeks ago and this past weekend in suburban Chicago, he lost in the first round of eliminations piloting his Auzmet Architectural/StructGlass Racing Chevrolet Camaro. His next race is in two weeks in Bristol, Tennessee.

“The guys race a lot more here and the attention to detail is a little tighter over here,” Tucker said about NHRA competition in the U.S. “You really need to be on your game and every little bit counts.

“But don’t get me wrong, the racing in Australia is very, very tough. But these guys here wear their stuff out week-in and week-out. They do 100 runs before they’ll turn up for the first race. It makes it tough.

“I would say the top 16 are usually separated by a tenth of a second in Pro Stock here. It’s a lot of pressure on a driver but I love that. It all comes down to three deciding factors, either car, motor or driver.”

Tucker is one of several Australian drivers trying to make their mark in the U.S. Others include Top Fuel drivers Richie Crampton (from Adelaide) and Wayne Newby (from Sydney).

Tucker is also a big fan of perhaps the best-known current race car driver from Australia, 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power, who serves as an inspiration to Tucker.

“I’m a big fan, he’s had a lot of success here in the U.S., and he’s a fellow Aussie,” Tucker said. “I was excited to see him race last week (in the Indianapolis 500). Unfortunately, he didn’t get the win.

“I’m not sure if he’s aware of what we’re doing over here (in NHRA), but I’m certainly aware of what he’s doing over here.”

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After New York whirlwind, Josef Newgarden makes special trip to simulator before Detroit


DETROIT – There’s no rest for the weary as an Indy 500 winner, but Josef Newgarden discovered there are plenty of extra laps.

The reigning Indy 500 champion added an extra trip Wednesday night back to Concord, N.C., for one last session on the GM Racing simulator before Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

After a 30-year run on the Belle Isle course, the race has been moved to a nine-turn, 1.7-mile layout downtown, so two extra hours on the simulator were worth it for Newgarden.

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“I really wanted to do it,” he told NBC Sports at a Thursday media luncheon. “If there’s any time that the sim is most useful, it’s in this situation when no one has ever been on a track, and we’re able to simulate it as best as we can. We want to get some seat time.

“It’s extra important coming off the Indy 500 because you’ve been out of rhythm for a road or street course-type environment, so I really wanted some laps. I was really appreciative to Chevy. There was a few guys that just came in and stayed late for me so I could get those laps before coming up here. I don’t know if it’s going to make a difference, but I feel like it’s going to help for me.”

After a whirlwind tour of New York for two days, Newgarden arrived at the simulator (which is at the GM Racing Technical Center adjacent to Hendrick Motorsports) in time for a two hour session that started at 6 p.m. Wednesday. He stayed overnight in Charlotte and then was up for an early commercial flight to Detroit, where he had more media obligations.

Newgarden joked that if he had a jet, he would have made a quick stop in Nashville, Tennessee, but a few more days away from home (where he has yet to return in weeks) is a worthy tradeoff for winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing – though the nonstop interviews can take a toll.

“It’s the hardest part of the gig for me is all this fanfare and celebration,” Newgarden said. “I love doing it because I’m so passionate about the Indy 500 and that racetrack and what that race represents. I feel honored to be able to speak about it. It’s been really natural and easy for me to enjoy it because I’ve been there for so many years.

“Speaking about this win has been almost the easiest job I’ve ever had for postrace celebrations. But it’s still for me a lot of work. I get worn out pretty easily. I’m very introverted. So to do this for three days straight, it’s been a lot.”

Though he is terrified of heights, touring the top of the Empire State Building for the first time was a major highlight (and produced the tour’s most viral moment).

“I was scared to get to the very top level,” Newgarden said. “That thing was swaying. No one else thought it was swaying. I’m pretty sure it was. I really impressed by the facility. I’d never seen it before. It’s one of those bucket list things. If you go to New York, it’s really special to do that. So to be there with the wreath and the whole setup, it just felt like an honor to be in that moment.”

Now the attention shifts to Detroit and an inaugural circuit that’s expected to be challenging. Along with a Jefferson Avenue straightaway that’s 0.9 miles long, the track has several low-speed corners and a “split” pit lane (teams will stop on both sides of a rectangular area) with a narrow exit that blends just before a 90-degree lefthand turn into Turn 1.

Newgarden thinks the track is most similar to the Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.

“It’s really hard to predict with this stuff until we actually run,” he said. “Maybe we go super smooth and have no issues. Typically when you have a new event, you’re going to have some teething issues. That’s understandable. We’ve always got to massage the event to get it where we want it, but this team has worked pretty hard. They’ve tried to get feedback constantly on what are we doing right, what do we need to look out for. They’ve done a ton of grinding to make sure this surface is in as good of shape as possible.

“There’s been no expense spared, but you can’t foresee everything. I have no idea how it’s going to race. I think typically when you look at a circuit that seems simple on paper, people tend to think it’s not going to be an exciting race, or challenging. I find the opposite always happens when we think that way. Watch it be the most exciting, chaotic, entertaining race.

Newgarden won the last two pole positions at Belle Isle’s 2.35-mile layout and hopes to continue the momentum while avoiding any post-Brickyard letdown.

“I love this is an opportunity for us to get something right quicker than anyone else,” he said. “A new track is always exciting from that standpoint. I feel I’m in a different spot. I’m pretty run down. I’m really trying to refocus and gain some energy back for tomorrow. Which I’ll have time to today, which is great.

“I don’t want that Indy 500 hangover. People always talk about it. They’ve always observed it. That doesn’t mean we have to win this weekend, but I’d like to leave here feeling like we had a really complete event, did a good job and had a solid finish leading into the summer. I want to win everywhere I go, but if we come out of here with a solid result and no mistakes, then probably everyone will be happy with it.”