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Matt Nicholson NHRA Diary: “Having Tom Brady’s Mentality At The Race Track.”

The following is a guest column from Championship Racing Network's Matt Nicholson. You can follow along with his weekly program each Saturday morning live on YouTube or at

A few weeks ago when we had back to back weeks of guests from the NHRA, first week being Matt Schiess, engine specialist for Lex Joon Racing, and the second week being the pilot himself, Lex Joon, it flipped my switch to “bright” to make it to an NHRA event. I had planned in June to go up to the Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, but sickness came into play and I couldn’t go.

I still was dead set on making it to one this year. The tough part being deciding which one. NHRA isn’t very prevalent in the Southeast much anymore, outside of Charlotte, Gainesville, and Bristol, because Atlanta is no longer operating.

So after talking with Schiess a lot, he pretty much had me convinced to experience Indianapolis for the US Nationals at IRP.

After the interview with Lex, I had it made up in my mind that Indy it would be. First NHRA race, to be at a crown jewel event for the series??  I would be absolutely insane not to take advantage of it. 

A good friend of mine, AJ, got me setup with media credentials for the entire event, which I IMMENSELY appreciated him doing when he didn’t have to.

He wanted it to count for me as well. I was taking one for the team, because logistics wouldn’t allow Steve to make it with me, which I really hated he couldn’t.  All while doing the show on the road this past Saturday, I was running through my mind what to expect, I had never taken part of an event in drag racing of this magnitude. EVER.

Upon arriving in Brownsburg, at IRP, around 3:45PM on Saturday, I was notified that the media parking credential I had was parking areas staged inside of the iconic IRP OVAL. That was a shock! While getting out, I knew one of the Nitro classes was on track, just didn’t know which one. Turned out to be Funny Car. My initial thoughts were “my gracious, what a sound!?". 11,000 horsepower engines were shaking my vehicle, and I was parked 200 yards from the strip. I made darn sure to have my earplugs in my pocket, because I didn’t feel like having to go back to Alabama deaf.

While walking down the concourse over to “Nitro Alley”, where the Top Fuel and Funny Car teams were staged, the essence of nitro methane fuel, didn’t just slap me in the chin, it downright threw a haymaker to my face. All I could think was “wow, unreal.” I started up one alley, passing the likes of the TSR paddock, the Schumacher racing paddock, Kalitta, Jim Head, Antron Brown, Cruz Pedregon, Mike Salinas, and other paddocks while on my way to find the area of Lex Joon. Every pit was busy because the drivers were mingling and signing stuff for the fans, all WHILE THE CARS WERE BEING WARMED UP! That made an INSTANT impression on me.

I am not accustomed to seeing accessibility like that in NASCAR. Finally, I got over to where Lex and his team were, and was able to get very close to the car. being able to stand less than 8 feet from an 11,000 horsepower engine warming up was insane. It will shake the hairs on your head, and then some. Now the nitro fumes, was exactly what Schiess described to me: Like being in a gas chamber for about 30 seconds. He would know because he is ex military. Those fumes set my eyes on absolute fire, and I could feel my lungs burning to no end. Last thing I wanted to do was get sick as a dog in the first 30 minutes there, and still had 2 full days to go.

So off to the media center I went to find AJ. He met me outside and said “come on, we’re going to the line.”  Instantly I said lead me there chief, because the “kid in a candy store” mentality awoke in me. 

Made it down there to see the start of Q2 of Top Fuel. Schiess said to us on the show it’s like getting hit in the chest when they launch. Boy was he dead on. When Mike Salinas and Will Smith launched for their runs, I felt myself become very, VERY wide eyed. I had never in my life heard and felt something like that. Best way to describe hearing that first run up close for me was “insane”. After staying up there for a few runs, little did I know I was about to cross paths and link up with two hometown family members, that I had zero clue I would run into. While talking to them for a bit, because I hadn’t seen them in many years, I told him I would like to meet Don Schumacher, because they are close friends. I had remembered that from a past time we had talked. He had said that Don wouldn’t be there the rest of the weekend, but he would take care of me on Monday.