Drag Racing Action Online  Images: Phil Hutchison and David Smith

In 2021 Top Alcohol Dragster racer Jackie Fricke came as close as you can to capturing the Lucas Oil Championship. Driving the John Finke Racing A/FD, Fricke won events in Las Vegas, Epping N.H. Reading Pa., and the prestigious US Nationals in Indianapolis Ind. over the Labor Day weekend.

These wins propelled the Flemington N.J. racer, who owns and operates Accelerated Travel, to be in contention for the Lucas Oil title at the end of the season. It was a case of “Win and You’re In”. As Fricke says, “We needed to win the national event in Vegas to take the title.  The cool story about that is we thought we were already out of the championship chase and our friend Jared Dreher told us we weren’t, we ONLY needed to win 12 rounds in a row. We won 11.” Fricke adds, “I really wanted to win the title in ’21 for John, he is family to me.”

Although Fricke ended up losing the title by only 20 points, her wins in the East Region gave her the 2021 East title, a title she successfully defended in 2022 over some of the best racers in the country. The 2022 win was Fricke’s third Lucas Oil East Region title in a row.

Fricke’s husband Shawn compares the team’s travels to NHRA Pro Sportsman racer David Rampy who was famous for criss-crossing the country in search for Lucas points. The Finke/Fricke team put some miles on the transporter.

DRAO: After coming so close in 2021, you started your season in Belle Rose in Louisiana and then travelled to Phoenix Ariz. instead of going to the regional event at Gainesville. What was the plan?

Jackie Fricke: I thought Phoenix was a strategic place to go since Gainesville had so many cars entered. We qualified well at Phoenix but when I hit the gas in round one, the coil wire fell off and I was only running on one mag.

John (Finke) gives me a lot of leeway as far as the schedule. John is not much of a strategist when it comes to the schedule, and I respect that he trusts me. If I think it’s the best race to go to for points, he agrees. I had two ideas for races we should go to in 2022. One, the Woodburn race in Seattle worked out with a win, my second idea, going to Phoenix, was a negative. We have been fortunate in the way I design our schedule. Obviously, John has final say on where we go but I do my homework and study all the stats. We both try to pick one race each where we have never been to make it fun. Mine was Woodburn which worked out.

DRAO: The team didn’t get back on the winning track until your victory at the spring Atco Lucas race. What did do you different?

JF: We started off the season with two problems. The clutch material we were using, and the NHRA mandated rule change to our fuel temperature. The NHRA determined that in 2022 the minimum temperature for the nitro would be 50 degrees instead of 40. It effectively took power out of the car. The colder the fuel, the more power. We didn’t adjust to the new rule change like we should have.

At Atco we ran ok but we struggled with the clutch material. Probably due to supply chain issues the clutch manufacturer couldn’t supply us with the same discs we had been using. In an attempt to get back to where we were, we went back and ran some of our old clutch stuff. The problem was, we were running out of old discs. In order to win Epping, we borrowed some discs from Richie Bourke.

Just when we thought we were ok another problem cropped up. The brakes in the car were giving us problems. The dragster has a centrifugal clutch and I release the clutch prior to staging, pull the fuel on fully and the brakes. The brakes are supposed to keep the car from moving. It wasn’t working.

John tried everything. Putting new brakes on the car, bleeding the system, moving the brake lever. It was extremely distracting on the starting line. At the JEGS Allstars in Indy the car crept thru the beams and I was disqualified. I staged the car and lit the top bulb and the car kept moving. Losing was bad enough but the first round at the Allstars was also a qualifying pass for the US Nationals so we were behind the eight ball and didn’t qualify as well as we wanted. And we were defending champions.

Two weeks later at Maple Grove I lost on a hole shot as I was concentrating on keeping the car still. The dragster didn’t want to sit still. I’m not making excuses but it’s hard to concentrate when the car wants to move thru the beams.

DRAO: You fell to #5 in the Lucas Championship chase in 2022 and the Lucas champ Joey Severance along with Shawn Cowie who finished right in front of you have blown cars. And Rich McPhillips’ team wrenched two other Top 5 cars that finished in front of you.  Thoughts?

JF: Severance and Cowie run hard along with Taylor Vetter who ran good at the end of the year. They are different cars to drive. I have driven both blown and injected and I would prefer the challenge of driving the blown car but like the cost effectiveness of the injected car. You have to run the blown cars really hard to run like Cowie and Severance. Tom Fox ran some good times at the end of the year but they are pushing the car to extreme at 11,000 RPM. When our car is running well, it’s happy and we like to keep the car happy.

We like to keep a small crew. Al Blake is always with us along with another crew member. I also have my family; Amy, Taylor and Tori helping with social media and keeping the team fed but when you have a blown car you need a much larger crew. You hurt tons of parts and you are always having to nurse engines. Our costs are nitro and clutch discs and the blown cars are subject to parts attrition. John and I do the clutch work now, the grinding and everything else associated with a clutch pack. There are pros and cons to both blown and injected but to me with the parts attrition it’s insane to run a blown car. That said, I have blower envy every time I do a burnout against racers like Shawn Cowie.

But the team to beat is the McPhillips crew. They had two drivers in the top 5 along with Mike Coughlin who was in the Top 10. Rich McPhillips has been running A/FD as long as Randy Meyer has and has a lot of experience. Rich Sr is retired, and racing is his full time job which helps. They are 100% the car to beat. It’s 100% due to their hard work, their love of the sport, and their drive to win. They have earned the right to rent the car to the Tony Stewarts and the Mike Coughlins of the world.

I wish I didn’t have a full time job and I wish John didn’t have a full time job but we do. Sometimes I’m lucky to talk to John about racing the car once a week. We are busy with our full time jobs.

DRAO: What’s up with the short burnouts the Injected Fuel cars do?

JF: I have been blamed for the short burnouts the injected cars do and it started for me, around eight years ago I went bracket racing with my father. Everyone was doing short burnouts, so I started shortening mine. You are basically just cleaning and heating the tires. And the longer burnout puts a lot of heat in the clutch.  I’m in the trailer looking the computer between runs along with John.  I am the analyst for John and we build the files together to see where to pick the car up. So, I see how the clutch is working.

DRAO: What’s the plan for 2023?

JF: The team during the offseason is down to Red who works at the shop and Al Blake who right now is enjoying the Florida sunshine. We have worked on the brakes so see if we can cure the issues we are having but until we test at Bradenton in a few weeks, we will not know if what we did works. We have the track rented for the better part of a week to test some new things and try some old things that we can refine. We lost a full time crew person who was also the truck driver so I’m driving the rig as of now to certain races, John is as well. Getting help is not easy in these times. I have a lot of respect for the people who crew on our team and other teams.

I am currently mapping out our 2023 “Trip Across America” but getting truck driver position filled will be important. We have Jared Dreher back who is our fill in truck driver and race car driver. We also have Jeff Barnes on the west coast who is helping us again.