Mike Salinas brought his beautiful black-and-orange Scrappers Top Fuel dragster to seven NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series races in 2017 and qualified for all of them, winning two rounds. In 2018, this owner of a scrap-metal and garbage-hauling business in San Jose, Calif. elected to become a regular on the tour.
The most recent race, in Norwalk, Ohio was Salinas’ 25th; incredibly, he made his first appearance in a final round at Bristol earlier in June.
For many racers who have tried, tried so very hard to simply compete in Top Fuel, that achievement would be a milestone, but for the 57-year-old Californian, it’s still not enough. Even owning ninth-place points doesn’t satisfy Salinas. “Our goal is to try to get to sixth or seventh,” by the time the Countdown to the Championship six-race playoffs begins after the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.
To gain that kind of performance, Salinas has to up his game and he knows it. “The important thing is, nothing we’ve done is good enough yet. Our standards are pretty high and we want to keep moving forward,” he said. “We’re learning so much, but we just don’t want to be here too be here. I’m a pretty competitive guy and I don’t like losing.”
That kind of attitude is what it takes to be successful in any form of motorsport, and Salinas is becoming a legitimate threat in Top Fuel. He’s fortunate to have the counseling of fellow Californian and über-tuner Alan Johnson, who has helped guide many drivers to Top Fuel and Funny Car championships. Salinas’ team, led by crew chief Doug Kuch, has improved mightily over the 12 races held to date, including a semifinal result at Atlanta this spring.
The driver is motivated as he watches points leader Steve Torrence, who has already claimed four Wally winner’s trophies thus far in the season and his 12th since the start of the 2017 campaign. Single-car driver/owner Torrence has shown Salinas he can compete against the multi-car teams like Don Schumacher Racing, Kalitta Motorsports and John Force Racing.
“All the guys have done a great job. I want these guys to be on this team; they’ve worked their butts off and the morale of the team is great. It’s good for them to see us have some success,” Salinas said. “I told my crew chief to teach me how to race and that’s what he’s been doing.”
As he learns from his crew chief Kuch, Salinas is pleased to have a full staff working with him as he enters race No. 13, the sixth annual NHRA New England Nationals at Epping, New Hampshire. “At Bristol we were three people short, while we had a full crew in Norwalk and we’ll have a full crew for this race. What we need to do is go rounds and not make mistakes. It’s just about being methodical in how we do things.
“I want to outrun them,” Salinas said of his competitors, “so I know in my heart we did it right.” The owner/driver is especially excited to be racing in the northeast corner of the country because his wife is pursuing her master’s degree at Harvard, adding more incentive for him to do well in front of the multitude of enthusiastic New England fans.