SEAN BELLEMEUR IN THE HUNT FOR SECOND TOP ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR CHAMPIONSHIP
Sean Bellemeur is the reigning Top Alcohol Funny Car champion. But, as a young kid, he drove Jr. Dragsters, before going on to compete in a Nostalgia Dragster.
He said he has been around Top Alcohol Funny Cars nearly his entire life.
"My father Greg drove all different types of drag cars -- anything from a Fuel Altered to an Alcohol Dragster back in the late 60s into the early 70s,” Bellemeur said. “My mom was actually the operations manager for a couple of drag strips in Southern California, which is how they met. When I came along, I was pretty much doomed for it. I've been going to the track since literally my first days on earth. My dad quit driving in 1985. He was partners on many cars, especially Top Alcohol Funny Cars. I remember as a little boy going from soccer practice to the garage where the Alcohol Funny Car was kept at and working on the Funny Car as a 6-7-8 year old in my soccer uniform. I've been around Alcohol Funny Cars just about my entire life.
“When I was 12, we built a Jr. Dragster. When it came time to get out of the Jr. Dragster and move on, we actually went the Nostalgia route. My family built a Nostalgia A/Fuel Dragster -- a blown front-engine dragster. We actually won two good guy championships with that in 2001 and 2002. After that, I got in touch with the High Speed Nostalgia Top Fuel team and started driving that. During this time, our family sold our Nostalgia car and started to put a Top Alcohol Funny Car together in 2004.”
He competed in the Nostalgia Dragster for five years. Then, he made the switch to Top Alcohol Funny Car.
“It's funny, because it honestly wasn't that much of a change,” he said. “The Nostalgia car had a clutch in it with a two-speed transmission with a blown alcohol engine, which is very similar to the way you would drive a Top Alcohol car. And later on, my dad actually told me that was on purpose because he said I was grooming you to drive a Top Alcohol car. I was a junior in high school when we put the Nostalgia car together. My dad told me we didn't have a budget to run a Top Alcohol Funny Car at the time -- and he told me that he didn't want me to be driving something that fast other than a Jr. Dragster at first. Eventually, he groomed me to drive the Nostalgia car, which helped in the transition to Top Alcohol Funny Car.
“When we did make the change, we bought a Funny Car from Rick Jackson and put it together. I'll never forget, we went up to a local track in Bakersfield, California on a testing night with a more powerful engine and a bigger blower, along with a three-speed transmission, I'll never forget in my head telling myself to drive it the same as a Nostalgia car. That lasted as long as doing the burnout. It was a life-long dream to have the body dropped down on me and having much more of a powerful car, that all kind of went out the window. I remember missing the foot swap the first time and the car went out approx. 100 feet and I couldn't see, so I shut it off. I was smiling ear-to-ear and begged my father to see if we could make ten more runs that night. It was so fun and it got my attention. I've been in love with it ever since.”
From time-to-time, he still completes with his father in their Top Alcohol Funny Car. He will be back competing with his father August 16th through 18th at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Washington.
“My mom has since passed, as she passed away about a decade ago,” Bellemeur said. “My father and I continued to race Top Alcohol Funny Cars really competitive until 2018 when I went over to Tony Bartone's team. My dad continued running the car with a couple of different drivers. Right now, Todd Swinford is driving the car. The deal I made with Tony to continue to race with my dad is when I run out of races to claim in the national points, that I’m free to drive whatever I want. At this point in the season, I’m out of regional points to claim, which is why I drove my father’s car at the Sonoma regional. I’m also going to drive it at the Seattle regional, as well.”
As Bellemeur mentioned, he switched to Bartone’s Hussey Performance Top Alcohol Funny Car one year ago. Before taking over the ride full-time, he filled-in for the team at a few races before the full-time opportunity came his way.
“In 2015, Tony also drove a Nostalgia Front End Dragster, while I was still associated with the High Speed Motorsports team, which Tom Schelar is the owner,” he said. “We were at a race in Epping, New Hampshire [New England Dragway] and I was just talking to Tony’s crew chief in Steve Boggs and a couple of other guys. And I joking said if you ever need someone to drive that Funny Car let me know. Well, within approximately three weeks, Tony’s driver at the time, which was Mickey Ferro, had an event that he had to attend outside of racing. They wanted me to fill in and drive for the Dallas national event and I did and we won the race. It was actually my first national event win. It was agreed upon that it was just a one-race deal — and I knew that. In 2016, I got called again to fill-in and we won again in Dallas. At the completion of 2016, Tony decided to step out of the seat and they offered me the ride full-time. I actually turned it down because of the sole purpose in 2017, which was my dad’s 50th year in racing.
“We actually had a special tribute Funny Car put together for my dad, which I wanted to race for him. Obviously, if I drive for Tony, I couldn’t do that. I turned down the ride and they hired DJ Cox while I raced with my dad. The relationship between Tony Bartone and DJ Cox didn’t last. They contacted me about a third of the way through the 2017 season. They said we understand that you have a schedule with your father’s car, but we want you to drive this car. They said run your schedule with your father and we will work around you. It turns out that at the end of 2017, we maybe went to six or seven races together. We won four races and finished fifth nationally with the limited schedule. At the conclusion of that year, they came to me and said we have something special here — we have a great relationship and you work well with Steve Boggs. Let’s go try for that championship.”
During their first year of their partnership, Bellemeur won his first Top Alcohol Funny Car Championship. He won the Championship last October at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, North Carolina when he defeated DJ Cox.
“It didn’t even register for me until a week later,” Bellemeur said. “It was a dream of mine to drive a Top Alcohol Funny Car. When I was a kid, I would look through the windows and dream of what it was like for the drivers in the Top Alcohol Funny Cars. Then, to have a chance to drive one, it was a dream come true. Then, to work my way through the years to get my hands on hands-down the best ride in Top Alcohol and work with Steve Boggs, it’s all been a dream. To get the win light in Charlotte, it was weird, because it was a surreal feeling. It all flashed back to me when I won.”
When Bellemeur won the championship, it was Steve Boggs' seventh championship as a crew chief.
“On a daily basis, I try to remind myself I’m working with one of the best crew chiefs in the business,” he said. “As a little kid, I absolutely knew who Steve Boggs was. He’s a rock star and a record holder. He’s a world champion. Tony Bartone and him have set records that to this day have not been broken. To work with Steve first, then have an opportunity to be friends with him, that probably means more to me than any of this. I’ve built friendships with these people — and I probably talk to Steve 2-3 times a week. We talk about family and how life is going more than any racing. From a driver-crew chief relationship, I’ve never had quite a relationship, as I’ve had with him. He completely understands what I’m saying about the car and I completely understand what he’s talking about with tuning. He respects me as a driver, and I respect him as a tuner. I really believe that’s one of the reasons we’ve had the success that we’ve had. Our communication is unbelievable.”
Over the last two seasons, he has won 14 races, including 10 during the 2018 season. This season, he last won a race at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio in June.
“There’s a lot of elements that go into being successful,” Bellemeur said. “The first thing is you have to have the budget. The second thing is you have to have a crew chief and with a team as the third thing. The fourth is you have to have a driver. The fifth thing is you have to have a little bit of luck. Tony Bartone is the best owner you could ever ask for. He will spend whatever it takes to be a champion. Steve Boggs is willing to try new things and is willing to step out of the box. I’m dumb enough to let him do it. I’m not scared of the car, but I understand what he’s trying to do. If it burns up an engine, I’m OK with that, too. I’m fascinated by driving and the changes that the car makes to the decisions that Steve and the crew make. I really try to focus on those things. You couple that with the team, who is there for the common goal. That’s a tough combination to beat. That also contributes to the success that we’ve had. A good friend of mine, another crew chief in Bob DeVour, told me this saying one time, “Harmony brings speed.” I’ve kept that with me for years and years and years. As long as the team gets along, you’re tough to beat that way. You go up to the starting line, as an Army, and it’s tough to beat an Army. The plan is to keep this together for a long time.”
Bellemeur is in a heated race for the championship this year. He’s competing with Brian Hough, who is the points leader. The Junction City, Oregon native leads the Placentia, California native by 25 points.
After winning at Norwalk, Bellemeur last competed at the Sonoma Divisional, where he earned just 32 points in July. Hough won that Sonoma Divisional, then collected 42 points at the Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in the beginning of August.
Bartone’s driver expects to compete again at Indy, Reading, Dallas, Charlotte, Las Vegas, and possibly Pomona.
“Having a close race, like we have with Brian Hough this year, that’s what makes it fun,” he said. “The year we had in 2018, where we actually ended up with a perfect score, had only been done one other time by Frank Manzo. That shows how rare it is. We knew coming into 2019 that wouldn’t happen again, as it doesn’t happen every year. One thing we had last year was a lot of luck. We knew we wouldn’t have the same amount of luck. We’ve done well and we set the national record in Gainesville this year. The new car that we started to run this year actually fits me a little bit better. I’m really comfortable in the car.
“Brian is really tough — and he’s stepped up by hiring Jonnie Lindberg as his tuner as they compete for the championship. It’ll be fun. That’s what this is really all about — competition. I’ve raced Brian for years, as he’s from Oregon and I’m from Southern California. We’ve been competing against each other since I began competing in Alcohol Funny Car. He knows my driving style and I know his. We have a mutual respect for each other as drivers. It’s going to be tough, as Jonnie Lindberg is a good tuner. He can go toe-to-toe with Steve Boggs.”