HARTFORD'S CALAMITY-FILLED PERFECT STORM LEADS TO VICTORY IN READING
The more uncomfortable Matt Hartford is, the more dangerous he is. At the NHRA U.S. Nationals, he was bothered with a miscue in staging for one round and then a burnout snafu, yet he still won.
Hartford wishes that would have been the magnitude of adversity he faced when racing and winning the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway. Not only did Hartford beat Kyle Koretsky in the final round, but he also took the points lead.
Let the record reflect that Hartford's eighth career NHRA Pro Stock win tested his resolve more than any time in his career.
"The last week and a half has been not fun until today," Hartford said.
Seven days before the Reading event, Hartford was rushed to the hospital, where doctors removed his appendix.
"It is not every day you come off a win, and next thing you know, a couple of days later, they're gutting you in three different places, taking your appendix out," Hartford explained. "Not that that's a huge surgery, but it's still, you're going under the knife and trying to explain to the doctor, 'I'm getting in a race car,' and they're discussing that I'm not. I'm saying, 'I am. It's just up to you to decide how comfortable I'm going to be when I get in the race car.' So we got through all that, and I got my wife convinced that I was still going to Reading, and I wasn't going to work on the car."
The plan was working until qualifying, when it appeared his Total Seal Camaro had also developed some sort of appendicitis as well.
"Our car didn't run after Q1, so all I did was work on the car the entire weekend," Hartford said, referencing qualifying No. 13 after securing the pole position in Indy. "Our team worked harder this weekend than we have in years. It was a grueling weekend for everybody. The emotions were high. But our team pulled together."
Saturday, after the lackluster qualifying effort, Hartford crew chief Eddie Guarnaccia loaded the car on a rollback wrecker and took it to a local body shop, where they diagnosed an electrical issue.
"The problem started in Q1," Hartford explained. "The car was misfiring in Q1. We were slow for the session. We went .54, but that was slow compared to what we thought. Q2, it shut off. As soon as I put it in second gear, it lost fuel pressure. Q3 and Q4, I couldn't even do a burnout because the fuel pressure would go to zero as soon as we put load on the engine. We swapped everything in the car, every run, thinking that we had it fixed, and proved that we didn't."
Hartford conferred with NHRA officials, who confirmed it was acceptable to leave the track to go to another facility where better lighting was available.
"We definitely had an electrical wiring issue in the car," Hartford confirmed. "How that came about from Indy to here, we're still undetermined, but we switched everything in the car: fuel pumps, water pumps, starters, wiring ignition boxes, cutoffs, batteries, all the way back through. On Sunday morning, when we got here, we were the first team in the pits. We were here when it was still dark. Swapped everything in the car, went up to round one, and said, 'There's nothing left to switch but the driver."
Hartford ultimately fought his way to the finals by defeating Greg Anderson, Camrie Caruso, and defending world champion Erica Enders.
It has been said that which does not kill someone only serves to make them stronger. By the end of the weekend, Hartford felt strong enough to bench press a 1955 Buick. Still, it didn't preclude him from looking into the driver replacement rule, which he confirmed only applied to COVID- related issues.
"There was never a question that I was missing Reading," Hartford said. "My answer to everybody all weekend was, 'I feel great.' Got out of the car. When my crew chief came down, he gave me a hug. He says, 'I'll be gentle.' I said, 'Alright, I'll tell you, I'm fricking sore."
Nothing eases soreness like back-to-back wins and a points lead.
"One round at a time," Hartford counseled. "We just need to turn on a win light after win light. The points will figure out themselves. If we turn on 20 win lights, the points don't matter."