Friday, April 22, 2011

Gallen proving he belongs one race at a time

NORWALK, Ohio (April 22, 2011) – He has broken world records, won dozens of races and now he’s proven himself among the elite in nostalgia Funny Car competition.

No, these days there isn’t much left for Peter Gallen to prove in the world of drag racing.

Coming off of his first trip into the wild west, the land of self-proclaimed nostalgia Funny Car royalty, Gallen returns with several new records, a pair of shiny Ironman trophies and the respect of just about everyone in the world of nostalgia racing. And he isn’t quite done just yet.

“I am just thrilled with the way the car has been running. It just keeps continually repeating performance wise,” Gallen said. “Our secret weapon has been John Benigini. He is our car chief and I know when he touches anything I don’t have to look it over – it is done right. John, along with Bob Rosetty and my son Peter, that is my crew and they make sure everything is done right so I can concentrate on the tuning calls.

“John has come a long way from never being around a car before to being one of the best guys out there. The car performs great and it is the same motor combo I put together almost three years ago. It is just a matter of repeatability, not changing too many parts and fine tuning the things we have.”

And what a whirlwind couple of months it has been for the driver of the purple and gold “Poverty Stricken” 1974 Vega. After an 18-year hiatus from drag racing, Gallen returned to the track in 2009 and took the sport by storm with multiple track records, three wins and many of the fastest laps of the year all in his first year back since dominating the Funny Car scene in the late 1980s.

He continued that success in 2010 in his first year with the IHRA Nitro Jam Series, winning seven times and finishing runner-up in the standings to Delaware native Steve Nichols.

This year, coming off of his most successful season since his championship days in the 80s, Gallen set out on a quest to regain his foothold as one of the top racers in the game today and so far he has done just that with wins, records and respect piling up everywhere he goes.

“So far it has been one hell of a year. We have won several races, set a few records and proved we could compete against those guys out west. It has been different, but it has been fun for our team,” Gallen said. “To be honest I think we can run with anyone in the country right now and that is what this west coast tour proved to my guys and to myself. We know we can compete with anyone anywhere.”

And ironically it took an early season loss to really get the team fired up.

Gallen’s 2011 season began in West Palm Beach, Fla. where a runner-up finish to multi-time world champion Paul Romine motivated the team to step up their game. He returned a month later with a weekend sweep at the Mardi Gras Nitro Jam in Baton Rouge and then packed his bags for his first trip west to put his team to the test.

“Going west is just something that we have wanted to do. We have enjoyed our time racing on the east coast, but you are always looking west and watching what those guys are doing and wondering if we can have that same kind of success out there,” Gallen said.

So Gallen loaded the car and began a nearly 2,000 mile journey west to the Pacific coast to take part in a trio of events throughout the southwest beginning in California.

Gallen’s first stop was in Bakersfield at the legendary March Meet. Gallen qualified fifth and showed he was just as competitive as any of the nearly 30 teams on hand that weekend trying to win one of the biggest nostalgia races in the world. While he lost in the first round the following day, it would matter very little as rain postponed the remainder of the event and instead of sticking around, nearly half of the cars remaining in competition gave up their spots in the field and headed south for the Funny Car showdown at the Arizona Nitro Jam at Southwestern International Raceway.

“We had some problems in Bakersfield. We went out a week before and the track wasn’t really prepared and we had a shake problem and we continued to shake into qualifying and eliminations,” Gallen said. “To counter that I kept backing the car down and we still qualified fifth pedaling the thing so we know the car had a lot more in it, we just couldn’t get a handle on it.”

Once in Arizona Gallen and his team prepared to face off against eight of the best Prostalgia Nitro Funny Cars in the west along with a pair of east coast regulars in himself and rival Mike McIntire. While day one didn’t go as planned, with Gallen falling just short of the final and James Day and the “War Eagle” team going on to win the race, day two was a different story.

In round one Gallen set a new elapsed time mark against the west’s fastest driver Tim Boychuk and then lowered his new record again in the finals against, who else, Mike McIntire.

“When we went to Tucson we put a different set of tires on the car and it seemed to step right up,” Gallen said. “We were really happy with the air in Tucson and San Antonio. The car ran in the 70s at both places and we set the record at both places.

“While we were disappointed to have to run Mike in the first round on Friday at Tucson, I guess it was meant to be as the only two east coast cars there met in the final again on Saturday. Honestly I don’t think there is a better team out there. The guy has a great personality and he has a great family. To be honest it is the family aspect that I really love about his operation. They are a close group and a great bunch to race.”

The Pete and Mike show continued in San Antonio one week later as the pair met again in the final at the San Antonio Nitro Jam with Gallen winning his fourth Ironman trophy of the year. On top of that, Gallen also set new marks in the class yet again, lowering the national elapsed time record to 5.770 seconds and upping the speed record to 252.10 miles per hour making the “Poverty Stricken” Vega the fastest nostalgia Funny Car on the east coast and one of the best in the country.

“To be honest I actually had my reservation on whether we could run with those guys out west simply because of the numbers they run out there,” Gallen said. “I have never been in that kind of air, but I wanted to see what it was like. In Bakersfield the air was phenomenal and so was Arizona and San Antonio and the car ran great.

“I guess the big thing that came from driving all the way out there, after running the Boychuks of the world and the Sanders of the world, is that all of them put their pants on one leg at a time. And other than outspending our team, I would tee it up with them anytime.

“It is not really a cocky viewpoint, they just have different elements and different air, a lot better air than what we normally have, and I think if we had some more shots at Bakersfield we could run with the best of them.”

Now, with four wins and a ton of confidence following a successful trip west, Gallen finds himself in unfamiliar territory as he prepares to make a short five-hour trip from his home in Broomall, Pa. to Pittsburgh May 20-21 for the Pittsburgh Nitro Jam – a much different haul compared to the long drives and sleepless nights traveling to locations such as Florida, Louisiana and California to open the season.

“Pittsburgh is five hours from me so I am excited about going and I am certainly excited to have a close one for a change,” Gallen said. “I certainly won’t be as tired when I get there instead of these 25 and 30 hour trips. I have never been to this track and I have never run eighth mile before, especially in this car, so it should be interesting. We are looking forward to it.”

The Pittsburgh Nitro Jam will be the closest thing to a home event as Gallen will find on the Nitro Jam tour as the team prepares to once again square off against McIntire, Greg Jacobsmeyer in the “Allstar Dodge” and the “Bullet Bob” team which will be making its Nitro Jam return after a few months off.

Gallen also brings a commanding 78 point lead over McIntire in the Prostalgia championship standings to Pittsburgh as Gallen tries to continue his dominance of the class while representing his home state.

More than anything else, Gallen will try to continue to consistently put up numbers once thought impossible for an east coast team, especially for a guy that has only been back in the game for a little over two years.

Either way, Gallen is ready to make a name for himself and prove that the “Poverty Stricken” Vega is here to stay.