Monday, April 25, 2011

Win Icing On The Cake For Castellana

The journey started last summer and Mike Castellana was proud to declare it over – and in victorious fashion – by the end of 2010.

What has followed in the three-plus months since has simply been the icing on the cake.

The icing was extra sweet last weekend as Castellana claimed another American Drag Racing League (ADRL) in Pro Nitrous, going 3.828 to knock off 2010 PN World Champion Burton Auxier at the Safety-Kleen Spring Drags II.

It's the latest special moment in what has been a remarkable journey and it is also an incredible testament to Castellana's triumph over cancer.

Never one to get too emotional, even the easygoing Castellana found a little added meaning in the heart-warming victory at Palm Beach International Raceway.

"It's an unbelievable feeling. It's just great. Really, it's hard to describe this right now," Castellana said. "Shannon (Jenkins) and the crew gave me a great car and you win with the people behind you. They really make this happen."

That's classic Castellana – one quick note about himself and then immediate and heaping praise on others.

The truth is, though, Castellana deserves plenty of praise for his perseverance as well as his unwavering positive attitude through a difficult time in his life.

But if he won't be won't get too involved in the moment – "I try not to get too caught up in it, but the win is good" – others close to him will.

Longtime friend and racing partner Shannon Jenkins had a beaming smile in the moments after the race, which indicated just how much this meant to everyone on the Al-Anabi Racing team.

"This is probably one of the best races we've ever won together," Jenkins said. "To see how healthy he is, it's just great, and he hasn't lost his stride. He's still one of the best drivers out there. This was just a great weekend and this is great for our team."

After being diagnosed with cancer last summer, Castellana had surgery and then went through a rigorous chemotherapy process.

Castellana went through 12 chemotherapy sessions and admitted it was an exhaustive and tiring matter to go through.

But he was declared cancer-free before the end of 2010 and the longtime standout in Pro Nitrous decided he was returning to racing.

He showed up at the first event of the year last month, advancing to the quarterfinals of CarSafe Dragpalooza VII presented by LenMar Motorsports at Royal Purple Raceway.

Castellana's return was cheered by a number of racers, but he was even more impressive at PBIR.

During eliminations, he went 3.90 in the first round, following it up with a 3.87 in a second-round win against Jeff Naiser and a 3.83 in a semifinal victory against John Decerbo.

Jenkins, Castellana's crew chief, was incredibly impressed with his work behind the wheel.

"He couldn't have done a better job," Jenkins said. "It was picture perfect. He's just one of those drivers who is capable of doing that."

Castellana knows he will have to be on top of his game in 2011 in what has proven to be a dynamic class.

The 3.96 qualifying bump was the second-quickest in ADRL history, while Castellana's teammate, Mahana Al-Naemi, posted the quickest run in PN history (3.797) the night before Castellana's win.

"This class is just unbelievable," Castellana said. "Anybody can win at any time. There's no easy rounds like there were years ago. You have to earn every win these days."

Castellana's 3.82 on Saturday was the best run of the day, but there were plenty of worthy challengers.

Jenkins said that will remain the case for the rest of the year, but he has plenty of confidence in Castellana, who is ready to taste some more icing in 2011.

"There's no gimmies out there, believe me," Jenkins said. "Everybody has stepped up and it just makes you work harder. You gotta have the whole package if you want to win, and that includes having a driver like Mike."