Matt Sackman entered last weekend’s Burndown at Sundown at Route 66 Raceway with just a handful of Top Alcohol Dragster passes under his belt. Late Sunday evening, he left the event with five additional passes, the No. 1 qualifier award and the NHRA North Central Region event victory.
“To be able to qualify No. 1 and win the race in my debut is pretty unbelievable,” said Sackman, a cylinder head specialist on Don Schumacher Racing’s Antron Brown-driven Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster. “It definitely shows there’s light at the end of the tunnel, that all of the hard work is worth it. This opportunity will hopefully lead to more opportunities in the future. I’m just very fortunate that everything worked out the way it did.”
Driving one of the potent Randy Meyer Racing entries, Sackman, 25, kicked off his Top Alcohol Dragster debut Friday evening with a 5.26-second pass at 275 mph. A strong 5.31 at 274 mph followed during Saturday’s rain-shortened qualifying, but it was the first pass that held up for the top spot out of the 13 cars trying to qualify for the eight-car field.
“I knew Randy had the car running well because Justin Ashley qualified No. 1 in it at Indy the week before,” said Sackman, whose teammate, Julie Nataas, qualified No. 2. “Running that 5.26 in hot air on the first pass definitely got my attention. I couldn’t believe the guys when they told me it ran 5.26 at 275.”
Sackman notched his first Top Alcohol Dragster round win Saturday evening when he used a .048 reaction time and 5.326 at 274.39 to defeat J.P. Gutierrez and his supercharged entry.
“It felt great to get that first win light out of the way,” Sackman admitted. “Both of my qualifying passes were singles, so first round was my first time driving an A/Fuel car with another car in the other lane. I was fairly nervous about that because I didn’t want to mess up my routine or hang JP out. Fortunately, it ended up working out.”
Man and machine were consistent in the semifinals, as another .048 light from Sackman and a 5.304 at 275.56 performance out of the Meyer-tuned Gemini Farms/Hangsterfer’s Metalworking Lubricants A/Fuel dragster took down Jared Dreher to earn a spot in the final round. Waiting for Sackman in the final was Nataas, who used a holeshot advantage to defeat Josh Hart in the semifinals.
“I watched Julie run a 5.27 in the semifinals right in front of me, so I knew her car was going to be good,” Sackman said. “I also knew she had been good on the tree all weekend. I knew I’d need to do my best to get a little advantage on the tree and hopefully that would be enough.”
As the Christmas tree dropped, Sackman nabbed a slight starting line advantage with his .035 light to Nataas’ .052 bulb. The Gemini Farms/Hangsterfer’s dragster held on for the win with a 5.357 at 273.83 as Nataas dropped a cylinder and posted a 5.414 at 275.17 in the runner-up effort.
“Julie is a great driver and I’m glad I had the opportunity to race with her,” Sackman said. “She actually mixed my fuel, fueled up the car and packed my parachutes for me this weekend since I was busy doing the clutch. I really appreciate her helping with that.”
While he was hoping for a closer race, team owner and tuner Randy Meyer was content with his cars taking the top two spots in qualifying and maintaining that performance to end up in the final round together.
“I’m very proud of these young people who I’ve been able to help make their dreams come true in my cars,” Meyer said. “Unfortunately for Matt and Julie, there was only going to be one winner. It should’ve been a great side-by-side race in the final if Julie’s car didn’t drop a hole. Her day is coming, though. But being able to put a smile on two young drivers’ faces, as an owner, that’s what makes me feel good.”
Sackman went on to thank the Randy Meyer Racing crew members for their efforts, as well as Antron Brown and Megan and Rachel Meyer for driving tips.
“None of this would’ve been possible without the support from Gemini Farms, Hangsterfer’s Metalworking Lubricants, and my parents, Darren and Marie,” Sackman added. “Randy Meyer has a top-notch operation and I appreciate him working with me on my driving and with his guidance on servicing the clutch.”
Sackman’s dream-weekend celebrations carried over into Monday morning, as messages of congratulations came in from every direction. A random man at the gas station congratulated him while he was filling up before going into work, then he received a congratulatory text message from Don Schumacher himself.
“I was starting to work on a cylinder head this morning and I got a text message that read, ‘Congrats. Great job on the weekend. – Don.’ I’m just one of his many employees. For him to keep up with what was going on and take time to congratulate me really meant a lot.”
Racing in Top Alcohol Dragster is the latest step in Sackman’s path toward the eventual goal of competing in Top Fuel. While he believes he still has a long road ahead of him, the Top Alcohol Dragster rookie might not be so far off when it comes to the driving aspect, according to Meyer.
“Matt handled everything very well and did exactly what I asked him to do,” Meyer said. “He might be ‘green’, but he’s not really green. He has the right mindset and he’s somewhat of a natural. I think he could drive a Top Fuel car tomorrow and be successful.”
Matt wasn’t the only Sackman racing at the Burndown at Sundown. His 22-year-old brother, Zach, drove the family’s Hangsterfer’s Metalworking Lubricants Top Dragster to the No. 4 qualifying position before falling in the first round. It was the brothers’ first time racing together at the same event since the Channahon, Ill., natives raced Jr. Dragsters at Route 66 Raceway.
“It was definitely a cool experience to race at our home track together,” Zach said. “We didn’t have the weekend we were hoping for with the Top Dragster, but it was great to be there for Matt’s first win in Top Alcohol Dragster. We had a lot of family and friends at the track, so it was cool for them to see us both race.”
The next race for Zach is the NHRA Division 5 double divisional event at Heartland Motorsports Park, July 26-29, in Topeka, Kansas. Matt will take over the seat of the Top Dragster at the Drag Illustrated World Series of Pro Mod, Aug. 10-11, at Bandimere Speedway near Denver.