Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – DINWIDDIE, VA – After massive struggles to open the 2019 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, Mike Castellana was simply happy to have the opportunity to race during eliminations on Sunday at the most recent event in Atlanta.
But Castellana showed it might not be wise to base his season on the early frustrations, as he impressed in Atlanta en route to the victory, the ninth of his standout career. Heading into this weekend’s race as part of the Virginia NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park, Castellana and his team, led by crew chief Frank Manzo, are excited to see where this momentum leads. After not qualifying at the first three races of the year, Castellana’s fortunes have clearly turned, which could lead to another big outing in Virginia in his supercharged Al-Anabi Performance Camaro.
“I owe it to my crew,” Castellana said. “Frank, he is amazing what he does with this thing. We struggled a little bit, but he worked at this and my crew, we all just came together at the right time. For all these Al-Anabi Performance teams, it’s amazing what they do for us and we’re looking forward to the rest of the year.”
The race, which is presented by the Real Pro Mod Association (RPM), is the fifth of 12 events during the 2019 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series season and will be shown on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) and Fox Sports 2 (FS2). Reigning world champion Mike Janis is the defending winner of the event, while Castellana became the fourth different winner in as many races to open the 2019 Pro Mod season. Just as importantly, Castellana finally found a consistent car in Atlanta.
Castellana had to deal with a record qualifying bump to open the season in Gainesville, but he had barely made a full pass to open the year, missing out on eliminations there as well as in Houston and Charlotte. Castellana, though, maintained his usual calm demeanor and things came together in Atlanta. Former Pro Stock standout Larry Morgan helped Manzo and the team there, and Castellana was able to breathe a sigh of relief when he qualified ninth. He knocked off Janis in the semifinals with an impressive 5.809 before going 5.825 to beat a red-lighting Jose Gonzalez in the final round, feeling vindicated after so much went wrong to open the year.
“We had struggled a lot early in the season, but I knew everything would come together,” Castellana said. “I just didn’t expect it to happen as quick as it did. But Frank and my team do a great job and they really came through (in Atlanta).”
The challenge now is finding consistency in a class loaded with talent. But Castellana believes his team turned a corner in Atlanta, and he’ll be ready to take on the likes of points leader Stevie “Fast” Jackson, Al-Anabi Performance teammate Todd Tutterow, Chad Green, three-time champ Rickie Smith and Jeremy Ray in Virginia. More than anything, the belief the team can win has returned and that could go a long way during a stretch that includes four races over the next six weeks.
“We feel real confident now and that’s big in this class,” Castellana said. “We’re making a lot progress with the car and when we make laps, Frank just keeps tweaking on the car, and that makes a big difference. We’ll be ready for Virginia.”