CONCORD, N.C. — Drag racing fans may want to consider jumping on the Mike Salinas bandwagon.
Who is Mike Salinas?
He’s a 58-year-old Top Fuel driver in his second full season of NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competition. He’s no racing rookie, however, having spent eight years competing in the nostalgia ranks before stepping into a Top Fuel car in 2009.
The owner of a salvage and garbage business, Salinas has used patience and determination to turn his passion for drag racing into a profession.
His talent was on display during the April 26-28 NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway. During a windy and brisk evening qualifying session where drivers in both nitro categories struggled to make it down the track, Salinas did so in record time.
Salinas, driving his own Scrappers Racing dragster, reset the zMAX Dragway Top Fuel elapsed-time record with an impressive 3.687-second run. That secured Salinas his second No. 1 qualifier honor of the season, though his weekend was cut short when he was knocked out in the semi-final round of eliminations.
Salinas picked up his first Top Fuel victory earlier in the year, winning the four-wide event at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
At least part of Salinas’ success can be attributed to his crew, which includes a pair of very familiar names. During the offseason, Salinas, frustrated with a disappointing 2018 season that saw him end the year seventh in the Top Fuel ranks, hired legendary tuner Alan Johnson and championship crew chief Brian Husen.
“Alan has been coaching me well and teaching me some amazing things,” Salinas said. “They know what they’re doing and they just basically let me go out there and they give me instructions on how to run this thing and it’s working.”
Johnson and Husen most recently worked with John Force Racing and Brittany Force, propelling her to the 2017 Top Fuel championship. For Salinas, the opportunity to add such a potent pair to his family-run Top Fuel program was a no-brainer.
“It’s pretty amazing to watch them work and what they’re doing,” Salinas said. “I’m just the guy they let drive the car. So it’s kind of cool. They’re really good at what they do. We expect big things from them, too.
“The flip side of this is they work for me and I expect a lot out of all of them. We expect from each other and it’s a happy marriage.”
A happy marriage is a good choice of words. Since linking up with Johnson and Husan, Salinas has earned two No. 1 qualifiers and his first Top Fuel victory (as of late April). The results are speaking for themselves and Salinas is happy.
In fact, he was so happy with his team that prior to the start of eliminations at zMAX Dragway, Salinas surprised his entire team with new Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Now that’s a way to reward performance.
“This is what happens when you do good things,” Salinas said. “We’ve done pretty well in life, and we want to give back. These guys have given me something that very few people in the world have.”
Getting to this point in his career hasn’t been easy, but such things generally never are. Salinas made his first Top Fuel start in 2011 in Pomona, Calif., and progressively worked his way to full-time status by 2018. He wasn’t in a hurry and knew he had a lot to learn before attempting to take the full-time leap.
“I could have gone to Schumacher and paid to go drive a car, but at the end of the day I’m not showing my children how to be successful in life and business,” Salinas said.
Ironically, Salinas says he knew for some time that he was eventually going to add Johnson to his Top Fuel program. He didn’t know how and he didn’t know when, but he knew it was going to happen.
“I had Alan Johnson on my hit list for five years, he just didn’t know it,” Salinas admitted. “I eventually knew I was going to get him, or he was going to retire. I’m just lucky. I was like the cat watching the birds land in the trees and when it was my turn, it was my turn.”
Salinas admits there is still a lot for him to learn.
“I want to run these guys. I don’t want to win because they spun the tires,” Salinas said poignantly. “I want to do like we did in Vegas. I want to run them so it’s a true win. I don’t think there is any honor in winning when you spin the tires.”