Stop if you’ve heard this story before. It’s about a poor but ingenious and industrious California man who lifted himself to success in drag racing, thanks in part to an incredibly smart tuner but more so a relentless focus on the task at hand. And he’s enjoying the notion his four daughters are sharing his drag-racing dream with him.
This isn’t about John Force.
Mike Salinas has exactly 148 fewer victories than John Force and he doesn’t drive a Funny Car.
Salinas, who has won twice this season, appeared to have come out of nowhere. Racing mostly on the West Coast with a spartan paint job on his Scrappers Racing dragster, he remained a mystery for about seven years.
But quietly and methodically, he put together a powerful presence with tuning wizard Alan Johnson, who has earned 12 Top Fuel championships with six different drivers.
“Our program’s a little different than where he’s been,” Salinas said. “I asked him to come on board, and he graciously came on board. We’ll call him my plumber. If I have a leak at my house, I don’t go tell the plumber how to do it. I leave him alone, let him do his job — let all the guys do their jobs.”
When Salinas won the four-wide race at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this April, he bought every crew member a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Before that, he said, “I had never won anything at any level of racing.”
Salinas pressures himself to exceed his own expectations and sets the bar high for daughters Jasmine, Jacqueline, Jianna and Janae.
“I’m here for one thing, nothing else,” he said. “I want to go as fast as I can and win. That’s why I’m here. There are different levels of people and the ideology of how they do it. So if I shoot for the stars and go for the best, I’m going to get really close. We just keep knocking at the door. Nothing ever comes easy for us. It never has in this world, and it doesn’t come easy for anybody. All of us struggle every day. Things do not fall in your lap. I have my own reasons; and I don’t care what anybody in this world thinks but my four daughters. If I don’t win, how can they win? That’s just my theory of how we build our world.”
He built his world from scratch.
“We were the broke, poor kids and we had to work,” Salinas, 58, said of his early years. He remembered how, even as a child, he made sure his younger siblings had enough food to eat before he would take his own portion. And he and wife Monica have worked for 36 years to make their companies — and themselves — what they are today.
Although the Salinas family lives in California’s Bay Area and operates their firms out of San Jose, Monica Salinas is pursuing a distance-learning degree from Harvard, studying Middle East finances.
“We built our companies. Monica and I, this is our 36th year in business,” Salinas noted. “She had $3,500 and I had $3,000 when we started our company 36 years ago — 20-hour days, seven days a week. We never realized what we were going to build. I actually just went back and I’m walking through all the companies and watching what’s going on and it’s pretty amazing. You don’t realize it’s yours. We’ve been on that push for so long.”
And he still is. It’s difficult to imagine Salinas isn’t that same high-school kid who learned from one of his sisters how to drive a truck and bought a raggedy 1956 Kenworth to haul junk cars to scrapyards after classes each day.
“I can’t sit still. I sleep about two hours a night. My brain’s on kill 24/7 and it’s hard to stop. I don’t know how to stop,” Salinas said. “Driving, when I first started, that’s what it did for me. It calmed me down when I got in the car. Now we created another company. You look at what (Don) Schumacher goes through. You look at what (John) Force goes through, (Connie) Kalitta. Every time you add something on, it escalates. You know, we own a bunch of companies, so it escalates also there. More cars, more people, more funding, more this, more that. It doesn’t stop.
“The thing for me is I have four daughters and they all want to run, so that’s first and foremost. I’m lucky because they want to do it with us,” he said, “and we’re together as a family. That’s all. The rest I don’t really care about.”