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Local

Sackman wins debut in Top Alcohol Dragster

Minooka grad making noise in drag racing circles

Matt Sackman of Channahon (right) prepares to race in the Top Alcohol final race at Route 66 Raceway.
Matt Sackman of Channahon (right) prepares to race in the Top Alcohol final race at Route 66 Raceway.

Although Matt Sackman has technically been able to drive a Top Alcohol Dragster in competition since November, 2015, he had never really gotten the chance to do so.

That's because the 25-year old Channahon native and 2011 Minooka graduate has had other important things on his mind as far as drag racing is concerned.

For the past few seasons, he's worked in various roles on the crew of one of the top drivers in the NHRA, Antron Brown, who won world championships in Top Fuel Dragster in 2012, 2015 and 2016. Sackman is a cylinder head specialist for Brown's Matco Tools/U.S. Army/Toyota team and thus works for the powerhouse in the sport, Don Schumacher Racing.

With an off week in the NHRA Mello Yello schedule, Sackman finally got a chance to make his debut in the Top Alcohol Dragster division, and it would come in his own backyard at Route 66 Raceway. As part of the track's Burndown at Sundown weekend that concluded on Sunday, Sackman would take part in the Lucas Oil NHRA Division 3 event.

A Randy Meyer Racing vehicle was available so Sackman was able to take part in the event along with another Randy Meyer Racing driver, Julie Nataas. As it turned out, they not only had the best qualifying times but also met up in the finals with Sackman winning in 5.357 seconds in 273.83 miles per hour while Nataas went 5.414 seconds in 275.17 mph.

Sackman's big weekend was also due to the support of Gemini Farms and Hangsterfer's Metalworking Lubricants, plus his very supportive parents, Marie and Darren. It marked the first time that he and brother Zach raced in the same event since they were in Jr. Dragsters.

"I've raced my family's Top Dragster over the past several seasons but never had the opportunity to run a Top Alcohol Dragster," Sackman said. "A couple of months ago, the opportunity came about to partner up with Randy Meyer Racing and it happened to be at our home track, which was pretty cool and this week I got to race with Julie Nataas. Randy has a lot of young drivers and definitely has a top-notch operation. I knew Randy from working on Antron's team so I was pretty excited to be able to drive one of his cars.

"I was fairly excited because the car I was driving qualified number one the week before so I knew that he had it running really well and we ran a 5.269 at 275 mph in Friday's qualifying session. We had a lot of family and friends stop by the pit to check it out and my brother, Zach, was racing there, too. He won at Indianapolis the previous weekend and at Norwalk, Ohio, the week before, so he's having a really good year. He didn't have a very good weekend this past week, but that happens."

This weekend he'll return to his usual job of working with Brown's Top Fuel team in the Mile-High NHRA Nationals in Morrison, Colorado. Brown is sixth in the standings with 717 points. Heading into the 'Western Swing', Brown is still seeking his first 2018 win. He made it to his first finals but took second to points leader Steve Torrence in the last race at Epping.

There he'll be back with a quality crew that is led by chiefs Mark Oswald and Brad Mason.

"I changed jobs on the car in the offseason," Sackman said. "In the previous four seasons I was the clutch assistant and tire specialist and I've moved up to the cylinder head specialist on the team and take care of building and servicing cylinder heads on the car. It's all a team effort and I work with a bunch of good guys so that makes it pretty easy and it's a lot of fun since we all have a good time together. When Antron goes out and wins or when the car makes a good run, it's definitely rewarding since you know that you did your job.

"I'm loving things right now. I'm very lucky to have been around some of the best racers in drag racing like Antron Brown and great co-crew chiefs like Mark Oswald and Brad Mason and also Randy Meyer Racing this past weekend. Just a lot of great people. NHRA drag racing is the unique form of motorsports and it's pretty cool to be at a race where a guy is competing at the same event as a national champion like Antron Brown. It's a good opportunity for local guys like myself to step up and move up through the ranks."

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