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Banding together for a common effort

By Carter Eckl ceckl@recordcourier.com

For Gardnerville native Matthew Thompson, a phone call quickly changed everything about his Halloween weekend.

After receiving word that Snap-on Dodge and Cruz Pedregon Racing crew chief, Eric ‘Hop’ Lane, suddenly passed away in an off-track accident in the middle of October, Thompson was asked to fill-in as a mechanic. Thompson wasn’t just an ordinary name for pulled out of a hat. The former world champion with Don Schumacher racing was at the top of the list for last-minute replacements.

“They know I put the car together right, the first time every time, and that the driver would be safe,” said Thompson.

Thompson, and fellow mechanical expert and Gardnerville resident Nick Holm, hopped in a car and drove south.

“I just felt horrible. It’s just been a really rough year,” said Thompson. “I could hear the emotion in their voices when they called.”

What the crew accomplished in the next 24-48 hours was next to impossible; especially given the crew was down two more members due to COVID testing protocols.

Upon arrival, Thompson and Holm joined up with some of the best car minds in the country to put together a sustainable car.

 “When I first arrived at the race track, we were kind of unsure who was going to do what position,” said Thompson. “For us to come up in this and adopt these (seven) positions, … we managed to make it work.”

The first lap down the track in the NHRA event went without a hitch, which Thompson noted was very unusual – especially with a new team.

“It was magic,” said Thompson. “I’m somewhat of a religious man, but I really felt Hop there racing with us all weekend.”

Working with nitro, accidents are somewhat of a commonplace, but the Pedregon racing team didn’t have any issues over the weekend.

In the first test and qualifying laps, the racing team had one cylinder misfire but was able to push through with the 15th spot.

As the 15th-place qualifier, Thompson and company went up against the No. 2 seed and former NHRA world champion – which ended their weekend event.

“He outperformed us, which was expected from a world champion car,” said Thompson. “It was just a feat for us to be up there on Sunday. Nobody is hurt and the car is together. … It really made me feel good at the end of the day to repay my friend Hop. It was something special for everybody.”