Schiller wins Lakefest | RecordCourier.com

Schiller wins Lakefest

by Joey Crandall

It’s been a bit of a dry spell for Gardnerville’s Mike Schiller, but the former world champion IHBA drag boat racer found his way back to the top two weeks ago at the 23rd annual Lakefest in Phoenix.

Schiller and his crew overcame a troublesome series of test runs to win the IHBA season opener at the Firebird Raceway.

Schiller’s boat, Centsless No. 302, topped 2005 champ Alan Forsyth in the semifinals and blew past the No. 1 qualifier in the finals to win by one-hundredth of a second. It was the first win for Schiller and his crew since winning the world title in 2003.

“It was just a good feeling to be back on the podium,” Schiller said. “Sunday morning, a pastor with Racers for Christ told us to ‘become what you believe.’

“We focused on that phrase all day and every round you could just sense more focus and drive than we have had in the past couple seasons.”

The win was especially sweet for the team, considering they almost didn’t qualify on Saturday.

Schiller brought down two female crewmembers, Renee Haskell and Wendy Fecto, for the first day of testing.

“The whole attitude was very different,” Schiller said. “I showed up with two women and the other drivers were coming up to me saying, ‘Schiller, where’s your crew?’

“Within 15 minutes the girls were taking the engine apart and getting it all serviced and ready for the test run. They knew what they were doing and they did it well.”

The team ran into problems early, however, posting a 7.85 on the first run, too fast for the 8-second qualifying index.

Schiller said his crew had the boat ready again in just 22 minutes. They fired it and it locked up.

“The supercharger had seized up,” Schiller said. “We were pretty discouraged and I spent most of the afternoon at the Auto Turbo Diesel shop in Phoenix trying to get it fixed

“I knew we just had to find an answer to get underway. I was concerned about safety first. I didn’t want the boat breaking apart on the track.”

The team pulled it back together and posted a 7.79 on the last pass of the day, still too quick.

On Saturday, Schiller’s crew chief Gary Chandler and driving coach Tom Merry arrived.

Chandler made a few adjustments to the boat and Merry reviewed Schiller’s time slips to develop a strategy. Schiller qualified in the No. 3 spot after several successful runs.

Merry sat down with Schiller Sunday morning to speak with him about getting off clean starts on race day. Schiller had been having trouble running red lights during qualifying.

“Tom was instrumental in this win,” Schiller said. “He really helped out a lot in showing me how to prevent red-lighting.”

Schiller posted an easy win in the first round and edged his good friend Richard Perry in the second. His victories in the semis and the finals sealed up the win.

“It was just an awesome weekend,” he said. “Everyone did their job so well. It was a good win for us.”

He said since the win his phone has been ringing off the hook with sponsorship offers and well-wishers.

“It’s a bit different now than back when we won the championship the first time,” Schiller, who own Golden Nugget Automotive, said. “We used to be operating on a shoestring budget in a tired, old boat.

“We were beating people while running out of the back of a pickup truck. We’re not the Clampetts anymore. This is a first-class operation.”

Schiller’s crew now stands at six members, including himself and drivetrain maintenance man Kevin Murray.

The team’s sponsors include A Sign Shop, the Auto Parts Depot, Carson Valley Transmission, Charles Grant Construction, Dragboats.com, Golden Nugget Automotive, JRB Machine, Mark McLaughlin Photography, Merry Medical, Nevada Loan Source and Valley Door Works.

Next up for the team is the Nitro Nationals at Red Bluff, Calif., on May 27 and 28.

“We always get a huge crowd from Gardnerville at Red Bluff,” Schiller said. “There’s about 100 that show up to cheer us on.”

Anyone interested in Centsless racing can visit http://www.centsless302.com or call Schiller at Golden Nugget Automotive at 782-6596.

— Joey Crandall can be reached at jcrandall@recordcourier.com or at (775) 782-5121, ext. 212.