300 mph with a foggy visor: Mike Salinas recounts 1/8th-mile record
62-year-old Mike Salinas is an independent drag racer, running in Top Fuel, the fastest class in the National Hot Rod Association competition.
Salinas and his rail dragster have a few sponsors, but he funds his racing mostly from his own pocket. He’s the owner of Valley Services, a waste facility in San Jose, California. His team is called Scrappers Racing, because his successful scrap business is what got him to the drag strip in the first place.
Last Saturday, Salinas pulled to the starting line at zMax Raceway outside Charlotte, North Carolina, knowing that he had the bullets in his 11,000-horsepower gun to make history. Rob Flynn, his crew chief, had been trying some new ways to get the V-8 engine’s power to the ground. Salinas looked at the temperature, dew point, barometer, track surface, and other conditions. “I figured we had a 45-minute window to make something happen,” Salinas told Hagerty.
All season, the car had been a challenge. “Last year, our car was a consistent, steady car, but it wasn’t fast.” During the off-season, he told his crew chiefs: “‘Go find me the horsepower, and the speed, and the elapsed time.’ Our car wouldn’t go over 334 mph. No matter what we did to it, it wouldn’t go over 334.”
That’s fast, but not fast enough to consistently win races.
The first test run of the season, Salinas went 299.06 mph, lifting off the throttle at just past the 600-foot mark—Top Fuelers run 1000 feet, and 600 feet is just short of an eighth of a mile. The Scrappers team had found something during the off-season, alright. Since then, Salinas says, “We’ve had to learn how to harness that new power. The car will tell you what it wants, and you just have to listen. And we’ve been listening. We’ve taken the basics and turned them on their heads.
“Every time we try to slow it down so it doesn’t spin the tires, it wants to go faster. It’s like an unruly little toddler! How do you get it to do what you want it to? That’s the challenge.
“I literally talk to the car sometimes. For this run [on September 23, 2023], on the way to the driver’s seat, I patted the injectors and said, ‘It’s time.’”
Right away, there was a problem. The face shield on his helmet was fogging up, and Salinas could barely see. The team paused long enough to wipe away the fog, and Salinas tried to hold his breath to keep the shield clear.
Then the face shield and the windshield started to fog. Again, his crew paused to clean them. It didn’t work. They fogged again.
The engine in a Top Fuel dragster is in the rear. Salinas had experience driving front-engine dragsters, with engines and superchargers so huge that he really didn’t have any forward visibility—he had to look out the side of his visor and judge the run based on how close he was to the wall. But the front-engine cars are slower than rail dragsters. Much slower.
Around the edges of the fogged face shield and windshield, “I could see the wall on one side, and the center line on the other. ‘Maybe this will work,’ I thought.” He could not, however, see the finish line. “I figured, ‘This is how we got here, this is what the pioneers did. Go for it!
“I took off and went down the track. I counted to four, because I couldn’t see straight ahead, and I lifted and put the parachutes out. I knew we had a great run. I’d managed to keep it straight.”
But it turned out he was, according to his crew chief’s analysis, 100 to 120 feet short of the finish line when he took his foot off the throttle. Calculations show he could have run 339 to 340.5 mph, which not only would have been the fastest speed of his career, it would have been the fastest speed ever—the record, set in 2022 by Brittany Force, is 338.94 mph.
Still, Salinas set the record for the first dragster ever to 300 mph in an eighth of a mile, earning him a $30,000 prize and some unexpected notoriety. While in Charlotte, he visited the nearby Hendrick Motorsports shop, “because I’m thinking of building a new shop and I wanted to get some ideas.” While he was there, four-time NASCAR champ and current Hendrick vice-chairman Jeff Gordon “walked up and asked to shake my hand. I’ve been a fan of his for years. I couldn’t believe it.”
Salinas comes from a drag-racing family—his father raced dragsters at tracks in the San Francisco Bay area. Salinas started out in slower classes and in 2009, he received his Top Fuel license at the Texas Motorplex. He made his professional debut in NHRA Top Fuel in 2011. It has taken this long to build a team and hone his skills to become a threat week in and out—he has won eight events in his career and is currently seventh in the Top Fuel standings.
Drag racing is a family affair—daughter Jasmine races in the Top Alcohol series, one step below Top Fuel, and his other daughter, Jianna, races Pro Stock motorcycles, which travel the quarter-mile at 200 mph. Jasmine will begin racing Top Fuel next season, giving Scrappers Racing a two-car team. “With Jasmine moving up—we’ve always been a family-funded team, but now we are actively looking for corporate partners, and we know we can deliver for them now.”
The next of the four remaining NHRA races is this weekend in Madison, Illinois, at World Wide Technology Raceway. The finals air on Fox Sports 1 from 3 to 6 p.m. ET.
The entire Scrappers team will be there. “Now we know how much fuel this car has left in the tank,” Salinas says. “And I think we’ve got something for the other teams.”