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NHRA drag racer Mike Salinas driven to succeed

Imagine working all day, all week in the waste management business. Then imagine going the extra mile to compete at drag racing’s pro level around the country.

Not that Top Fuel racer Mike Salinas or his drag-racing family are complaining. The San Jose resident is a proven winner on the NHRA’s highest level with part-time sponsorship and full-time effort, running the full NHRA schedule for the first time in his life this season with two wins to show for it.

Pour on the hectic routine: Heavy-duty work. Followed by a flight for a test. Followed by another flight for race weekend. Then it’s time to come home and head to work the next day.

“Everything didn’t start happening for us until this year,” Salinas said. “Last year, we made a little tiny bit of a noise, but it wasn’t even close to being at the level we’re at. This is the first year we’re ?doing really well.”

Salinas owns and operates Valley Services in San Jose seven days a week, and often flips between that and the national drag-racing circuit - then right back to his daily grind.

But for the amount of time it took for him to get to this place in his racing career, you couldn’t blame him for making the effort when there’s a race to get there and jump in the cockpit.

His first race at drag racing’s highest level in 2011 was at Sonoma Raceway, and in Salinas’ memory, it didn’t go so well. That’s when he knew it was time to take his dedication to drag racing to another level.

“You surround yourself with a certain type of people,” said Salinas, “that are good at what they do and have the same mindset. And I didn’t have those people around me at that time.”

The Scrappers Racing team owned by Salinas is crew chief’d by Brian Husen and tuned by Alan Johnson. Johnson touts a championship-winning resume, having won 16 NHRA national championships in his career. Husen has also enjoyed championship success with Don Schumacher Racing and Al-Anabi Racing, per Johnson’s website.

Salinas’ breakthrough win in 2019 came at the four-wide nationals at Las Vegas in April. And he didn’t mince words when he got out of his car, nearly in tears.

“This is the first time I have ever won any race, ever,” he told Fox Sports, via an NHRA YouTube video. “… this has been a hard road, but it has been awesome.

And then he followed that up by defeating Steve Torrence - who’s had a tremendous season as the points leader - in the finals at Bristol in June.

The connection between Salinas and his crew members has made the difference.

“When you put a plan together, you know that with the people you have behind you, it’s going to do good,” Salinas said. “And it makes you start to learn to be a better driver … I’m like a kid in training to learn how to drive a fast car. It’s real sensitive.”

Despite the success, the team is looking for full-time sponsorship.

“We have to have the right match with us. Our values have to be aligned the same,” Salinas said.

Two of Salinas’ four daughters have also started racing, as his daughter Jasmine raced a Top Alcohol dragster in the Division 7 races last weekend at Sonoma and daughter Jianna races mostly full-time on Pro Stock motorcycle - she’s a senior at San Jose State University.

Jianna Salinas had a rough crash at the Route 66 NHRA Nationals in June and was able to walk away from it virtually unscathed.

But she’s back on her bike this weekend looking to qualify for the ladders, and spend time with her dad as well, trying to blend fun and a drive to win in a three-day weekend.

“Our racing is our camping trip, going to the lake trip or ski trip,” the elder Salinas said. “You’re very serious about what you’re doing, but think about this … for 3.7 seconds, I get to shake up the earth. Very few people in the world get to do that.”

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