Brad Personett returns to limelight as Shane Molinari’s celebrated tuner
There was a time when Brad Personett was on top of the NHRA Pro Mod world. It was 2010 and the Elkhart, Indiana, native had just won the U.S. Nationals, becoming the first turbo car to win in NHRA Pro Mod, going a then-record 255.39 mph, following it up with a season-ending victory in Las Vegas.
Those days are no more and that spotlight is long gone, and Personett is perfectly fine with it. He now lives just west of Orlando with his wife, very much content living out of the racing limelight.
“I made it to the point where I wasn’t living and breathing these cars 24/7,” remembers Personett, who sold his turbocharged Camaro in 2012. He’s remained in the sport on the fringes in recent years, helping friends – including World Series of Pro Mod winner Mike Bowman – but Personett’s name has suddenly been spoken much more frequently in 2017.
No, he’s not returning to race – “there’s just no way” – but his expertise is still on display. He took over as crew chief for Shane Molinari at the final race of 2016, and Molinari’s transformation in the NHRA Pro Mod ranks has been nothing short of extraordinary. Molinari has three final round appearances in 2017, winning his first career race in Norwalk, and currently sits third in points. For a guy who was teetering on whether to continue racing in the NHRA Pro Mod ranks, Personett’s involvement has made an incredible impact, and Molinari isn’t afraid to say it.
“Obviously the tuner makes a big difference and Brad’s got his stuff together,” Molinari asserts. “He’s an amazing guy. He’s owned his own car, he’s tuned his own car. What else can you ask for? The guy has been astronomical for us. He knows what’s right and what needs fixed, and he makes sure you’re comfortable in the car. It’s just been a great thing.”
After a conversation with Pro Line Racing’s Eric Dillard late last season, one where Personett found out that Molinari was ready to pull the plug and be done with NHRA Pro Mod racing, he was brought in to solve the multitude of issues with Molinari’s Firebird. Even after the first appearance in Vegas, Personett believed Molinari was capable of much more than a disappointing 2016 season that saw him qualify for only two events.
“I said it last year that he can have a top five car,” Personett says. “We just needed to get our act together. It’s easy to put on paper, but you still have to go out and do it. It just doesn’t happen overnight and we’re still trying to make things better.”
For Molinari, the experience factor has paid major dividends. Personett, who was a three-time world champion in NHRA’s Pro Import RWD class before moving to Pro Mod in 2008, had the impressive blend of tuning and driving that Molinari had been searching for. Personett tested the car in Bradenton at the beginning of the year, and his knowledge of the turbo car quickly put Molinari at ease. From there, Personett could see Molinari’s confidence steadily grow.
“He had gone through a couple crashes, and nobody can tell you anything about this unless you’ve been in their shoes,” Personett believes. “There’s a handful of tuners out there who have never sat in and started it, let alone drive one of these cars. These cars, things are happening so fast. Everything about this stuff is an emotional roller-coaster. It was about repetition, getting laps in knowing it’s going A to B. That’s been a huge confidence builder for Shane.”
After two final round appearances, including qualifying No. 1 at Bristol, Molinari broke through in Norwalk for his first NHRA Pro Mod victory, capping off a remarkable ascent in a short period. It’s been a thrill for Personett, and he’s gracious for the thanks and appreciation, scratching the racing itch just good enough to keep him happy.
“The win was huge,” Personett adds. “Everybody goes from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs in this sport. The sport can humble you in a hurry, but I’m having fun.”