Though Evan Salemi just recently became old enough to legally take part in the champagne celebrations that come with the major victories he’s been a part of, the second-generation crew member and aspiring tuner is one of the most respected young mechanical minds in the Pro Mod pits.
Salemi, the 21-year-old son of Resolution Racing Services tuner Jon Salemi, stepson of PDRA Pro Boost and outlaw Pro Mod standout Melanie Salemi, and nephew of G-Force Race Cars chassis builder Jim Salemi, started helping on the family’s Pro Mod when he was just eight years old. Since then, he’s evolved into one of the primary crew members on Melanie’s Eddie Whelan-owned, screw-blown Camaro.
“They would let me drain the puke tank on the car and put air in the tires – just little easy things,” Salemi remembers. “Not until I was 15 or 16 did I really start having a big role on the race team. Over the last three or four years, it’s grown like crazy. Now it’s me and Eddie working on the car. It’s grown way further than I ever thought it would’ve, but when I look at what we’re doing every day at the shop, it makes sense. Everything else progresses.”
When Evan was in his late teens, he started traveling to other races to help his dad work with customers. Jon eventually trusted Evan to go to test sessions and local races himself to consult. Those efforts paid off earlier this year when Evan got the call to work with family friend and tuner Jeff Pierce on Kye Kelley’s new screw-blown “Jang A Lang” Buick Regal in Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings competition.
“Kye had talked with my dad and Jeff Pierce and said he wanted to run a screw blower, so Jeff was going to tune it this year and Kye wanted a knowledgeable crew guy with blower experience,” says Salemi, who spent time racing Jr. Dragsters as a kid and now bracket races a ’69 Nova when time permits. “Jeff said, ‘I have the perfect guy.’ So Kye hired me for the season, and any time we weren’t at PDRA races with Melanie’s car, I was at No Prep Kings.”
Success with the new combination came immediately for Kelley, who previously raced nitrous-assisted cars. The early success set him up to win the 2023 No Prep Kings Individual championship.
“We didn’t expect to have such instant success like we did,” Salemi admits. “We won the first two races of the No Prep Kings season and ran strong for the first 10 races. These last three or four, we’ve been struggling, but not many people have perfect seasons. Every time we struggle, we’re learning from it.”
The grueling No Prep Kings schedule added a bunch of races to Salemi’s already packed schedule, which primarily features the eight-race PDRA schedule along with the winter races in Florida. That’s all in addition to his daily efforts at the G-Force Race Cars shop, as well as his college studies as a mechanical engineering major.
“When I was deciding what I wanted to go to college for, I figured that’s what I could get a degree in that relates the most to drag racing,” says Salemi, who will graduate in the spring. “I’m considered a full-time student. The balance is tough, for sure, but lots of my professors are very understanding. When I need to go racing, as long as I have my work done, they don’t usually tend to fuss about it.”
Moving forward, Salemi is looking forward to helping the team accomplish their long-stated goal of winning a PDRA Pro Boost world championship. He also wants to continue progressing as a tuner, and with the support system around him, it seems that won’t take long at all.
“We switched combos this year, so we had a lot to learn,” says Salemi, who thanked his parents and uncle Jim Salemi for their guidance. “We had decent success for switching. Every time we’d run the car, we’d come into uncharted territory. Hopefully now we have most of that figured out so we can really start strong in 2024. After that, a goal of mine would be to win a championship tuning a car by myself.”