Eric McKinney would have been the first to admit things didnâ€™t look all that promising earlier this month in St. Louis.
Ending up with his second straight win in Pro Extreme Motorcycle later that weekend indicates just what type of special season he may be experiencing.
McKinney struggled to even get down the track in qualifying, but by the time the weekend was over, he had his second straight victory and the quickest time in the class in 2012, running a 4.072 at 176.01 mph against Travis Davis in the finals of the Gateway Drags IV presented by CarSafe.
Now heading into Virginia for the U.S. Drags V at Virginia Motorsports Park on June 22-23, McKinney may be just a win away from an Ashley Owens-esque run. Owens, of course, was nearly unstoppable in PXM over the past two seasons and heâ€™s now seemingly delivered the magic touch to McKinney while working on his bike.
â€œIâ€™ve just got to thank my team. It couldnâ€™t have gone better after that tough start,â€ McKinney said. â€œWe really wanted to keep that points lead.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t get any better. This is just as exciting as the first one. I would have never thought with our luck that we could even compete or win the race. This never gets old.â€
After struggling at times during qualifying, McKinney turned it on during eliminations, running back-to-back 4.07s in the semifinals and finals. His run under the lights in the finals set a new track record and further bolstered McKinneyâ€™s points lead in PXM.
It remains a tight race between McKinney and Casey Stemper, but McKinney widened his lead with a win after Stemper also red-lighted in the semifinals.
It wasnâ€™t easy, though, after breaking a nitrous line that led to aborted runs the first twoattempts in qualifying. On the final qualifying run, the battery in the bike also shorted out.
â€œThis year has just been awesome. We couldnâ€™t have had a better weekend after a tough start and we really wanted to keep that points lead,â€ McKinney said. â€œThe first two passes in qualifying, we didnâ€™t even make it past 330 feet.
â€œIt was kind of a love-hate relationship with the bike early in the weekend. We thought we could start where we left off in Maple Grove, and that wasnâ€™t the case at all.â€
Thanks to expertise from the entire team â€“ including McKinneyâ€™s father, Scott, and his uncle, Steve â€“ McKinney put things together in time, qualifying with a 4.13.
The bike showed more potential during eliminations, and it could be a sign of what is to come.
McKinney said he has Owens to thank for that.
â€œHe built this bike from the ground up for us. This is all Ashley Owensâ€™ tuneup. After we got all those gremlins out, we just kept stepping it up,â€ McKinney said. â€œHe put it together, he wired it and heâ€™s putting our motor program together.
â€œHeâ€™s good at what he does and he sees things we donâ€™t see. Heâ€™s got a really good feel for this bike. We just picked it up each round. We just went back to what we knew and crept back up on it. Thereâ€™s more in it, too, I think.â€
McKinney is also doing his part.
During the final three rounds of eliminations, he had reaction times of .005, .013 and .015, a credit to the work he does on a practice tree away from the track.
McKinney also feels more relaxed than he ever has.
â€œI donâ€™t want the race to be lost on my account,â€ McKinney said. â€œIâ€™m more comfortable now and the more comfortable you are, the better you will perform.â€
The goal for McKinney at VMP will be to pick up where he left off in St. Louis.
VMP is the track where Owens made PXMâ€™s first 3-second run, doing that last August. That might not happen for McKinney, but an Owens-like performance will keep him rolling.
â€œWeâ€™ve got a good package and hopefully we can keep it going. Weâ€™ve got a good team because everybody does their job. But everybodyâ€™s running awesome this year and anyone can win. Itâ€™s a tough deal,â€ McKinney said.