Mike Salinas has five sisters, four daughters, and wife Monica, so he has been surrounded by women his entire life.
But this past Sunday, the spotlight shone on his dad.
In a tearful tribute to Mike Salinas Sr. on Fathers Day, the Top Fuel winner let his emotions spill out about his mentor in life and in racing, who is struggling with dementia.
“All of our parents are getting old,” Salinas, 58, said. “We were always really close, and he always raced cars – circle track and stuff. And we were always hanging out at the racetrack. It’s just hard to watch them go through this.
“But you can also have some fun with it. Sometimes he thinks I’m the gardener. Sometimes he thinks I’m somebody else. Then he does remember who I am sometimes. But it is a little hard,” he said.
“My sister was telling me that he thinks he’s still racing and he wants to know why the TV is mentioning his name, because his name is exactly the same. My sister tells him, ‘That’s your son.’ And he goes, ‘Oh, so I still race.’ It’s really cool that he’s still happy, still doing good. And I’m happy to have him as a father.”
The Scrappers Racing Dragster owner-driver said he would give his second career Wally trophy to Mike Sr. when he returned home to California’s Bay Area.
Salinas’ emotional victory marked yet another memorable Fathers Day triumph, adding to the drag-racing lore of the special day. Three-time champion Larry Dixon – who, like Salinas, competed with Alan Johnson as his tuner – earned Top Fuel victories in five straight Fathers-Day finals, from 2001-2005 and saw Hot Rod Fuller end his streak with a final-round victory over him in 2006.
No one at Bristol Dragway – no one who follows the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series – will forget the overwhelming joy for Clay Millican and all his competitors, to boot, when the highly popular Tennessee native and six-time IHRA champion claimed his first NHRA victory in 255 tries – on Fathers Day, nearly two years after the passing of son Dalton in a motorcycle accident.
And Funny Car’s Ron Capps had a lively time with his Fathers-Day trophy last year. He said in his Autoweek blog that he treated his Wally statue “like it was the Stanley Cup. I sent it out to my dad in California, and it developed its own hashtag on social media, and my dad took it around town, took it to breakfast with buddies, took it to people who have never gotten a chance to hold onto one of those. I wanted it to go around and have people pour beer on it, have a drink with it, have breakfast with it, hold onto it, take pictures with it. It was a Fathers-Day Wally that took on a life of its own. It was fun for like the month and a half after that, and my dad got to keep it. That was cool.”
Mike Salinas Sr. isn’t having such a rollicking time with it, but his son took comfort in knowing it would be the grandest trophy either father or son ever had possessed. Before his Las Vegas ice-breaking victory this April, Salinas said, “I had never won anything.”
He has won the respect of his peers and his tuner, Alan Johnson, with whom he is well-matched.
“Our program’s a little different than where he’s been,” Salinas said. “I asked him to come on board, and he graciously came on board. We’ll call him my plumber. If I have a leak at my house, I don’t go tell the plumber how to do it. I leave him alone, let him do his job – let all the guys do their jobs. I don’t care if they work one day at the shop. But when we get to the track, our stuff had better be right. And they are amazing. It’s really nice to know that the guys have their stuff together, unlike I’ve ever seen.”
He contemplated his own age and said he realizes he needs to “set the bar” for his daughters.
Daughter Jasmine, 27, plans to drive a Top Fuel car, but he said she has a way to go before she’s prepared to step into a dragster, and dragsters are “monsters” in his estimation.
She was testing her Top Alcohol Dragster with Dan Page at Epping, N.H., this past weekend. Jasmine Salinas will race at Norwalk, Ohio, this weekend.
Mike Salinas said, “What we are going to do is keep the A Fuel team. All the girls will run through it as they see fit – don’t want to rush ’em, don’t want to push ’em. Jasmine needs some more laps before she gets in one of these cars, because they are monsters. She asked me, ‘What is it like?’ And I said, ‘It’s surreal. It’s the real deal. We need to make sure you’re prepared.’
“Scary part,” he said, “is I think she’s going to be an amazing driver. I look forward to racing with her.”
He said toward the end of the season, Jasmine will start sitting in the nitro car for warm-ups and if she feels comfortable trying a launch and burnout, she can do that. He said they’ll be “messing around” with getting her familiar with the Top Fuel dragster – “little by little . . . we’re not in a rush for it.” He said he will start to build her team when the time’s appropriate.
Maybe when the time’s appropriate, Jasmine Salinas can race on Fathers Day and present her dad a Top Fuel trophy.
Fathers Day in drag racing has produced a number of classic performances. But three-time Top Fuel champion Antron Brown – whose daughter Arianna and sons Anson and Adler have raced in Jr. Dragster for a four-generation feat – said, “Every day is Fathers Day.”
It is for the Mike Salinas family.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019