NHRA Funny Car racer Bob Tasca III announced Monday he has tested positive for coronavirus and that Jonnie Lindberg will drive the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang at this weekend’s E3 Spark Plugs Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
But does Lindberg, the 30-year-old from Sweden who lives and works at Brownsburg, Ind., have an advantage as he jumps into a completely foreign Funny Car and competes in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series for the first time since last November?
Lindberg reached the semifinals at the “Baby Gators” divisional race in March at Orlando Speed World Dragway, driving Brian Hough’s Alcohol Funny Car.
“I’ve been to three or four races total with the alcohol car, with Brian’s stuff,” Lindberg – a tuner and fabricator as well as a driver – said. Most recently he took part in the June 19-20 Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series race at Denver’s Bandimere Speedway as part of Hough’s crew.
“It’s almost no different than the rest of the guys, because they raced in February,” he said. “I drove in March, so maybe I have a little advantage.”
The pro-class drivers haven’t raced since February, at Pomona, Calif., and at Phoenix.
“Maybe I’ll get my first Wally. You never know,” Lindberg said.
He’s winless in four Funny Car final-round appearances in three campaigns with Jim Head Racing. However, he has scored back-to-back Top Alcohol Funny Car national championships (2015-2016) in record-breaking style.
So he’s hoping he can follow in the footsteps of Funny Car’s Dale Pulde and Pro Stock’s Jimmy Ålund. Pulde won at Dallas in 1996, while filling in for the injured Whit Bazemore. Ålund recorded his first U.S. victory at the 2014 Charlotte four-wide event in Greg Anderson’s car as the Pro Stock star was mending from heart surgery.
But Lindberg had to take care of essential matters first: meeting with the Mike Neff- and Jon Schaffer-led Motorcraft/QuickLane Mustang.
“I worked with the crew this morning,” Lindberg said late Monday night. “I got fitted in the car. We poured a seat. Bald Spot Sports helped us pour a seat. I’m going back tomorrow [Tuesday] to get fitted and go over everything and see if I want to change anything. But Bob and I are kind of the same size, so I didn’t have to move the steering wheel or anything. The car feel really good, the steering wheel and the pedals and stuff. I didn’t need to move anything. I just needed to make a seat insert, because I like to sit a little different than Bob. He’s a little taller than me. It’s minor adjustments. I build Funny Cars all day long, so if I see something, I can do it.”
Lindberg said his last-minute opportunity began last Thursday with a text message from Tasca.
“We texted back and forth. He said he was sick and asked if I could drive it. That was it. I talked to Mike Neff on Friday afternoon, and we just took it from there. Everything happened really quick,” Lindberg said.
He said he has known Tasca “for three or four years. We talked here and there. We’ve always gotten along. He’s always been good to me. I know Mike really good and a lot of guys on that team, so I think it’s pretty good fit.
“I’m really honored to drive his car. It’s not really fun circumstances, you know? I hate to see Bob sick. It’s a really good car, one f the best cars out there, I think. And the team is really good with Mike Neff and Jon Shaffer there. It’s going to be fun.”
Lindberg said he knows only about filling in for Tasca at this first race as the NHRA restarts its schedule after the March 14 interruption. The NHRA itself is on rather shaky ground when it comes to its ambitious 14-race agenda throughout the country in consecutive weeks. State health-department restrictions could force another shutdown of a number of planned events.
“For now it’s for the first one. It’s a little unsure what the next one looks like,” he said. “Right now, it’s too early to say. We’ll see what’s going to happen. Maybe I’ll drive both. I don’t know, to be honest. The best thing to do is talk to Bob or Mike to confirm that.”
Peculiarly, this outbreak of coronavirus has brought a new, and positive, outlook to Lindberg.
“It’s kind of funny . . . I was like, ‘Aw, this year’s kind of messed up anyway, so if I don’t drive at all this year, I don’t really care. But when this came up ,” he said, “I’m really happy. I was planning to race with my Alcohol car and go back to basic stuff. But now I get to drive a fuel car again, and I’m really happy. I didn’t plan on that, I can tell you that. But I’m really honored to do it.”
Tasca, 44, a third-generation auto dealer from Cranston, Rhode Island, said the diagnosis took him by surprise. It was ironic, for his Brownsburg, Ind.-based team had just participated in a video feature posted on the NHRA’s website about how it was preparing to protect itself from the spread of the disease.
“What makes this so scary is how good I felt for almost seven days from being exposed,” Tasca said. “I had no symptoms but tested positive. I couldn’t believe it.
“Then day eight through 10 came, and I have never been so sick in my life,” he said. “It’s so important we all practice social distancing and wear masks. We all need to play a role in limiting the dangers of COVID-19. I am so disappointed I will not be with my team this week, but I know they will make us Ford fans proud. If I can help one other person make those choices, it’s worth me sharing my experience.”
Tasca said he wanted to thank friends and family for the get-well greetings he has received since his illness first became known. He said he especially was grateful for the support from wife Terri, parents Bob and Jayne, and sons Bob IV, Cameron, Austin, and Dylan.
He said he plans to return to the driver’s seat after his doctor clears him to race.
This article previously appeared on Susan Wade’s ThoughtsRacing.com.