Maroney pilots boyhood idol 'Nanook' to first championship
Nitro Jam Media
Sep 1, 2011
There is nothing quite like meeting your idol.
Richard Petty, Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan – all legends that most kids dream of having the opportunity to meet. But what happens when you actually get to walk in the shoes of the legend you admire?
Just ask Ron Maroney.
Maroney grew up deeply entrenched in the world of Fuel Altered racing through his family’s time in the business and the car that stood out most in his mind as a kid was the legendary “Nanook.” During the 70s there was simply no machine more exciting and more competitive than the bright green “Nanook” machine and as that legend grew, so did Maroney’s fascination with the car.
So when Maroney was asked three decades later to get behind the wheel of “Nanook” and drive it fulltime with the IHRA Nitro Jam series this season, it is safe to say that Maroney was beside himself with anticipation.
“It is an unbelievable dream to race these cars. I grew up watching these cars as a kid and never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would get a chance to drive the famed ‘Nanook’ Fuel Altered,” Maroney said. “We built our own Fuel Altered that my cousin drove this year. It is a good car, but it doesn’t have the history and the legend that the ‘Nanook’ has.
“I am honored that the Hough family chose me to drive it for a couple years. It is unbelievable to be involved with them and to win this for them.”
His entire life Maroney has been around the world of Fuel Altered racing, first through his family and now through his own race team. Today Maroney owns his own Fuel Altered called “Blind Faith,” but when the Hough family came calling last year looking for a driver for “Nanook,” Maroney answered.
Maroney was tapped to drive the famed machine in 2010 and once again 2011 when the IHRA Nitro Jam series added Fuel Altered as a class for the first time ever. Fast forward seven months later when Maroney hoisted the inaugural Fuel Altered championship following a strong weekend in Michigan, and it was a moment that the Chandler, Ariz. native simply can’t put into words.
“I don’t know how to explain it. This is something I never fathomed in my wildest imagination that I would be able to be the IHRA world champion. Not only that, but the inaugural champion,” Maroney said. “These cars were outlawed in the early 70s because they were too dangerous so nobody has won a world championship with these cars before. It means a lot for me that I was able to do it for the Hough family.”
Maroney’s ride to the inaugural Nitro Jam Fuel Altered championship was an interesting one to say the least. A slow start marred with mechanical issues, torn up equipment and two different cars left Maroney struggling to stay in the hunt. But following a runner-up finish on night two in Salt Lake City back in June, Maroney was able to put together an unbelievable streak to end the year that included five finals and four wins over the final seven races to overtake and run away with the Fuel Altered title.
“We have had some ups and downs and of course we had a bunch of back and fourths, sideways, guardrails, centerlines and more,” Maroney said with a laugh. “But we were able to turn it around and get back on track, mainly through the experience of the crew. Every car is going to have a few ups and downs and we had some with these cars. But this is a very, very experienced crew and we all worked together, we got everything working like it should and since then the car has been very consistent.”
All together Maroney compiled five wins in seven finals during the 2011 season with most of that coming over the final three races. During the first half of the year Maroney wasn’t as lucky, crossing the centerline, taking out cones and even slapping the wall once in his home state of Arizona. But none of that discouraged the team because, according to him, that is just Fuel Altered racing.
“We hit the wall, hit some cones, but that is just what a Fuel Altered does,” Maroney said. “The first car was a brand new chassis. It never had any passes on it before this year and we fought some issues with that car. We had trouble getting it to go straight.
“The green car is an old car. They have had it for many years and it has hundreds of laps on it. They knew it was a good car and when we rolled that thing out it has gone down the track almost every time.
“Sure we took out a couple cones, but if you don’t take out cones occasionally as a Fuel Altered driver you are not trying hard enough.”
Maroney actually recorded his first win of the year at the season opening Palm Beach Nitro Jam in Florida, a long haul for the team from Arizona, but one that was worth it as the team defeated another legend Ron Hope in “Rat Trap” for the big win.
But it would be another six months before the team would win again. In the meantime, Chris Bennett in the “Pure Heaven” machine took over. A fulltime Air Force pilot, Bennett flew down the track and dominated the first half of the year, setting records and compiling six wins in the first eight races.
But obligations with his job forced Bennett to call it a season following his sweep of the San Antonio Nitro Jam in May and that left the door open for Maroney and the others to make a move. With a new car and a new attitude, the “Nanook” team returned to action in Salt Lake City and finished runner-up on night two to Jason Richey. After that the team swept the biggest event of the season in Edmonton and won once in Grand Bend and Martin to pull away from Richey and the “Pure Hell” team to win the inaugural title.
“We had a lot of pressure on us in the beginning of the year. This is one of the most famous Fuel Altereds out there so people expect it to do well and be there and we struggled a little bit,” Maroney said. “But after Salt Lake City the ride has been really nice. To have the swing that we have had and to be able to be consistent, that has been a big morale boost for this team.”
Maroney finished the season with 409 points, 54 points ahead of Richey who had a win and seven finals of his own. Bennett ended the season in third with six wins, followed by Tom Padilla in fourth with three wins and Jim Maroney, behind the wheel of Ron’s “Blind Faith” machine, finished fifth with one win.
“This year has truly been a gathering of legends. Dave Benjamin has been around since the 60s and his nephew is driving today. ‘Pure Hell’ has been around since the 60s. All of the cars have been around forever,” Maroney said. “And although they all have different drivers now, it is the same group of people involved with the cars. Even this car Dave (Hough) is the original driver and next year Kyle is going to drive this thing. It is just a family affair and I am thrilled to be a part of it.”
While Maroney has cherished the few years he has spent behind the wheel of “Nanook,” he looks forward to returning to his own team and making his own legend when the season gets back underway in 2012. Until then, Maroney greatly looks forward to getting back on the track with Nitro Jam and spending more time with, what he considers, the best fans in racing.
“I have to thank all the fans that have come out and supported us. The fans with the IHRA are fantastic,” Maroney said. “And I really want to thank the IHRA for bringing this wonderful class back.
“Do these things always go straight? Hell no. Is it one hell of a ride? Absolutely.”