With 21 total championships to his name, Mike Murray is now in pursuit of third straight Lucas Oil Pro Outlaw title
Mike Murray knows a thing or two about going fast.
Murray, a resident of Gravois Mills, is the owner of a drag boat called “Desperado” and has spent 23 years figuring out how to maximize the speed of a drag boat on a track spanning 1,000 feet. Turns out, he has been able to do this quite well with 21 total championships to his name including back-to-back world titles in the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series Pro Outlaw Division. This year, he is looking to make it three straight and Murray said it is all about consistency.
“You are talking a hairs difference between the number one qualifier and the last qualifier,” Murray said of the competition year in and year out. “Each round is difficult… and it takes all of us together. It is not a ‘Me’ thing, it is a ‘We’ thing.”
That may be what Murray loves most about the sport. Racing has taken Murray and his team all over the country and just this year alone, the Desperado crew has logged about 25,000 miles. Spending all that time together on the road has strengthened the bonds of not only Murray’s team but the relationships developed with people throughout the sport. Murray’s former driver, Robert Leas of Climax Springs, is currently a competitor in the same division and races a boat called “Wildfire” alongside teammate Jeff Woodruff of Sunrise Beach.
“Most of it is the camaraderie of everybody If I break something and I am going to race the guy next to me, most of the time he is the first one there to loan me parts,” Murray pointed out. “Most of the different racing that I did throughout the years was not that way. You would go home, try to fix it and nobody would help you. It is more of a family atmosphere that they have.”
Some are not only kind enough to loan parts, but open their doors as well when the Desperado team is in town.
“We have friends from all over the United States that we go and visit at the different race tracks and areas. Some of them became crew members from Texas and Arizona that are still with me today and have been with me for a long time,” Murray explained. “I am able to go to their houses… and we have a good time.”
One of those crew members is driver Cole Allen, a 21-year old from Fort Smith, Ark., who joined the Desperado team this season. Allen drove Murray’s old boat “Skywalker” and is the son of Rick Allen, a driver who has won three straight titles in the Top Alcohol division where boats exceed speeds of 200 miles per hour. The father-son duo were unable to race both boats this year, so Murray asked Rick if Cole wanted to join the crew at the 2016 awards ceremony in Las Vegas. Cole did not hesitate, knowing of Desperado’s success on the water.
It seems to have been a good decision for the Desperado team as Murray noted that Cole’s presence has made a huge difference this year. With the use of new technology brought about by Allen, the team is able to make the necessary adjustments each round as opposed to simply guessing.
“My young man has got me where I am today because he can run a computer. I’ve had a computer, but I did not know how to use it,” Murray stated. “Now he has taught me and we are starting to be really consistent again.
“I was hard-headed and until this year, I did not use it like I should. This young man has brought a lot to me… To see a young man like I have driving today live, eat and sleep racing like he does, I am pretty proud of him,” he added.
Allen may be one of the youngest drivers in the class, but he may also be one of the smartest as the use of technology may be just what the team needs to gain the edge and bring in another title.
“We are competing against people that have been driving as long as I have been a live, but I don’t take that into consideration because of the advantage of computers,” Allen said. “The older generation is not used to that and I grew up with it so it feels like an advantage. I can pick up on things a lot quicker where older guys may be stuck into the way things were done 20 years ago.”
The boat, which runs on alcohol and is the only boat in the class without a transmission and uses a linko clutch, burns 0.75 gallons per second with a 5-gallon tank in 4.5 seconds. It comes with a horsepower of 2,600 and RPM of 9,000. The engine, which is 526 cubic inches with a 526 New Century block and 1471 Littlefield blower, is “Missouri Made” with the work being done in Bolivar.
As competitive as the class is, nothing can be taken for granted and that is especially true when it comes to safety. Desperado has clocked in as high as 179.9 mph this year during a race in Phoenix with an elapsed time of 5.26 seconds on a 1,000-foot deadstop. According to Murray, the boat could reach 189.9 mph, but would require some serious engine work afterwards and he put into words what it is like to get behind the wheel.
“You run 170 to 180 miles per hour and are bouncing around a little bit down the track,” Murray began to explain. “You have a hand grenade in your hand and you pull the pin. Now, you have to put the pin back in and that is what it is like. It does not want to stop. It wants to chew and eat you, but that pin has to go back in at the other end to stop. Nowadays, we have to have a parachute and if a parachute fails, which it has, you’ll end up on shore.”
However, Allen has become pretty comfortable with Desperado and is pretty comfortable with the boat and what it can do. After all, Desperado has won two straight titles and is in close pursuit of another.
“The rush from it is something I can’t get anywhere else,” Allen said of being behind the wheel. “It (Desperado) is easier to drive. You just point it where you want to go, and it goes straight. I’ve driven several boats, but found this one easier to drive.”
Then there is the rush of winning a race with identical reaction times where the difference in elapsed time comes down to the thousandths of seconds. That was the case for Desperado during a race at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland over Labor Day weekend. Allen beat out his competitor with a time of 5.442 to 5.446 in the last pass of the day as Desperado won the class and event.
“That was just inches. I could not tell who won and that was the longest time we were waiting for the announcer,” Murray recalled of the Missouri race. “They really had to go down to the last numbers and to hear people yell and scream meant a lot to me… That was a race I will always remember.”
The Desperado team has come a long way since the season began in March and currently sits in third place with 2,062 points behind the leader with 2,308 points. The team would like nothing more than a three-peat when the World Finals in Chandler, Ariz., rolls around the first week of November. With Desperado, it is certainly a possibility.
The boat, which was born in 1988, came into Murray’s possession about six years ago after the previous owner’s partner died and he went to the Top Fuel division. It had seen its fare share of success over the years and was even driven by a Canadian man who was also known as the “Crazy Canuck.”
“He pretty much gave it to me because he wanted to see the boat move on,” Murray recalled. “There is a lot of history with this boat. It was the boat to beat back in the 80s when it was born and it was always that way.”
However, there is not only confidence in the boat and its driver, but also the crew. The current crew consists of Mike Gerehart, Bernie Stuard and H.A. Baity of Texas and Manager Heather Graham of Gravois Mills with Murray as the Crew Chief. Together, they have beaten other teams that may consist of as many as 15 crew members and will look to do so again.
“It means a lot when your peers stand up and clap for you and you know that you have a bullseye on your back,” Murray said after winning two straight world titles. “It (winning) is not going to be there forever. It is something that his hard to get, but to keep getting it means a lot and it is getting harder all the time.
“It is a mathematical chance that we have, but we have been known not to add very well so we just might get it anyway,” Murray added with a smile.
According to Murray, he has never been one for rings, so he has given his world title rings from the past two years to the needy or those who have earned it. Regardless of how this year turns out, Murray and Allen plan to team up again next year as they have not achieved everything they would like to accomplish. Murray described the relationship between owner and driver like a marriage.
“The driver becomes family,” he said. “The first year you are ‘dating’ and get to know them, the second year you get better and the third is where you can really put it all together.”
Winning a third straight world title is certainly a good place to start. Time will soon tell what the rest of the year has in store for Desperado.