ENGLISHTOWN, N.J., May 15, 2001 - After completing his 12th season as an NBA power forward, Tom Hammonds has traded in his Minnesota Timberwolves jersey for a fire suit and helmet, and is ready to strap into his new Chevy Cavalier for another tour...
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J., May 15, 2001 - After completing his 12th season as an NBA power forward, Tom Hammonds has traded in his Minnesota Timberwolves jersey for a fire suit and helmet, and is ready to strap into his new Chevy Cavalier for another tour on the NHRA Winston championship circuit. Hammonds will enter Pro Stock competition for the first time this year at the 32nd annual Matco Tools SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in a Chevy Cavalier sponsored by Winnebago.
The 34-year-old Florida native qualified for his first race at the 1997 Keystone Nationals in Reading, Pa., and has raised his level of skill and experience to become a legitimate Pro Stock contender. Hammonds enters the 2001 Pro Stock battle with two priorities: be competitive at each event and find a way into victory circle. He expects to achieve both before his season ends.
How did you become interested in drag racing? "My passion for motorsports probably goes all the way back to when I was in middle school. I grew up watching guys like Lee Shepherd, Bob Glidden and Warren Johnson and I became enamored with Pro Stock. My dad used to race as well and that's how I got started. I was involved or interested with drag racing pretty much throughout high school and even when I was in college playing basketball at Georgia Tech."
Do you remember your first drag race? The first big drag race I attended was probably the Gatornationals down in Gainesville; that was probably the first official NHRA race I attended in the early '80s."
How has your racing career progressed over the last few years? "I think it's progressed pretty nicely. I mean obviously we haven't been able to spend as much time in the sport as we would've liked, but that's getting ready to change here pretty soon. This is a sport I really want to make my mark in. This is where I want to stay as far as Pro Stock racing, and having quality people behind us like Chevrolet and GM Accessories, Winnebago Motorhomes, Mac Tools, Kendall Motor Oil and American Racing, I mean, those are quality companies that invested a lot of confidence in myself and my team, so we have to go out and get the job done."
So your goal eventually is to race the entire season? "Exactly. I've got one more year left on my contract with the Timberwolves, and with the way my nagging injuries have plagued me throughout the year, we'll just have to see how I feel this summer. But there's no guarantee that I will go back and play next year."
Are you going to miss basketball? "I'll miss it in one aspect, but at the same time I have something that will fill the competition void and that's Pro Stock drag racing. You know I've talked to some guys like Warren (Johnson) and Yates and my question to them is always, 'Where do you see yourself in drag racing in five years and what would you like to accomplish? My whole goal in drag racing, I mean my whole goal in doing anything, is to win. I don't do anything competitive unless I have the intention of winning. But my definition of winning is achieving the ultimate goal and that is the championship. Obviously I haven't been able to do that at the professional level in basketball as of yet, but I fully intend on becoming a Pro Stock champion. That's my whole goal as far as going out and racing."
How would you look at your last couple of years as a racer? "I would look at it as maybe a growing period, but at the same time I realize that this is a continuous learning process. Learning the in's and out's of how to do this successfully, and by that I mean the pitfalls, the things you are going to encounter and just learning how to become a competitive racer. I think the competitive part is easy, but just learning to go out there day in and day out, putting in the time and effort in order to be what you want to be, that's a champion."
You have your 2001 Chevy Cavalier? "Yes I do. My new Chevrolet Cavalier is an awesome racecar. Jerry Bickle constructed the chassis and I had a chance to run it at Houston Raceway Park during the NBA All-Star break. It was after the Pro Stock Super Bowl. The team was on a road trip so I had a chance to go out and spend three days breaking in the new car, and I'll tell you, from the very first time I let the clutch out I knew it was going to be a fast ride. When the basketball season ended last Monday, I went to St. Louis on Tuesday to shake it down. I met my crew chief Donny Gardner and Nick Ferri, my engine maintenance guy, and we went down and tested for a day in St. Louis. We were also planning to test on Wednesday, but they had a NASCAR Craftsman race series event and I wasn't able to continue testing, but there's no doubt in my mind that our Chevrolet Cavalier is going to be extremely fast. I think the situation now is that we've got to get more laps under our belts. That's especially important since the season is starting to turn towards summer, and the fact that there are going to be a lot of hot, slick racetracks out there. We've just got to get more laps under our belts. I mean Warren (Johnson) and Jim Yates and those guys had probably 40 or 50 runs before they went to their first race. So we need a little bit more test time before we hit Englishtown, but I guarantee you by the time we hit Englishtown, we'll be fast."
Coming into the year after the completion of seven races, do you feel like you're at a disadvantage? I'm not going to use that as an excuse. I think if you go out there and put forth the work and the effort in testing, you should be able to get the results. I'm not going to use that as an excuse at all."
What can we expect from you this year? "This is a big year for my race team and my program. This is kind of like a make or break year for our team. We have to go out and put forth the performance so I'm expecting a lot out of my race team. The last three or four years we've struggled. We've got a brand new Chevrolet Cavalier and we've got good engine power from Jimmy Oliver and Tom Roberts and Ron Krisher. There's no reason why we shouldn't be competitive."