Gainesville: Round three preview

Former NBA Star Tom Hammonds Hopes To Get NHRA Season Started Off Right In Gainesville GAINESVILLE, Fla.--Tom Hammonds is best known in the world of sports for his 12-year NBA career, including time with the Washington Bullets, Charlotte...

Former NBA Star Tom Hammonds Hopes To Get NHRA Season Started Off Right In Gainesville

GAINESVILLE, Fla.--Tom Hammonds is best known in the world of sports for his 12-year NBA career, including time with the Washington Bullets, Charlotte Hornets, Denver Nuggets, and, most importantly, the Minnesota Timberwolves. During those 12 years Hammonds played in 21 playoff games before he retired in 2001.

This year, Hammonds, at 6'9", 240 lbs, will become known as the Pro Stock driver who powers his Hammonds Racing Chevy Colbalt down the quarter-mile. And it's that 6'9" frame that makes him stand out the most among his fellow Pro Stock drivers. While some feel his height may be a disadvantage, Hammonds says it has no effect on his ability to drive.

"People say it's a disadvantage all the time but I don't know where they get it from," Hammonds said. "You can let the clutch out or you can't. It's that simple. You have to get in there and you have to do that job, no matter if you're my size or you're Muggsy Bogues'(Hammonds former teammate in Charlotte who is 5'3") size. I've just got to get in there and do my job."

Hammonds, a native of Florida, will make his first start of the season at the 38th annual ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals, March 15-18 in Gainesville, Fla. The $1.8 million race, which will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD, is the third of 23 events in the NHRA POWERade Series Countdown to the Championship.

Hammonds says that racing was never something that he started doing after he was done playing basketball, but was something that was always a part of his life.

"I've been racing my whole life," Hammonds said, "Just about as long as I've been playing basketball. I've always loved Pro Stock in general. I just love that class. People talk about the (Top Fuel) cars and all the power that they make, but that's just not for me. I get more enjoyment out of the Pro Stock cars."

Though Hammonds knows the track well, he feels that with the competitive field and the fact that Hammonds missed the first two races of the season, he will need to have his "A-Game" ready going into Gainesville.

"I don't know if I have any type of (home track) advantage," Hammonds said. "The competitors in this sport are so savvy and so tough. If anything, I'm at a disadvantage because I haven't competed in this sport (since 2003). But we're going to go out and run and run well."

Hammonds stresses that although it's his first race of the season, he is not there for just track time. Hammonds has only one thing on his mind: To win.

"I'm not going to settle to just go to the track and run up and down," Hammonds said. "If we're not ready to compete and go qualify and win, then we shouldn't be at the track. That's our purpose. That's our goal. That's what I'm coming to do."

In addition to Hammonds, drivers to watch in Pro Stock includes Phoenix winner Kurt Johnson, defending race winner Tom Martino, nine-time event winner Warren Johnson, and defending NHRA POWERade world champion Jason Line.

In Top Fuel, defending race winner Dave Grubnic, last year's runner-up Melanie Troxel, Phoenix winner Rod Fuller, and defending Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher are among the favorites.

"I feel that our team is basically battling it out with Tony Schumacher and has been starting the end of last season and carrying into the beginning of this season," said Fuller, who leads the Top Fuel point standings going into Gainesville. "Just to go to Pomona and qualify second, and then to go to Phoenix and again qualify second and then win the event gives us a lot of confidence going into Gainesville. But Gainesville is totally different weather-wise and track-condition wise from the first two races of the season, so it's definitely going to be a test for our team. We haven't done well in Gainesville in the past so I have my work cut out for me, but having a win and being on top of the points, that lessens pressure for me."

In Funny Car, drivers to keep on eye on are defending race winner Ron Capps, rookie sensation Ashley Force, Robert Hight, and seven-time event winner and reigning POWERade Series champ John Force.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending race winner Angelle Sampey, her U.S. Army Suzuki teammate Antron Brown, and defending world champion Andrew Hines all hope to win the first race of the season.

* SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Friday, March 16 and Saturday, March 17. Pre-race ceremonies begin at 10 a.m. on Sunday, March 18, followed by the first round of professional eliminations at 11 a.m.

* TICKETS: For tickets, call NHRA at (800) 884-6472. Tickets also are available at www.nhra.com.

* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights on Sunday, March 18 at 1:30 a.m. (ET). ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will telecast NHRA Race Day at 11 a.m. (ET) and televise two hours of eliminations at 5 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, March 18.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Tom Hammonds , Tom Martino , Ashley Force , Melanie Troxel , Robert Hight , Rod Fuller , Angelle Sampey