Houston Tom Martino ready for more Pro Stock success

MARTINO READY FOR MORE PRO STOCK SUCCESS AT HOUSTON RACEWAY PARK BAYTOWN, Texas - Tom Martino can't explain it. There just seems to be a certain chemistry that brings out the best in his black Century 21 Pontiac Firebird when it makes ...

MARTINO READY FOR MORE PRO STOCK SUCCESS AT HOUSTON RACEWAY PARK

BAYTOWN, Texas - Tom Martino can't explain it.

There just seems to be a certain chemistry that brings out the best in his black Century 21 Pontiac Firebird when it makes contact with the ultra-quick quarter-mile at Houston Raceway Park.

Martino, 41, doesn't claim to be superstitious, but he's not going to tempt fate when it comes to his success at the Texas dragstrip. Hey, who can blame him?

The Farmingdale, N.J. racer earned his first of three career victories at HRP. He's been to three final rounds there, including one last fall. He won the pre-season testing Pro Stock Superbowl there in late January. Certainly, you can understand why he's anxious to return to a track that is climbing everyday on his list of favorites.

Martino would like nothing more than to keep his good fortune alive and well in the Lone Star State with a victory at the 13th annual O'Reilly Nationals presented by Pennzoil, April 13-16, at Houston Raceway Park. The $1.8 million race is the fifth of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

"I don't know what it is about Houston and our team," Martino said. "I guess the track surface there really likes our combination. We won our first race there and have been to a few finals. We won the Pro Stock Superbowl there this year. It seems like we just show up there and run well."

And Martino is more than ready for some good luck to come his way. With high hopes entering the season, Martino felt this would be the year he made a serious run at the championship. After two first round losses in the last two events, he's ready to put his racing program back on course. He says the competition in Pro Stock is tougher than ever.

"For several years I was the leader in reaction time average," Martino said. "Now, you have a lot of teams really focusing on improving their driving skills and the importance of cutting good lights. That's tightened the competition a great deal. At Gainesville I cut a .459 reaction time and ran quicker than Richie Stevens, but Richie cut a .444 reaction and just nipped me at the finish. That's how close Pro Stock is. I'm hoping the next dead-heat will go my way. I guess it's the law of averages."

Martino currently anchors the top-10, with few points separating him from third overall.

"Although we're 10th in points, we're less than a round away from being in the top-five," Martino said. "That just shows you how much parity there is this year. Everyone is so competitive. It's hard to imagine that it gets more competitive every year in this category. It's so close now as far as performance, that teams are looking for any advantage they can get. It's getting crazy."

By the end of the season, Martino, with new crew chief Bob Cave on board, expects to be battling for the title. Jeg Coughlin has driven his Jeg's Mail Order Oldsmobile Cutlass to two victories and leads five-time NHRA Pro Stock champ Warren Johnson, a winner at Gainesville, Fla.

"I'm more worried about W.J. than the Coughlins," Martino said. "Warren hasn't won five championships overnight. He's the man to beat as far as I'm concerned. The Coughlins have been winning by making tremendous runs. They've really hit the setup and read the correct track conditions. That's how Jeg has got off to a hot start."

Martino, who after switching to a Jerry Bickle-built chassis late last year, produced career-bests for elapsed time (6.843 seconds) and speed (201.43 mph). He knows his Century 21 Firebird is as competitive as any car in the field.

"We're as fast as any team out here, but we need to start making the same kinds of runs as the Coughlins and W.J.," Martino said. "I think we will. We're not that far off. Our goal is to be in the hunt at the end of the season. I think after about eight races it will be cut and dry who the top-five is going to be. That's what we're working toward."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Warren Johnson , Tom Martino