INDIANAPOLIS (August 24, 1998) -- At last year's U.S. Nationals, Six Flags Pontiac driver Tom Martino entered the contest with tremendous hope only to see it fall by the wayside when he failed to qualify for the series' most prestigious event. ...
INDIANAPOLIS (August 24, 1998) -- At last year's U.S. Nationals, Six Flags Pontiac driver Tom Martino entered the contest with tremendous hope only to see it fall by the wayside when he failed to qualify for the series' most prestigious event. On his return trip to IRP this year, Martino is confident that not only will his Firebird qualify high in the field, but it is more than capable of winning the event as well.
A third of the season into his third campaign on the 22-event NHRA Pro Stock tour, the 40-year-old New Jersey native is currently seventh in the Winston standings and looking to make a late-year charge that will catapult his program into the top-five. Martino would like nothing more than to the U.S. Nationals, just two weeks after his first victory of the year at Brainerd.
"I don't think we're going to be making any more big horsepower gains than we've already made," said Martino. "I'm hoping by Labor Day that we're back into our groove of just racing the car. That's what I'm personally going to concentrate on.
"By the time we get to Indianapolis, we'll want to be one of the teams that's a tough race there. We want people to look at the Six Flags Firebird and realize that we're no easy race. We're hoping that last stretch -- Memphis, Dallas, California - that we serve notice that come next February, we'll be one of the teams fighting for one of the top spots."
From 1986 to 1995, Martino raced in the Competition eliminator category and was a runner-up at the U.S. Nationals in 1992 and 1994. After establishing a reputation as a highly skilled driver with cat-like reaction times, Martino made the successful transition to Pro Stock in 1996 with runner-up finishes at Phoenix and Rockingham. He ended his inaugural season in the professional ranks in eighth place -- an auspicious beginning to what Martino hopes will be a long and prosperous career.
"From bracket racing at Englishtown, we moved up to Comp-eliminator but always wanted to race Pro Stock," explains Martino. "I never thought it would be in my future, and I've just been one of those exceptionally lucky people that has had things fall into the right place at the right time.
"A lot of people have helped me over the years, and I've made some good decisions and moved up the ladder. The first year in Pro Stock, we had only planned to race maybe eight events, but after the first four races, we were fourth in the points and decided to stick it out for the rest of the season. Basically, we raced off the qualifying money in 1996."
Martino captured his first NHRA Pro Stock win at Houston in 1997 and followed that with a second victory at Columbus on his way to a season that saw him win the Slick 50 Performer of the Year award for most holeshot victories by a driver. He finished sixth in the Winston standings, his best season so far as a professional driver.
This year, Martino continues his pursuit of the Winston championship but now realizes that time may be running out on the 1998 campaign. A winner at Brainerd, and runner-up at Richmond, he set a career-best elapsed time of 6.943 seconds at Seattle in August, and a career-best top speed of 198.54 mph at the Gatornationals in March. A win at Indianapolis would be additional adrenaline for the program as the tour enters its final stages of the year.
"When we look at the points standings, look at who's in front of us and being realistic, if we could start with a clean slate, a top-five finish would definitely be in our future," said Martino. "But with the self-inflicted blundering we've done and not doing what we should have been doing, if we end up sixth, I'd think it was a very good year."
The 44th Annual U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park on September 2-7 is the 16th race on the 22-event NHRA Winston championship tour and the stepping stone to the autumn segment of the 1998 race season.
"There's no doubt in my mind that we can go out and be fast enough to win this race," insists Martino. "From a positive standpoint, I feel that if we do find more power and put it in the car, it's going to show up as long as we use it properly. We're focused on getting our Pontiac Firebird down the race track more consistently.
"To be the Winston champion, you need to have every corner ironed out, and that includes your own engine program to constantly change and move ahead. Hopefully next year, we'll have enough motors and someone else on the team that we'll be able to contend for the title. Next year, we'll show everyone that the Six Flags Firebird has what it takes to go to the next level. But right now, we want to win Indy."