MARTINO'S STRONG SHOWING CUT SHORT IN RICHMOND CENTURY 21( Racing pilot sets new personal bests in elapsed time and top speed at the 5th annual Pennzoil Nationals Dinwiddie, Virginia, May 2, 1999 - All things considered, Tom Martino had to be...
MARTINO'S STRONG SHOWING CUT SHORT IN RICHMOND
CENTURY 21( Racing pilot sets new personal bests in elapsed time and top speed at the 5th annual Pennzoil Nationals
Dinwiddie, Virginia, May 2, 1999 - All things considered, Tom Martino had to be pretty happy heading into Sunday's final eliminations of the Pennzoil Nationals. A strong performance in qualifying had earned him a starting position in the quickest field in the history of the Pro Stock division. Although his Darlington test session earlier in the week had been cut short by rain, his CENTURY 21( Firebird seemed to be finally responding to his adjustments, and as a result seemed to be running better than it had all season. However, as he rolled to the line for his first-round encounter, Martino's good mood would have to be tempered by the major obstacle facing his pursuit of the event win. As the higher qualified car, Martino's opponent, Mike Edwards, had secured lane choice for their race, which at Virginia Motorsports Park was a distinct advantage. In fact, the disparate nature of the two sides would prove to be a major factor throughout all professional categories. Although Martino was able to gain a slight edge at the start and had the quickest time of any Pro Stock racer in the left lane during that first round, his 6.936-second effort would not be enough to hold off his rival for the win.
"We made a nice pass. That was about as good as we could run in that lane," said Martino. "It just shook out of control in fourth or fifth gear, which was typical of the left side all weekend. I don't think we could have done any better in that section where the tires shook, but we may have been able to improve a little before that. With a little more clutch, it might have been a little faster on the bottom, but it still would have rattled the tires. Even with that, we would only have picked up a hundredth, which wouldn't have made a difference today. That's what happens when you don't qualify in the top half of the field. With competition this close, it's crucial to have lane choice."
For the thirty entrants in the Pro Stock division, qualifying would prove to be an even greater challenge than usual. Overcast skies and bone-chilling temperatures produced near-perfect conditions for the normally aspirated "doorslammers". Where normal events require competitors to extract the maximum horsepower from their 500-cubic engines, crew chiefs and drivers alike found themselves struggling to not overpower the Virginia Motorsports Park surface and spin the tires. By the second session on Friday night, this had already become the quickest field in the category's history, with further improvements expected during the last two time trials on Saturday. As has been his pattern over the last few races, Tom Martino steadily improved on his performance with each pass down the track. Following a sub-par run in the dreaded left lane during his first attempt Friday which left him 15th, the CENTURY 21( pilot took full advantage of his runs on the right side. First, he powered his Firebird to a top speed of 199.73 miles-per-hour on Friday night, which was the fastest of his career. He followed that up with a scorching 6.888-second elapsed time on Saturday morning to set a new personal best in that category, which secured him the 11th spot for Sunday's final eliminations and scheduled the first-round meeting with Edwards.
"I think we finally have our CENTURY 21( Firebird headed in the right direction," stated Martino. "For the first time this year, we made runs where the car reacted to changes the way we thought it would. In qualifying, the only reason our last pass Saturday was not as good as the previous ones was because we lined up differently trying to outsmart the track. Unfortunately, there was a lot of clutch dust out there from the fuel cars, and we were quickly out of the groove. On Sunday, we had a strong run but lane choice killed us. Naturally, we're not happy unless we win, and we're all pretty tired of leaving after the first round, but as far as racecar performance is concerned, this is the happiest I have been leaving the track after any race or test session this season.
We're going to head back to New Jersey, and tomorrow after work I'm just going home and spend time with my family. I am not even going to think about racing. We've been after it pretty hard for the last few months, and I think we could all use a short time-out. We'll be back at it on Tuesday, getting ready for Atlanta, and we're pretty excited about our chances there."
An unlikely match-up during Monday's rain-delayed final round saw Allen Johnson defeat Richie Stevens on a hole-shot to score the first Pro Stock win of his career. The NHRA will take next weekend off for Mother's Day before heading to Atlanta, Georgia for the Advance Auto Parts Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, May 11-16.