Brainerd: Martino added to winner's list

BRAINERD, Minn. - The Pro Stock category is arguably the most competitive category on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing circuit. There should be no argument. It is the most competitive category on the professional tour. This season, 10 different ...

BRAINERD, Minn. - The Pro Stock category is arguably the most competitive category on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing circuit.

There should be no argument. It is the most competitive category on the professional tour. This season, 10 different winners have been crowned in the first 16 Pro Stock races. Only the defending Winston champ, Jeg Coughlin Jr., and five-time series champion, Warren Johnson, have been fortunate enough to visit the winner's circle on multiple occasions. Several drivers, including Jim Yates, Mark Osborne, Greg Anderson, and Tom Martino, have all ended winless streaks in 2001.

Martino recently scored a hard-earned victory at the NHRA event in Sonoma, Calif., to give him his first win since 1998 in his Century 21 Pontiac Grand Am. The Farmingdale, N.J., resident will return to the site of his '98 triumph when he competes in the 20th annual Colonel's Truck Accessories NHRA Nationals, Aug. 16-19, at Brainerd International Raceway. The $1.9 million race is the 17th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Martino's win demonstrated the tug-of-war going on among competitors in the 200-mph door slammer category. Entering Brainerd, 295 Winston points separated the leader (Johnson) and the No. 9 racer (Bruce Allen) in the standings. In comparison, John Force leads his closest Funny Car competitor by 346 points while in Top Fuel 327 points separate the top five in the standings. Martino, known for his holeshot advantages at the starting line, added more drama to the points chase by knocking off four drivers in the top 10 en route to the win in Northern California.

Martino left the starting line first against Yates and Kurt Johnson to earn the holeshot wins, then had a bit of luck as his next two opponents, Mark Pawuk and Mike Edwards, both experienced mechanical problems and watched Martino drive to victory. It was quite an uplifting experience for Martino who entered the Sonoma event with just one round win this year.

"I always pride myself on being one of the top three or four drivers in Pro Stock and this year I haven't driven the car as well as I have in the past," said the 43-year-old Martino. "I tune the car myself, so I know what's going on. Usually, I do a good job of driving, but this year, I would have to say that I've only been fair getting down the track and on the starting line (with my reaction time). When I raced Kurt (Johnson) in the final in Woodburn (a Pro Stock invitational event held in Oregon which Martino also won), I just made up my mind to get across the finish line first, and I liked the feeling, so I'm not about to let anyone (holeshot) me now."

After competing for years in the NHRA sportsman ranks, Martino made the jump to Pro Stock in 1996 and finished eighth in the standings during his rookie campaign. He finished a career-best sixth in the Winston standings in 1997 winning two of four final round appearances. He scored a couple more wins along the way before the drought began for him following the '98 Brainerd win.

"I almost didn't know how to act at the top end after I won (in Sonoma)," said Martino. "I'm not normally an emotional person, but I'd say that win was as special as my first one in Houston four years ago. It's been a while since we won, and it feels great to finally get that monkey off our back.

"I tell you, I have to thank Century 21 for three years of support. They have never once said anything to me about our on-track performance and I always know they are right there to help in any way possible. They are the nicest group I've ever worked with and I'm so happy to be able to give them a win. Hopefully, there are many more to come."

-NHRA

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , John Force , Greg Anderson , Bruce Allen , Tom Martino , Mike Edwards