ENNIS, Texas - When mainstream professional athletes retire, they usually take over the coaching duties of a struggling franchise, move into the announcer's booth, accept an executive position within the organization, or just retreat to plush...
ENNIS, Texas - When mainstream professional athletes retire, they usually take over the coaching duties of a struggling franchise, move into the announcer's booth, accept an executive position within the organization, or just retreat to plush links of exclusive country clubs.
Tom Hammonds recently retired from the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves and decided to strap himself into a 200-mph Chevy Cavalier that can cover a quarter-mile distance in less than seven seconds from a complete standstill.
That's not a typical retirement plan with early bird specials at the local diner.
Hammonds will continue the journey into his new occupation when he competes at the 16th annual O'Reilly Fall Nationals presented by Castrol Syntec, Oct. 18-21, at the Texas Motorplex. The $1.8 million race is the 22nd of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
The 34-year-old Hammonds began his Pro Stock career in 1996 on a part-time basis due to his contractual obligations to the NBA. The Crestview, Fla., resident hopes that some of the knowledge and experience he acquired on the hardwood can be applied to the 1,320 feet separating the starting line to the finish point on a drag strip.
"Racing and basketball are not very different at all as far as I'm concerned," said Hammonds. "They're both team-oriented sports, and I like that aspect of it, but at the same time I'm one-on-one against another driver. It's the same thing as being one-on-one with another basketball player. You give me your best shot, and you better believe I'm going to give you my best shot, and we'll see who wins."
In September, Hammonds was able to reach an agreement with the Timberwolves for a buyout of the last year of his contract. He can now devote his full attention to the remainder of the year, and next season's 23-event schedule.
"I'm both excited and nervous," said Hammonds. "I've played basketball for the last 12 years of my life and now I'm turning over a page in my career. I just realized that I wasn't going to be able to help the team out physically, and I didn't want to take up a roster spot. I feel this is the best business decision for the team and myself. I will miss them and playing basketball as well, but feel that drag racing will fill my need for competition."
Hammonds is not using the NHRA circuit to just pass time and enjoy a hobby, he wants to compete seriously and vie for the coveted championship that is a symbol of NHRA success. Over the past few events, Hammonds has demonstrated the necessary improvement in the super-competitive field.
His qualifying position in the field improved for three straight races as he continued to try and master the nuances of the category. He climbed from the No. 9 slot in Brainerd, Minn., to No. 7 in Indianapolis, then moved to No. 5 in Memphis, Tenn. Hammonds followed that performance with a career-best 6.844 second pass at a speed of 201.49 mph at Route 66 Raceway outside of Chicago. Although the numbers ranked him No. 16 in the field, he was the anchor of the quickest Pro Stock field in NHRA history. A field where defending Winston champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Mark Pawuk, who has been in the top 10 in the standings all season, were not able to qualify.
"Eventually I think we can go out, go through a full season of testing and racing, and be competitive," said Hammonds. "I'd like to finish in the top 10, possibly top five, and 10 years from now hopefully have two or three championships. Our goal is to go into the race and qualify first. Now that we seem like we've turned a corner and we're running a lot better, I want to start going rounds. It's not out of the question for us to qualify and go some rounds and win. That's my goal. I'm never satisfied and I'm always striving to do better. The one thing I do know is that if I devote my time to racing like I did to basketball, we'll be champions."