Dallas Pontiac Racing Preview

AL HOFMANN Hofmann Racing Pontiac Firebird Funny Car DALLAS, Tex. (April 15, 1999) - Of the 15 career wins that Al Hofmann has scored in the last 12 seasons of NHRA Funny Car competition, two of his most memorable have come at the Texas ...

AL HOFMANN Hofmann Racing Pontiac Firebird Funny Car

DALLAS, Tex. (April 15, 1999) - Of the 15 career wins that Al Hofmann has scored in the last 12 seasons of NHRA Funny Car competition, two of his most memorable have come at the Texas Motorplex. One was his first professional victory in 1991 and the second was his comeback win in 1997 following a potentially career ending crash earlier in the year at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. To say that Hofmann enjoys racing in the Lone Star State would be an understatement since four of his 15 career victories have occurred at Texas venues; two at Houston Raceway Park and two at the Texas Motorplex.

Hofmann first broke into the professional Funny Car ranks in 1988 and since then he has won 15 races and competed in 31 final rounds on the NHRA Winston championship tour. His best season was in 1995 when he won five races and finished second in the point standings. He has finished in the Winston top 10 seven times (1991-96, 1998) and in the top five five times (1992-96). In seven of the last eight seasons Hofmann has managed to win a national event. But the last three years have been anything but easy for the 52-year-old Umatilla, Fla., resident and he continues to battle to maintain sufficient funding that will keep his Funny Car program competitive and on the race track.

Last year, Hofmann finished ninth in the Winston standings despite DNQ's at Atlanta, Chicago and Indianapolis. But late in the season, the team rallied with a victory at the Pennzoil Nationals in Memphis, and in Dallas, his Pontiac Firebird took him to new personal bests in elapsed time and top speed with a run of 4.855 seconds at 317.46 mph at the Revell Nationals.

The following is a question and answer session conducted with Hofmann and crew chief Jimbo Ermalovich prior to the Castrol Nationals on April 22-25 at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Tex. It is the fifth race on the 22-event NHRA Winston championship tour. Same day television coverage can be seen on Fox Sports on Sunday, April 25, beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.

After four races how would you evaluate your season going into the Dallas meet?

Al Hofmann: We've had our share of problems with the car, but the main thing is that we had problems early with the clutch and then we got that straightened out. Then we started chasing the fuel system which was really giving us a problem there for awhile. But after the Houston race, I'm pretty confident that we're heading in the right direction.

Jimbo Ermalovich: We changed to a five-disc clutch early in the season and it did tell us a couple of things like we weren't creating enough power to run it, so we changed back to the four disc. After the switch back we were able to run 4.90s in Phoenix but soon realized that that was not going to be enough to win races. It might be good enough to qualify and you might go a couple of rounds but you're not going to win. We're only out here for one reason and that's to win. That's when we decided to change the fuel system to see if we could run with the front runners because it's not fun to run behind them. Other than that our clutch-disc problem seems to be better than it was and we decided that as soon as we start making more power we'll change back to the five disc. We have a new car and it has more traction than any car we've previously used. You can tell by looking at the 60-foot times because it's hitting the numbers so easily and that's nothing but traction. With a combination of trying to make more power with the motor and the new car, we haven't done as well as we would have liked. But I think we're getting close. We ran 5.01 in Houston and that was on seven cylinders so that tells me that it could have been 4.84. I don't know if we can make it run in the 4.70s but we have to consistently run 4.80s or we're not even going to have a chance.

Historically, the Texas Motorplex has been a race track that will take about everything you can give it from a power standpoint. How will you approach the race next week?

Hofmann: If we can make a good pass down the race track in the first qualifying session and get safely in the show, then we're going to try and run 4.70s. If you can't run that then it doesn't make any sense to keep on racing. Force's team has won every race this year so we have to figure out how to run our race car and see if we can't do something to level the playing field.

How feasible is it for you to run 4.70s at Dallas?

Hofmann: We had a couple of good runs going in Houston and we're finally getting our setup to where I think it's going to happen pretty soon. We were chasing the clutch thinking that was the problem and the reason that we were smoking the tires. We finally figured out that we didn't have enough horsepower and that was why we were smoking the tires. We'd go out and the car would leave real hard with the rpm because we had good fuel at the hit. Then it would go out about 100 feet and fall on its face -- it would be weak, start shaking the tires and then start smoking them. Now that we're putting more fuel in our Pontiac Firebird, we're starting to sneak up on it. We had some of our best 60-foot times ever in Houston. In fact, we had the best 60-foot time all weekend and if we can continue that for the entire quarter mile in Dallas then a 4.70 is very probable. On one pass, our 60-foot time showed us that we were on track for a 4.82 and then at about 600 feet we dropped a cylinder, put an additional load on the motor, shot two spark plugs out and still ran a 5.01. If we can get everything going our way then we'll be competitive. I would say that our biggest problem has been figuring out the fuel system because it's been throwing us such a curve. We went to a bigger fuel pump in Houston and we'll go to an even larger fuel pump in Dallas. It should be interesting. If we can get it to the end on all eight cylinders then a 4.78 or a 4.79 wouldn't surprise me at all.

Ermalovich: First off we'll have to put enough power in this Firebird to run it in front of the clutch because if you get behind the clutch you'll smoke the tires. We'll go out there and try and run good enough to get in the show on the first run and if that works then we'll put everything that we know how to do into it and see if we can't run some middle to low 4.80s or a high 4.70 if we get real lucky. Last fall we ran the 4.85 there and had a cylinder out for just a little bit, but we still ran a good elapsed time at about 318 mph. I'm pretty confident that if we can keep all eight cylinders lit with the volume of fuel we're putting in it right now it will run a very low 4.80 and possibly a high 4.70.

What kind of learning curve do you have to overcome when going to a larger fuel system?

Hofmann: There's a fine line between keeping all eight lit and producing a big number or putting cylinders out and making a bad run. There are some cars out there now that have so much down force that it allows them to burn the fuel. It wouldn't surprise me if Force didn't go out and run a high 4.60 next weekend - they're just playing with us right now. In the mean time we're just racing for third and fourth place.

Ermalovich: I feel like we're on the verge of breaking out. We have a clutch setup that's really good right now and if we can keep it from dropping cylinders we should be able to run 4.80s and 4.90s with the greatest of ease. This Pontiac Firebird that we have right now is probably the best car we've ever had. I put it together one other time and had to take it apart and go back to the old car because it was so tough to run. The potential of this car is just phenomenal. All Funny Cars have their problems at 1.20 seconds because that's the transition point for a Funny Car. You get a lot of extra clutch through there and if you don't have a super amount of power to hold the front up, then as soon as it comes down, you're transferring about 1000 pounds off the back to the front and that causes the tires to spin. As long as the front wheels are up you've got 2400 pounds on the rear wheels. As soon as they touch the ground you only have 1300 pounds on the back and it shifts the remaining weight to the front.

If you don't win the championship, how would you define a successful season?

Hofmann: For the past eight years we've had a top-four car. After the accident at Gainesville in 1997 we had our share of problems and getting back on track in itself was a struggle. We finished 13th that year and ninth last year. That's the worst I've finished racing in a complete season since 1989. We need to get back in the top five and if we can do that and win some races then I'll be happy with the year.

Ermalovich: I also feel like we have a top-five car and probably one of the fastest Funny Cars out there. We just don't have the finances to pursue some of the things we would like. I could set this thing on kill, and I could throw the rods out of it at the finish line every run and make it go, but I'm not going to do that. We can't do that and continue to compete. If we could win three or four races, and that's a pretty tall order these days, I would define that as a real good season. We would like to finish in the top five and qualify well enough to shore up our position in the Big Bud Shootout enough to where we're in that. I would be completely happy to win two races and although I'd like to win more than that, we have to be realistic considering the high level of competition out there. If we can keep this thing from dropping cylinders it's going to be fast. We've got the fuel mixture so rich right now because that's what it wants to run fast. It's right there on the edge and if we would have been running in Richmond where the air was a little better then maybe we wouldn't have dropped cylinders like we did last weekend in Houston. We've worked on that and I feel like we've got a pretty good plan for Dallas.

How would you stack up your team compared to some of the other Funny Car teams right now?

Hofmann: I'd have to say that we probably have one of the best teams out there. The morale's been pretty good and like every other team it goes back and forth depending on how the car is running. But win or lose they work as hard if not harder than anybody, and I always know that they will give me the best race car possible. We're only four races into the season and only four points out of the top 10 so if what we found out works then we should be in the top five by Columbus.

After suffering the injury after Gainesville in 1997, you topped off your comeback by winning the fall race at Dallas. Does this track have any special meaning for you?

Hofmann: Obviously it made the whole team feel pretty good but looking back on it, that was a pretty tough year. Winning that race did quite a bit to get us noticed and keep us going. It gave us the confidence that after everything that had happened we could still be competitive and win races. And after everything we had been through it was pretty special. It's a real good track and it's been pretty good to us in the past. We won there in 1991 and then again in 97. So our car seems to make the power that it should there and I feel like we have a pretty good chance of winning a race next week.

Ermalovich: Until we won at Dallas it looked as though we would be finished at the end of the 1997 season. We just couldn't afford it anymore. We had the car running pretty good and we had some good clutch discs which was a big factor, but we had an oiling problem and we knew we had an oiling problem, but we just didn't have the money to fix it. We ran that Firebird with a relatively short fuse and still managed to run 4.92 and 4.93 after shutting it off at 1000 feet. That car ran good from the moment we pulled it off the trailer so we knew we had the potential to win the race. But we were also aware that if we ran it all the way to the finish line it would just destroy our engine. So we just went out there and went as quick as we needed to go to win. That win was a big lift for us and it was a big lift for General Motors because they stepped up and helped us out considerably after that. For that we are extremely appreciative.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Al Hofmann