Tom Martino Century 21 Pontiac Grand Am DALLAS, Oct. 17, 2001 - Looking to build on his performance at Maple Grove Raceway, Century 21 Pontiac Grand Am driver Tom Martino heads to the Lone Star State this weekend for the 16th annual O'Reilly ...
Century 21 Pontiac Grand Am
DALLAS, Oct. 17, 2001 - Looking to build on his performance at Maple Grove Raceway, Century 21 Pontiac Grand Am driver Tom Martino heads to the Lone Star State this weekend for the 16th annual O'Reilly Nationals at Texas Motorplex hoping to transform a runner-up finish into his second Pro Stock victory of the season.
Martino had high expectations coming into '01, but with just three races remaining on the schedule, he sits in 13th place in the Pro Stock standings, 124 points behind 10th-place Brad Jeter. However, when his opponents have least expected it, Martino has risen to the occasion utilizing a combination of excellent driving skill and horsepower. Such was the case at Sonoma, Calif., in August when the 43-year-old New Jersey native secured his fourth career victory. At the previous national event at Reading, Pa., Martino was qualified 12th heading into game day, but knocked off Jim Yates in round one of the eliminator and drove his Pontiac Grand Am to a career-best top speed of 202.97 mph. Martino then ran a career-best e.t. of 6.789 seconds in round two, and by eliminating top qualifier Mark Osborne on a holeshot in round three, Martino advanced to his 11th career final round before losing to Troy Coughlin.
"For me, racing started off as a weekend hobby," said Martino. "Once we started having some success it became a dream of mine to run Pro Stock. I never thought I would get to this level. I was just one of those extremely lucky people who got the right breaks at the right time, and now I'm having the time of my life."
Talk about the runner-up finish in Reading. "We were about as unhappy as you can be considering the outcome. We hurt the engine in the semifinals and didn't realize it - I could've easily put my other engine in our Century 21 Grand Am. I left six hundredths of a second in front of Troy (Coughlin) in the finals. I only had to go 6.82 to beat him, and I could've easily gone 6.78 with the other engine so I was very disappointed. The weekend overall, I would've loved to have been in the stands for the last qualifying session when all of those 6.70s were being popped. That had to be awesome. When (Mark) Osborne and I ran the 6.79 to a 6.76 - I'm a big Pro Stock fan and that had to have been awesome. Reading is kind of like my second hometrack, but since I've been racing in Pro Stock I've never done well there, although I did well there in Comp. We weren't looking forward to racing Jim (Yates) in the first round, but after I got by him I felt we had a pretty good chance of winning."
What did you think of all the 6.70 elapsed times? "I can tell you that it wouldn't have happened if we would've run the weekend we were supposed to. The weather was beautiful that weekend but wasn't as cool as it was when we were there. It would've been a fast race but not as fast as it was. I thought it was great. It was good for the fans and it was great as a competitor. Running 6.70 at 202 mph is absolutely awesome. I'm all for us having a little bit bigger engines and lighter cars so we could run 6.70s all the time.
Can you explain why good reaction times are so crucial? "Since I started racing Pro Stock, knowing how hard it is to make horsepower, the easiest way to pick up e.t. is on the starting line. It doesn't cost you any additional time at night on the dyno, or changing pistons and camshafts to work on your reaction times. If I can pick up a hundredth of a second on the starting line that equals about eight horsepower on the dyno. It takes us all year to find five to fifteen horsepower, so if I can pick up a hundredth on the starting line, the way I look at it, that's about eight free horsepower. I work on my reaction time all the time although I don't practice. Everyone does their deal at the starting line different. My deal is just mental. I hate being embarrassed, and if you lose on a holeshot that's about the most embarrassing thing that can happen. I just get myself mentally prepared not to leave second."
How has your engine program evolved over the season? "We started off the year in pretty decent shape. We were about a half step behind where we wanted to be, but that was because we spent 75 percent of our time fixing what we messed up at the end of last year. At the beginning to the middle of last season we had as much power as anybody. We made a few subtle changes and slipped a little bit. We didn't realize we had slipped because the car was still running great. Then when the car stopped running well we noticed that the engines were off some. It took us about 75-percent of the winter to get back to where we were, so we started off this year a little bit behind but in good shape. Then we sort of wavered a little bit, but not from lack of hard work. We thought we were learning some stuff, but we went down some roads that were the wrong direction. I know it hasn't shown, but ever since the St. Louis race we've really had very good power. I think right now we've got more power than we've ever had in my racing career. Everything is looking better."
How would you evaluate your season? "A D-minus. There is no reason why I shouldn't be around the No. 5 spot in the points. We're probably not even going to finish in the top-10 because I'm too far behind. The only reason I'm not giving myself a failing grade this year is because effort counts for something, and my team and I have put in a lot of effort. We've worked so hard on the combination. We've worked seven days a week all season except for the Sunday after the terrorist attacks, and the one Sunday between Pomona and Denver. That's it. We've been in the engine shop every day. I honestly believe that next year we will be fighting for one of the top three spots. I have a decent handle on the Grand Am now and I know what it likes. We've been running decent track to track and I know we will find more power. I've always considered myself as one of the top five drivers. There's no reason why we shouldn't win a couple of races next year and be competitive."
What are your plans for '02? "We're geared up to run the full circuit. Our sponsorship with Century 21 is going away but we have some leads in other areas. Jesel is still staying on and they will just move up to being the major sponsor. We're planning on giving the top teams a good fight."
What does your future look like in drag racing? "I would like to retire from this sport. I would like to run until my son is old enough to drive, and if he wants to drive, put him in the car. If he doesn't then I would probably back off and pursue other interests. I've spent a lot of money and time to make this a lifelong job. Right now, our engine shop is working on different styles for a year and a half down the road. We've got eight engines right now. I've spent a lot of money for it to last and be in my future. We're starting to step everything up including adding on to Jesels to make it the race shop and not just the engine shop. I'm hoping NHRA finds a good title sponsor that enables us to keep racing. I have a sponsor I'm talking to, but we won't know anything for sure until December."