Jerry Toliver Goes in Search of First U.S. Nationals Victory INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 30, 2004 - Jerry Toliver's drag racing roots are deep.Â His uncle, Jack Chrisman, won the Top Eliminator title at the eighth annual U.S. Nationals in 1962. With...
Jerry Toliver Goes in Search of First U.S. Nationals Victory
INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 30, 2004 - Jerry Toliver's drag racing roots are deep. His uncle, Jack Chrisman, won the Top Eliminator title at the eighth annual U.S. Nationals in 1962.
With that kind of history, one would expect Toliver to have been a long-time competitor at what is NHRA's crown jewel in the 23-race POWERade Series. With the 50th anniversary edition of the U.S. Nationals unfolding Sept. 3-6 at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Toliver's drag racing record shows just four visits to the event.
"I grew up around my uncles (Art and Jack Chrisman), who were drag racing pioneers," said Toliver. "They're both in the drag racing hall of fame, and I know all about the importance of the U.S. Nationals. But I didn't race at Indy until 1998."
The driver of the Schick Quattro Toyota Celica Funny Car is seeking his first victory as a driver in this hallmark race. He's been to the IRP winner's circle once already as a team owner - Jim Epler captured the 2000 race driving a WWF-backed car, one year after he was runner-up.
"It will be really nice to do well this year," Toliver said. "I'm proud of the fact we won a race and went to two straight final rounds in 1999 and 2000. This current team has struggled for the last seven our eight races, but we've made many changes since Richard Hogan came in as crew chief in June.
"We tested at IRP last week and made big leaps in performance. The car was smooth going down the race track. Now it's up to Richard to get after it when qualifying starts Friday."
Toliver is 12th in points with six races remaining. Traditionally, now is the time when crews not in the championship chase begin working on a combination that will not only finish 2004 strong but provide a solid foundation for the 2005 season.
A string of mechanical maladies kept Hogan busy looking for solutions. Now, with good data collected from the test session, he'll have an opportunity to tune for consistently quick runs, something that's been missing lately.
"I've always felt this team was much better than what we've showed. Maybe we'll have an opportunity to prove that in the last six races," said Toliver. "I'm also proud that we have one victory (at Pomona, Calif., in February) and two final rounds so far in our first year together."
The Temecula, Calif.-based driver had less than two weeks to build a new Funny Car team before the 1999 U.S. Nationals.
"The WWF decided it wanted to expand to a two-car team about 10 days before going to Indy," Toliver recalled. "I hired a crew; we pulled out my back-up car and hired Jim Epler to drive it. We went to the finals in our first race. We had to work 24/7 to get it done, but it was worth it.
"I remember that final because we'd run quicker than Jim Dunn's car, but we had a magneto problem on the burnout and Jim's car smoked the tires at the hit of the throttle and we got beat.
"The next year at Indy, Epler won the U.S. Nationals in his second straight final round and finished second in the Bud Shootout. It was certainly exciting to win the race."
Joining his Uncle Art as a U.S. Nationals-winning driver is on Toliver's list of things to do. Considering how unpredictable Funny Car racing is, it could happen as soon as Labor Day, 2004.
The longest race on the 2004 docket gets underway with one qualifying run Friday at 7 p.m. Two more come Saturday at 3 and 7 p.m., followed by the final pair Sunday at 12:45 and 4 p.m. The top 16 begin eliminations Monday at 11 a.m.