Memphis Pontiac Racing Preview

HOFMANN HOPES TO BE ROCKIN' IN MEMPHIS MEMPHIS, Tenn. (October 6, 1999) - Memphis may be the home of rhythm and blues, Sun Records, Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley, but when Al Hofmann arrives in town for the 12th annual AutoZone Nationals...


MEMPHIS, Tenn. (October 6, 1999) - Memphis may be the home of rhythm and blues, Sun Records, Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley, but when Al Hofmann arrives in town for the 12th annual AutoZone Nationals on October 7 - 10, he plans to be doing some good rockin' of his own. It was at Memphis Motorsports Park last year that the 51-year-old Pontiac Firebird Funny Car driver won his last national event. A sixth sense will tell you that Hofmann is ready to strike again in this Mississippi River metropolis. At last year's AutoZone Nationals, Hofmann rallied from the No. 7 qualifying position to take out a formidable parade of opponents that included Del Worsham, John Force and Dean Skuza, before winning a final-round match up with Cruz Pedregon. The victory helped to secure a Winston top-10 finish for the Umatilla, Fla., resident, his seventh in the last eight seasons. "Winning at Memphis was the boost that this team needed last year," Hofmann said. "After everything that we had been through, to come out at the AutoZone Nationals and have everything click the way it did - it was an indescribable feeling. But we earned it -- every bit of it! I wouldn't want it any other way." Since last year's Memphis victory, a lot has changed in the Hofmann camp. Jimbo Ermalovich is no longer crew chief, and that has Hofmann doing more of the wrenching on his Firebird Funny Car while receiving bits of technical advice from long-time NHRA competitor Jim Dunn. "We have a lot to work on so our primary concern is just to get the car ready to race," Hofmann explained. "I think we're headed in the right direction, but we'll just have to see what happens over the next couple of races. We can't do it all in one race, but I'm confident that this Firebird will be fast again and we'll be right back in the thick of the hunt. "I'm doing quite a bit of the work myself, and Andy Neering (crew member) is taking some direction from Jim Dunn so that he can step into a more prominent role next year. I'm trying to work him into a crew chief position, but this is a total team effort and it's going to take some time." During his 12-year NHRA Funny Car career, Hofmann has won 15 races and competed in 31 final rounds. His best season was in 1995 when he won five events and finished second in the Winston standings. But during the last two years, the month of October has been exceptionally kind to Hofmann producing a win when he needed it most at the 1997 Revell Nationals in Dallas. In addition to his win last year at Memphis, Hofmann was runner-up at the 1998 Advance Auto Parts Nationals in Topeka, Kan. "We know we have a race car that can run at the front of the pack, but at the same time everybody on this team is responsible for making this Firebird perform," Hofmann explained. "I do like being more hands-on with the car and I'm sorry that I ever got so uninvolved with it. That's why I'm out here. I've always enjoyed working on the race car; that's how I started, and now I enjoy it more than I ever have. It's nice when you can make the car run and see some progress. That's what we've been able to accomplish over the last few weeks and that's encouraging." Tommy Johnson Jr. took over the reins of the Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird in June and picked up his first Funny Car win last month in Reading. But he first tasted the sweet success of victory as a driver of Top Fuel dragsters winning his second career professional victory at Memphis in 1994. Momentum is building for the Joe Gibbs Racing team and Johnson hopes to end the year with a strong finish. "The chemistry between myself and my teammates was great on the first day right from the start," Johnson said. "Everyone's about my age and we just gelled really well. The win at Reading just brought us closer together. I couldn't have asked for a better situation to get into with a team as far as crew-wise. They're just like me; we're all the same. We eat dinner together, we do everything together, we communicate well with each other and that's really nice. I don't see us slowing down from here. Getting our first win together was the big hurdle that we needed to get over and now we're going straight forward from here on out. Wes (Cerny) kept saying that things may not be going our way but when they do, everyone else had better look out. " Four-time Winston champion and 1998 AutoZone Nationals winner Warren Johnson is quickly closing in on a fifth Pro Stock title. With just four races and 16 potential rounds of competition remaining on the schedule, time is running out for the competition. This season, the "Professor of Pro Stock" has driven his GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird to six wins (Gainesville, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Columbus, Indianapolis), 13 No. 1 qualifying spots, and a round win-loss percentage of .776. He is first in the championship standings with 1417 points, 230 points ahead of his nearest rival. "In the major scheme of things we have to look at the big picture and that's winning the Winston championship," Johnson said. "We're about 17 rounds ahead of our closest competitor, so it's not mathematically impossible for someone to still catch us, but time is running out. We obviously want to win as many races as we can, and although we don't win all of the battles we are winning the war big time." Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird driver Jim Yates won the 1997 AutoZone Nationals and hopes to pick up his third win of the year at Memphis. After 17 events, the two-time Winston champion is fourth in the points standings but looks at the remaining four races as an opportunity to prepare for 2000. At last year's race, Yates qualified second and advanced to round three before losing to Kurt Johnson. "Overall the performance level of the Splitfire Pontiac Firebird has improved as we've made our way through the season," Yates said. "The bottom line is that to be successful in Pro Stock you need to perform; you need to have horsepower, you need to make good runs and you need to win. It's been one of those years where we were able to reach that peak level of performance that you strive to achieve, and then we dropped off. We're not looking at overall consistency for the year because I don't think there is any way to catch Warren (Johnson) for the championship, so the next thing that counts is trying to win as many races as we can. "Now that we're in the final half of the season, we're spending a lot more time swinging for the fence in an attempt to get that next win under our belt rather than trying to protect a points lead. Sometimes that helps because you get a win, and sometimes that hurts because you don't run as good as you think, but we've improved our performance capability as we've progressed through the year. Our goal for the rest of the year is to try and get to the final round, win as many of those races as we can and try and get to the No. 2 spot." At the True Value Nationals in Reading, Pa., Outlaw Fuel Additives Firebird driver Bruce Allen ran a career-best elapsed time of 6.905 seconds in the Saturday morning qualifying session. The Arlington, Tex., resident also ran his career-best top speed at 200.17 mph making him the 12th member of the Speed-Pro 200 mph Club. "Now we just need to run a 6.80, win a race and we'll really be happy; at least for a little while anyway," Allen said. "Making the 200 mph club is awesome. It makes the work more rewarding when your results begin to pay these kind of dividends. The guys at the shop are ecstatic. They kept asking us when we're going to run 200, and I told everyone that we couldn't do it at Reading because it was too bumpy, so I'm tickled. It's especially good considering our position right now, and to be running good always helps when you're trying to find a sponsor. "We talked about running 200 mph maybe at Topeka, but Dallas would have been more realistic. Now we have that out of the way and that's a nice bonus. It's funny because when you don't need to run that fast, or when you're not expecting something good like that to happen, or when you're not worrying about it, it happens. When you're really wanting it to happen you can't get it done no matter how hard you try. The money is icing on the cake. Now we're in the seven- second club, the six-second club, and the 200 mph club. I don't foresee in my lifetime having to worry about a five-second 300 mph Pro Stock club, but when you're racing professionally at this level, it's important to be a part of performance milestones like that." With his runner-up performance at the True Value Keystone Nationals in Reading, Pa., the year just keeps getting better for Mark Pawuk and the Summit Racing Pontiac Firebird team. At the last five races going back to the Prolong Northwest Nationals in Seattle, Pawuk has qualified no worse than fifth with his best effort coming at Indianapolis when he qualified second. It is a steady progression towards the front of the pack that began for the "Cowboy" last September and continues heading into this year's AutoZone Nationals where he won his last race in 1995. "Our tendency in the last 10 years has been to fall off in the last third of the season," Pawuk explained. "This year we're accelerating our program with the Summit Racing Firebird. We're running better, we're running consistent, we're going more and more rounds, I'm driving better and I think this will give us nice momentum going into next year. We talked about trying to get back into the top five and that's still our goal. We gained two more rounds at Reading putting some margin between us and seventh place and we're definitely headed the right way. With a young team like this the karma is beginning to come together. Reading was a great effort by the whole group. "I've got a lot more fire and drive than I had six months ago. It became a real drag for awhile, but I really feel that this resurgence in our performance has enabled me to get a different outlook, a different attitude and get more pumped up on race day. I attribute that to everything clicking, and everybody with the same common goal and getting along so well. It definitely makes my job easier and I'm enjoying going to the races much more than a year ago. Sure, there are times when it's tough without my family, but when you're out there and you know you have a shot at winning the race in contrast to if you're just praying that you qualify, there's a lot less pressure and it gives you a completely different mindset going into race day. Now I'm confident that we can win at any time." Century 21 Pontiac Firebird driver Tom Martino is hoping that a new Don Ness car will improve his performance. Early indications from the True Value Keystone Nationals in Reading, Pa., show that the New Jersey native may have turned the corner. For one of the few times this season, he left the track with a smile on his face. Martino may not have won the race, but the important part is that he knows he could have. He posted his best qualifying effort of the season, and did so with three strong, consistent runs. He then followed that with another quick pass in the first round of eliminations on Sunday. The bottom line is that Martino once again has a car he can race and the competition knows he is once again a force to be reckoned with. "We're encouraged by the early results with this particular Century 21 Firebird," explained Martino. "But it's still too new to feel completely at ease with it and the data we collected from Reading will prove useful. "The biggest difference we have seen with this new car is that it responds to the changes we make. For example, our first pass at Maple Grove was terrible, but we adjusted it and came back to have one of the quickest runs of the weekend in the next session. After that, we were very consistent. It was just a matter of getting the right combination to put it to the ground, which we hadn't done consistently this year. It's not that we didn't think our engines were that strong, but when you're not running well, you question everything. It's good to know that we have the horses when we need them." The 12th annual AutoZone Nationals presented by Pennzoil on October 7 - 10 is the 19th race on the 22-event Winston championship schedule. Event highlights can be seen on TNN on Sunday, October 17, beginning at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Dean Skuza , Del Worsham , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Bruce Allen , Tom Martino , Tommy Johnson Jr.
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing