Now That Toliver has Funny Car Lead, He wants to Keep It Winternationals Winner Searches for Second Straight Win CHANDLER, Ariz., March 3, 2004 - Jerry Toliver might've been away from drag racing for 18 months, but he proved he didn't forget how...
Now That Toliver has Funny Car Lead, He wants to Keep It
Winternationals Winner Searches for Second Straight Win
CHANDLER, Ariz., March 3, 2004 - Jerry Toliver might've been away from drag racing for 18 months, but he proved he didn't forget how to drive when he won the Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., Sunday.
His friends and fans didn't forget him, either.
"Man, I was really surprised. I had 39 messages on my cell phone and about 100 e-mails," Toliver said of the response to his improbable victory that came in his first race with his new Schick Quattro Toyota Celica Funny Car team.
He's had some time to savor the triumph, his fifth in nine final rounds and his first since 2000, but there's no resting on his laurels. He leads the NHRA POWERade Series standings with 101 points and the second of 23 races looming this weekend - the Checkers Schuck's Kragen Nationals - at Firebird Raceway. Gary Densham, beaten by Toliver in the finals, is second with 93 points.
We are going to go to Phoenix and try to repeat our performance, obviously," said the Temecula, Calif., resident. "We are back on top, for the moment. We're doing good so far."
There were few early indications Toliver would be contending for the race win.
He struggled during qualifying, only solidifying his place among the top 16 on his last run, and that 4.952-second effort put him 15th overall and assured him of meeting No. 2 qualifier Eric Medlen, whose best was 4.783 seconds.
Undaunted, Toliver dispatched Medlen, Cory Lee and Del Worsham before ousting Densham - 4.821 seconds at 319.29 mph to 4.955 at 327.11 mph.
It wasn't easy.
"We had lots of problems," Toliver pointed out, "but when it's your day, it's your day. I had a good feeling all day and everything just kind of fell into place. I was never nervous or worried.
"Between the second round and the semifinals, we put two motors in," he continued. "We blew one up in the second round; we came back, took the motor out and put another one in and got it all together and were ready to fire it, but it wouldn't turn over. We had to take that one out and we had like 40 minutes left (before the semifinals were scheduled to start) to get the other motor in.
"We were down to the wire. I was strapped in the car before we left the pit area. We had no time. We just barely made it to the starting line."
What happened next provided a harbinger of what was to come.
Without benefit of warming the engine or performing any other normal pre-race procedures, Toliver's Toyota stunned its rivals by producing the quickest and fastest Winternationals run - 4.738 seconds at 328.22 mph. The speed was the fourth fastest overall. The time and speed are Toliver bests, too.
"We wanted to be competitive," Toliver said. "We're racing because we want to win championships. There are a lot of good competitors out here and a lot of good teams. You need a little luck and you have to be good to get a race win. We were lucky and we were good. My team has that never-quit attitude. It's a great group of guys."
Toliver's last race prior to the Winternationals was at Gainesville, Fla., in 2002. His previous sponsor, World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment, left the sport at the close of 2001 due to 9/11 and the economic downturn. Unable to attract another major sponsor at the time, Toliver regrouped and went searching. His quest ended when Schick razors signed on and brought him back to drag racing.
"There were times when I sat at home and thought I may never get back racing or win another a national event," commented Toliver. "And I said if I do, I promised myself I would savor this moment, savor this time and appreciate it more. It's unbelievable to come back out in this fashion. Everything just worked."
Will that momentum carry into this weekend?
Three of his five wins have come at Pomona Raceway, including the 1999 Auto Club Finals and the 2000 Winternationals. He's 0-for-career at Firebird but has an opportunity rectify that statistic this weekend.
While his Winternationals victory fell into the surprise category, Toliver has nonetheless put himself into a definite contender's role. One he won't mind keeping.
Qualifying times are 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. Friday and 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Eliminations begin Sunday at 11 a.m.