POMONA, Calif. - WWF Racing's Jerry Toliver stands ready for 'Smack Down II: Inland Empire Rumble.' Perhaps this time out, he'll use the 'People's Elbow' to finish off the competition. The popular Huntington Beach, Calif. driver...
POMONA, Calif. - WWF Racing's Jerry Toliver stands ready for 'Smack Down II: Inland Empire Rumble.' Perhaps this time out, he'll use the 'People's Elbow' to finish off the competition. The popular Huntington Beach, Calif. driver earned his Funny Car wings last year at the fabled Pomona Raceway, scoring a gritty victory over nine-time category champ John Force in a classic, tire-smoking, side-by-side thriller. The win, Toliver's first in his short NHRA career, not only added a new trophy to his showcase, but also added confidence and momentum to a guy that wants nothing more than to lift drag racing's heavyweight championship belt at the end of the 2000 season. Toliver will begin his quest for NHRA Winston championship glory at the 40th annual AutoZone Winternationals, Feb. 3-6 at Pomona's historic quarter-mile. The $1.7 million race is the first of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
"I think if I can step out of the box and win Pomona it would be a tremendous boost for the team," said Toliver, who will campaign the popular 'Stone Cold Steve Austin' WWF Corvette. "I think it would get that intimidation factor going and give us credibility right out of the gate. If we can win decisively at Pomona it will serve notice to the rest of the teams that we're for real."
Toliver finished eighth in the Winston point standings in '99, a position gained largely by his late season victory at Pomona's Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals. Besides the win, Toliver posted 12 first round losses, three DNQs, four second-round appearances and a pair of semifinal efforts at Gainesville and Houston.
"We had our ups and downs last year," Toliver said. "It was a learning experience. As the season progressed we learned some things and made a lot of improvement. Most importantly, I learned that I can go out and win a race. That means the world."
He expects his learning curve to expand even more this season, with veteran all-star crew chief Dale Armstrong calling the shots in the pits.
"Dale is as good or better than any crew chief in the business," Toliver said. "When I heard he was available, it was like hearing that Albert Einstein was walking around unemployed. I don't think I could have made a better selection. He's a true champion -- the NHRA record books back that up. I think having him on board brings a certain confidence to this team. But he's just one of the quality people we've added during the off-season. Terry Manzer, John Stewart and Bob Brooks are also new key members and will add greatly to our overall team strength."
With Armstrong showing the way, Toliver expects a smooth transition in adapting to the new Funny Car rules mandated by the NHRA during the off-season. The rule changes include a reduction in the amount of nitromethane teams can use during competition, introduction of a new spec Goodyear tire, fines and point penalties for oiling down the racing surface and a new 75 minute rule between elimination rounds. "Everybody will have to make adjustments," Toliver said. "I think the changes were needed and will make the overall package better for TV and the fans. As far as the tune-up, I think the experienced crew chiefs will get a handle on it very quickly. Teams that have innovators will step up to the plate and perform. Some teams are going to struggle because change can be tough when you have to alter a time-tested combination."