Pomona: Jerry Toliver preview

Jerry Toliver, new Toyota Team ready for NHRA season opener. POMONA, Calif., Feb. 12, 2004 - One of Jerry Toliver's early memories is of him sitting in the driver's seat of his uncle's drag racing car and pretending to drive it. That wasn't...

Jerry Toliver, new Toyota Team ready for NHRA season opener.

POMONA, Calif., Feb. 12, 2004 - One of Jerry Toliver's early memories is of him sitting in the driver's seat of his uncle's drag racing car and pretending to drive it.

That wasn't just any drag racer's car and Toliver isn't pretending anymore. He returns to National Hot Rod Association action following a brief hiatus when the 2004 POWERade Series kicks off its 23-race season with the K&N Filters Winternationals at Pomona Raceway.

Toliver grew up in a drag racing world. His uncles are Art and Jack Chrisman, two of the most successful drivers in the formative stages of the sport and hall of fame members.

Now Toliver will try his best to emulate them by bringing home more victories, beginning with the Winternationals. The Temecula, Calif., resident will be at the controls of a Toyota Celica Funny Car for the Feb. 19-22 event. Keith Adams is the crew chief and he'll draw on the knowledge he's gleaned from many years working with Alan Johnson, one of the top tuners in the nitromethane categories.

"I'm very excited about being in the racecar and we're looking forward to the Winternationals," said Toliver, who has four national event wins in eight final rounds. "We tested at Las Vegas and Phoenix and we will be ready to go. I'm going to enjoy it."

He experienced the thrill of victory three times in 2000, when he drove Funny Cars sponsored by the WWF. Wins that year came at the Winternationals, Gainesville, Fla., and St. Louis. He also finished second four times while battling John Force for the series championship for most of the season. He earned his first NHRA national event win at the 1999 Auto Club Finals, ending both the season and century on a positive note that carried over to 2000.

"I was fortunate enough to race with Dale Armstrong,one of the sport's greatest crew chiefs," said Toliver. "Once you've tasted victory and been with a winning team, I knew I couldn't be excited unless I was in a good car with a competitive team. And we have the potential to be as good as any team out there."

With his introduction to drag racing at such a young age, it's not surprising to see Toliver competing in one of the sport's elite categories. It is, however, an occupation that's not suited to everyone.

Driving a Funny Car isn't for the feint of heart. It travels a quarter-mile in less than five seconds at speeds in excess of 320 miles per hour with the driver sitting behind a fire-snorting engine that could expire in a ball of flames at any second. Toliver is drawn to it "because of the excitement and competition," he says.

"What could be better than hanging out in the pits with all the performance-oriented drivers and their machines? It's the competition and the feeling of accomplishment you get. If you make a good pass and do everything right, it's a real sense of accomplishment at the end of the run."

In perspective, however, it's much safer than racing, say, an alcohol-powered drag boat - which Toliver did for seven years before being seriously injured an accident.

"I'd been around boats and cars all my life, but boats were more affordable to race than cars, but it was the love of racing that put me there," he recalled. "I had a blast. It was a hobby, not a profession. And, ultimately, I had a bad crash and broke my back in three places, broke my hand and just about drowned. So that was the end of my boat racing career."

That was in 1995, and he's been happy - and safer - on NHRA's race tracks, like Pomona Raceway, where he'll be Feb. 19-22. Qualifying is scheduled at 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday, noon and 3 p.m. Saturday, followed by Sunday's eliminations at 11 a.m.

A Quick Look at Jerry Toliver . . .

Jerry Toliver
Residence: Temecula, Calif.
Hometown: Compton, Calif.
Birthdate: 9/23/50
Height/weight: 6'3", 220 pounds
Single
Team owner/driver: 2004 Toliver Racing Toyota Celica Funny Car
Crew chief: Keith Adams

Career Wins/final rounds: 4/8
Best Points Finish: Third (2000)
First Start: 1998 Winternationals, Pomona, Calif.
First victory: 1999 Auto Club Finals, Pomona, Calif.
Career-best elapsed time: 4.818 seconds (Chicago 2, 2001)
Career-best speed: 318.39 mph (Houston 1, 2000)

Former drag boat racer in Alcohol Hydro Class in International Hot Boat Association.

Made NHRA Funny Car debut in 1998, running a limited schedule in the MAD Magazine/DC Comics/Warner Brothers Pontiac Firebird.

Defeated John Force to earn first NHRA national event victory at his home track in Pomona, Calif., in November 1999. He won his second event at the same track in the first event of the 2000 season.

Has four wins, eight final-round appearances, one third place (2000) and one eighth-place finish (2000) in NHRA standings.

Has six wins and13 final round appearances as a car owner.

Best season was 2000 when he won three times (Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., at Gainesville, Fla., and St. Louis) in seven finals, led the championship race for more than half the season, finishing third, and was named Car Craft Magazine's "Person of the Year" for his contribution to the sport."

Won back-to-back races three months apart - the 1999 Finals and 2000 Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Jerry Toliver