Sonoma Tom Hammond Preview

HAMMONDS READY TO SLAM DUNK NHRA PRO STOCK COMPETITION SONOMA, Calif. - Tom Hammonds still remembers his best performance of 1998. While his season-high 19 points against the Boston Celtics rates high on his personal...

HAMMONDS READY TO SLAM DUNK NHRA PRO STOCK COMPETITION

SONOMA, Calif. - Tom Hammonds still remembers his best performance of 1998.

While his season-high 19 points against the Boston Celtics rates high on his personal achievement chart, he admits that his driving performance at the 1998 NHRA Autolite Nationals was the bigger of the two.

Hammonds, a 6-9 forward for the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, trades in his ankle-high sneakers and gym shorts for much-preferred drag racing attire at this time of the year. Hammonds, who has mastered the art of the slam dunk during his day job, gets to tweak and tune his 500 cubic-inch engine and do burnouts with grace and style while he's moonlighting.

He hopes his second job pays big dividends at the 12th annual Autolite Nationals, Aug. 6-8 at Sears Point Raceway near San Francisco. The $1.2 million race is the 14th of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Last season at Sears Point, Hammonds had one of his best outings, qualifying 12th and advancing to the second round. He defeated Mark Osborne in round one before a mechanical problem sidelined him against George Marnell in the second round.

"We're looking forward to much better results in Sonoma," said Hammonds, who qualified for three of eight events he entered in 1998. "We had one of our best outings of the season there last year. I think we've got the right set-up for that track."

While the Winnebago Chevrolet Camaro driver stands tall above the competition in NHRA Pro Stock racing, he's still working as hard as ever to catch it. The former Georgia Tech Yellowjacket is in his second season as a part-time performer on the professional drag racing circuit, and learning every step of the way.

"The competition in Pro Stock is really tight," said Hammonds, a resident of Crestview, Fla. "It just keeps getting tougher out here every season. If you can find enough power to be one of the 16 cars that qualify, then you've accomplished one part of your goal. Then you can worry about winning the race. In this deal, that's a brand new mission." Big momentum: Jeg Coughlin is riding a wave of momentum into the Autolite Nationals. He and brother Troy have faced each other in two recent finals - at Bristol, Tenn.'s all-star event and the Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals near Denver. With victories in both meetings, Jeg is currently the hottest driver in the Pro Stock pits moving to third in the Winston point standings. "We've got a lot confidence in our program right now, and our cars are running strong," Jeg said. "Anytime we can have an all-Jeg's final it's a win-win situation for the team. We hope to have many more final round meetings during the rest of the season."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Tom Hammonds