MARTINO ADVANCES TO THE SEMI-FINALS IN MADISON CENTURY 21 Racing pilot upsets No. 1 qualifier in the first round of the 3rd annual Sears Craftsman Nationals Madison, Illinois, June 28, 1999 - As Tom Martino drove to Gateway International ...
MARTINO ADVANCES TO THE SEMI-FINALS IN MADISON
CENTURY 21 Racing pilot upsets No. 1 qualifier in the first round of the 3rd annual Sears Craftsman Nationals
Madison, Illinois, June 28, 1999 - As Tom Martino drove to Gateway International Raceway for the final eliminations of the Sears Craftsman Nationals, he knew he had his work cut out for him. Racing a Firebird that they had picked up from the paint shop only four days earlier, the CENTURY 21 Racing team had worked to familiarize themselves with this race car's performance characteristics throughout qualifying. Battling the track, the weather and thirty-six other "doorslammers", the Martino crew was able to secure the 16th and final position on Saturday's eliminations ladder. They had little time to celebrate, however, as their first round opponent would be the number one qualifier and current track record holder Kurt Johnson.
Heavy rain throughout the day had delayed the start of eliminations by almost three hours, and it was nearly seven o'clock as Martino and Johnson staged for their opening round encounter. Leaving with identical reaction times, Martino made a good, straight run down the right lane to upset the defending event champion. This set the stage for a second round match-up with George Marnell, who had secured lane choice by virtue of a top speed tiebreaker since both men had posted identical elapsed times in their first round wins. Once again, Martino had a solid pass in the less-preferred lane, scoring a hole-shot victory when Marnell inexplicably sat at the line for a full second after the lights had turned green.
Martino's semi-final opponent would be fourth qualifier Allen Johnson, with Johnson able to choose his lane. Martino again responded by posting his quickest pass of eliminations at 7.033 seconds with a top speed of 195.17 miles-per-hour. However, this would not be enough to overcome Johnson's outstanding .413-second starting-line reaction time, which he used to offset his slower elapsed time and end Martino's hopes for a fourth career victory. Nevertheless, Martino was satisfied with the weekend's results.
"We are not totally disappointed by the weekend's events," explained Martino afterwards. "To be honest we didn't expect to do as well as we did. We were really behind on our tune-up when we got here. We started tracing back through the last two races when we haven't run so well to find the cause, and found we had a faulty fuel regulator. We had been putting more and more fuel in, and it ran a little faster, but nowhere near what it should have been. It was such a pooch in the back half that in fourth of fifth gear it felt like I was pulling on the handbrake. After that, we had to rediscover our race set-up, and we were so far off what we normally ran that we had to sneak back up on it. We finally made some big jumps today.
This was our first race with this particular car, and I'm happy with it. We've had it less than a week, and today shows we've already overcome a lot of hurdles. For example, we didn't have enough time to make the right modifications, so the transmission we used here is not our normal one. I know I could have used some different gear ratios that I didn't have, so I compensated by running a lot more clutch in it than I usually do. It was almost stalling when I let the clutch pedal out. If we had the right ratios, I could have taken some clutch out, and it would have been faster. This CENTURY 21 Firebird is a real good hot rod - if I had that much clutch in my other car it probably would have made a U-turn in second gear!
This whole team is excited. We have a match race this Wednesday, followed by more testing with this car. Then we'll go to Bristol and hopefully collect the $50,000 (winner's prize money). Our major goal now is to get our two best motors back together - the one we used today is number four. There's nothing wrong with the others, we just didn't have the right tune-up in them. If we can get those two back up to power, and we keep fine-tuning this car, we'll do just fine on the West Coast swing. We have some work to do, but I'm pretty confident you'll be seeing better showings from this CENTURY 21 team from here on out."
In Saturday's final, Jim Yates defeated Allen Johnson for his first win of the season. The NHRA Winston Drag Racing tour now moves to the brand-new Bristol Dragway in Bristol, Tennessee for the annual Winston Showdown all-star race July 8-10.