Team Chevy's Tom Hammonds Set for 90th Career NHRA Pro Stock Start Hammonds' Chevy Cobalt Team Making Progress Toward Competitive Program CRESTVIEW, Fla., June 15, 2007 - Making progress and moving ahead would be an appropriate pair of phrases...
Team Chevy's Tom Hammonds Set for 90th Career NHRA Pro Stock Start
Hammonds' Chevy Cobalt Team Making Progress Toward Competitive Program
CRESTVIEW, Fla., June 15, 2007 - Making progress and moving ahead would be an appropriate pair of phrases to describe how Team Chevy's Tom Hammonds has fared so far this season. After making the decision last year to jump headfirst into the brutally competitive NHRA Pro Stock category, the 40-year-old former NBA power forward has cleared numerous hurdles in his Chevy Cobalt in an effort to create a winning program. After qualifying for six of the seven events he's entered in 2007, Hammonds is confident that the best is yet to come.
"In this class, if you can qualify you can win, and right now we're doing that," said Hammonds. "Jimmy Oliver is making good power for us, but I also think the whole package is coming around, and that's reflected in the quality of runs we're starting to make - it's all getting better. We've learned an extremely large amount since the beginning of the season. I hadn't raced in nearly two-and-a-half years but we've been successful at putting together a good group of people. Jerry Eckman has been doing a good job and it's just taken us a little time to gel together as a team. Our power level has definitely gotten better since the beginning of the year and it will only get better once we get into the shop and get everything running as far as the dyno is concerned. I'm extremely excited about what we've accomplished so far. It's indicative of our potential when we go out in Chicago and run 207 mph when a lot of guys couldn't do that."
Following weeks of non-stop planning it's finally moving day in Crestview, Fla., for Tom Hammonds Racing as the team begins its transition into a brand-new 11,000 square-foot motorsports shop. Trying to make the adjustment into new quarters in the middle of a six-race summer stretch of events that includes the arduous Western Swing promises to be a taxing process.
"We're all excited about the new shop," said Hammonds. "We're moving in now with a lot of equipment coming in the next week or so. I'll be flying back-and-forth a lot between now and the next three races with the goal of getting as much done as possible before we head out on the Western Swing. The next seven or eight weeks, though, are going to be extremely busy, even more so than it is now. But even though we're on the road, Jimmy (Oliver) will still be here putting things in place, and once we get everything up and running we'll be able to go full speed ahead. The shop is going to be big enough for what we want to do, plus, if we need to, there will be room to expand as well. This is a dream come true for me."
A former NBA power forward and two-time all-ACC basketball standout at Georgia Tech (where he averaged 21 points per game during his senior year), Hammonds (nicknamed "The Terminator" during his college playing days) entered his first NHRA Pro Stock race at the 1996 Mile-High Nationals in Denver while still playing with the Nuggets, and qualified for his first 16-car field at Reading (Pa.) in September 1997.
"That seems like a long time ago," commented Hammonds on his first NHRA Pro Stock start. "It was a nerve-racking time thinking I could go out and compete with the best drivers and racers in the world. I was really naïve. I thought I could just come out and automatically be a player. Believe me, I struggled an awful lot, but I learned an awful lot as well throughout that period."
At the time, many of Hammonds' Denver Nuggets teammates were surprised to find out just how much he loved Pro Stock racing, and just how far Hammonds was willing to go to pursue a second career in motorsports. After attending some races with Hammonds they realized this was no passing fad.
"They knew how passionate I was about Pro Stock racing, and cars in general, and that I was going to do what I wanted to do," explained Hammonds. "That was all I talked about during basketball season; was what was going on with the racing scene. They thought I was crazy to love NHRA Pro Stock racing so much until I got a chance to get a couple of teammates out to the races to see what I was actually doing. When I was at Georgia Tech, Coach Cremins hated the weekends we had off because he knew I was out somewhere racing, or watching a race, and he hated that. He always wanted to make sure all of his players were okay, and that's fine, but I was always trying to find a race somewhere.
"I was always a big fan of Pro Stock, ever since I was in high school. It takes an awful lot of skill and finesse to drive a Pro Stock car and that really hooked me at an early age. I loved the class and its icons including Lee Shepherd, Bob Glidden, Frank Iaconio, Warren Johnson and Butch Leal. To me, these were the guys I enjoyed watching and looked up to, and I wanted to some day be a part of that."
When asked to compare the anxiety of his first NHRA contest with his first starts at Georgia Tech and in the NBA, Hammonds replied, "They go 1-A, 1-B and 1-C, with equal emphasis on all three. I don't know if one stands out over the other because they were all nerve racking, but once I got in the car and got some laps under my belt, I felt, not exactly comfortable, but certainly better about what I was doing. It was still a tough situation."
Following his sabbatical from the sport in 2003, Hammonds completed final coursework in the GM Minority Dealer Development Program, and then opened Tom Hammonds Chevrolet in Darlington, S.C., in May of 2004. He sold the dealership in December 2005 to focus full time on his Pro Stock drag racing career.
In September 2006, at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, Hammonds announced his return to the sport with an ambitious target date for his first race the 2007 CarQuest NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. After struggling during the test-and-tune session at February's Pontiac Pro Stock Showdown in Las Vegas, and some serious sole searching, the team postponed the on-track debut of their new race team for two events and entered the ACDelco Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. in March. Hammonds qualified his Chevy Cobalt 15th in the field and rolled to a career-best e.t. and speed of 6.631 seconds at 209.17 mph.
"We weren't ready to compete at the Winternationals," said Hammonds. "We could have gone out, and run up and down the track and may have ended up last on the sheet, but I'm not interested in doing that and my team isn't interested in doing that. It was a tough decision to make, and I want to thank Fred Simmonds and GM for standing behind me for that tough call. I wasn't going to show up for an event if we weren't going to be competitive. Even at our first race at Gainesville, the performance of our Chevy Cobalt was dramatically better, but we still had a long, long way to go."
Since his first race in March, Hammonds and his race team have been slowly sneaking up on a competitive setup and are only 138 points out of the POWERade top 10. Of the seven races they've entered, the only race they've failed to qualify for is the Summit Racing.com Nationals in Las Vegas when he ended time trials 18th. But his Chevy Cobalt has qualified as well as ninth at Topeka (Kan.), and he won his first round of the season last Sunday at the Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals in Chicago when he defeated No. 1 qualifier Greg Anderson in the first heat of eliminations.
"I think our performance in Chicago, and our eventual qualifying position, was not indicative of what this team is capable of doing," said Hammonds. "We didn't make a very good run in the fast session and we ended up 16th and on the bump. With a good run on Friday night we could have finished as high as four or five. Allen Johnson was next to me for the night qualifying session and our Cobalt was a hundredth quicker to the 60-foot. The car made a hard move to the wall, and I had to get out of it and get back into it. We still made a qualifying run, but a good clean run would have positioned better.
"I'm extremely confident that we'll get better as the season progresses, especially if you could have seen where we were building our engines and where we were running our program before. At the same time, we have great people and they're doing an excellent job. There's no question that our performance will get better as the season moves forward."
Hammonds will be making his 90th career start in Englishtown (N.J.), and during the past 10 years he's come a long way since deciding to turn a serious muscle-car/weekend-warrior racing hobby into a full-fledged second career as an NHRA Pro Stock driver.
"I've learned an awful lot from my very first race to where I am now and what it takes to be successful in this sport," said Hammonds. "I thought I could go from basketball to my very first race and be competitive, and I was sorely wrong. Now that I've experienced some of the bumps and bruises that this sport has thrown at me, it's been a curve that's allowed me to learn what it takes to be successful in this sport. I thought it took something different than what I was doing playing basketball, but now I've learned it's very similar; it requires teamwork, dedication and the willingness to make sacrifices. You have to have the right team behind you in order to be successful.
"I believe in God and I have faith, but if you don't work hard to achieve your goals then you won't succeed. If you do that, the results will come. I believe you can accomplish anything in life and everyone on this team is pulling in the same direction with that philosophy in mind. I didn't expect to win right out of the box because a lot has changed since I raced last. But I believe that I have the best engine builder in the country, I think have one of the best crews in the country, and even though we didn't think we'd win right away, we feel now that we can. NHRA Pro Stock racing is what we do now, 24/7, and believe me, we're excited about being out here. We're going to compete and we're going to win races. I don't want to be just a spoiler. I want to contend for the championship and my guys believe that we can do it."
-credit: gm racing