Pomona, California, February 7, 1999 - At every stop on the twenty-two race NHRA circuit, efforts are made to ensure that the quarter-mile track on which participants race is as level as possible. However, following this past weekend's AutoZone...
Pomona, California, February 7, 1999 - At every stop on the twenty-two race NHRA circuit, efforts are made to ensure that the quarter-mile track on which participants race is as level as possible. However, following this past weekend's AutoZone Winternationals, CENTURY 21 Racing team driver Tom Martino would probably be willing to swear that the Pomona Raceway facility on which the event was held had a configuration similar to the treacherous mountains of Pikes Peak. From his arrival on Wednesday, Martino faced a series of uphill battles throughout the weekend, which hampered his chances of making Sunday's final eliminations. Still, their resolve never wavered, and the determined Martino crew worked feverishly in search of the right combination. However, even though their Pro Stock Firebird showed improvement with each pass down the racetrack, when qualifying was completed on Saturday afternoon, their best elapsed time of 7.008 seconds found them just outside of the top sixteen necessary to gain a position on the eliminations ladder.
"This was a tough weekend for the entire CENTURY 21 Pro Stock Firebird team," said Martino. "You expect to have some teething pains with a new car, but what we experienced here was way out of the ordinary. Even so, we will derive some value from this race. We gathered a lot of valuable information, which we will be able to use in the future."
The weekend before the Pomona event, Martino and many of the Pro Stock contingent had participated in an informal pre-season test-and-tune session at Houston Raceway Park. Even though he was primarily interested in sorting out his new racecar, Martino displayed mid-season driving form, scoring two "hole-shot" wins enroute to a final round appearance. But things were not as good as this performance would indicate.
NHRA officials had hinted that they might have a problem with the latest "doorslammers" produced by noted builder Rick Jones. Although they were unable to provide specific information as to the potential violation, they indicated that three cars, namely those of Tom Martino, Mike Edwards and defending champion Warren Johnson, might not receive approval to compete in California. Therefore, as soon as Martino arrived at Pomona Raceway on Wednesday, he wheeled the CENTURY 21 Firebird to the inspection lanes hoping to get an answer. But night fell with the Martino crew having no new information.
It was not until late Thursday morning that the official decision was made that all three cars could not race in their current configuration. Although the Martino crew immediately went to work on their back-up car, the other competitors did not have that option, and lobbied for concessions that would allow them back on the track. Finally, after developing a makeshift template, the NHRA gave those involved some guidelines on how to bring their vehicles into compliance. Unfortunately, this involved cutting the rear quarter panels on these pristine racecars. Preferring to run their primary car, the Martino crew reluctantly performed the same modification, and their CENTURY 21 Firebird was finally certified for competition late in the afternoon. Almost appropriately, the day came to a close with the first qualifying session canceled due to rain.
Weather also played a role on Friday, as showers delayed proceedings for over an hour. In fact, only moments before Martino was to make his run a short drizzle interrupted the Pro Stock qualifying round. This brief sprinkle may have wreaked havoc on Martino's electrical system, as a miss forced him to shut off, aborting the run. Saturday brought their first full-powered attempts, but even a full hundredth of a second improvement in the afternoon session fell just short of making Sunday's field.
"There were several factors that hurt us this weekend," explained Martino. "For the first two days, we were unable to focus on preparing one car, since we weren't sure which one we'd be allowed to race. On top of that, losing Thursday's session took away important data on the track and our car, so we were playing catch-up after that. As close as the competition is in Pro Stock, that's a tough spot to be in. But we're not going to dwell on this, because we know this team is better than we showed. We're going to dig in and work even harder over the next few weeks to make sure this CENTURY 21 Firebird flies in Phoenix!"