Parsippany, New Jersey, March 15, 1999 - The middle of March marks the beginning of an annual tradition known as "Spring Break". Hundreds of thousands of college students from across the country flock to Florida to bask in the sun and party. ...
Parsippany, New Jersey, March 15, 1999 - The middle of March marks the beginning of an annual tradition known as "Spring Break". Hundreds of thousands of college students from across the country flock to Florida to bask in the sun and party. Tom Martino and the CENTURY 21( Pro Stock Racing team shall also be heading to the Sunshine State this week, but there will be no relaxation or reveling involved. Their trip will be strictly business, as they look to take on what promises to be one of the largest Pro Stock fields of the year at the 30th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.
"Gainesville Raceway is one of the best tracks we race on, and if the conditions are right, this could be the fastest field in the history of Pro Stock, with 6.8's and low 6.9's being the norm," said Martino. "With only four chances to qualify you need to be on your game right out of the box. There's no room for experimentation here."
The last three weeks have been rather hectic in the Martino camp as they prepared for this event. Immediately upon their return from Arizona, their primary racecar was sent to the body shop to be repainted, since it had arrived in Phoenix from car builder Rick Jones with only black primer on its rear quarter panels. With that vehicle out of service until just before the Gainesville race, the team focused on their second Firebird. While it was rewired from front to back, Martino and crew chief Tom Kling worked on their arsenal of race engines, balancing that assignment with their workload from their "regular" jobs at Jesel Valvetrain Innovation. By the end of the week, the crew was in Darlington for a one-day test.
Once back in their New Jersey shop, information gathered during the South Carolina trials was analyzed and assimilated into their pre-race routine. Long hours were again spent on the dynamometer. The racecar was serviced and checked. The transporter was gone over and restocked for the upcoming event. Finally, the CENTURY 21( team headed south for test sessions in Darlington and Bradenton, Florida prior to their arrival in Gainesville.
"We have been working non-stop since Phoenix to establish a consistent baseline that we work from at the races," explained Martino. "We're still working on finding the adjustments necessary to make this new car run. Our dynamometer tests show it's not a problem with horsepower. We need to figure out how to get it to the ground, and that's what we're hoping to do by testing. We plan to be in the thick of things in Gainesville."
Doing well in Florida would have extra significance to this New Jersey-based team. The Gainesville event is one of oldest and most prestigious on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing circuit, traditionally marking the start of the racing season on the East Coast. Prior to donning their helmets for the first time, many of today's participants, including a young Tom Martino, came to this venerable facility each year to watch their heroes compete and dream of doing the same one day. A Gatornationals win is a cherished addition to any drag racer's resume.
"Our game plan is simple," stated Martino. "First, we are going to focus on making one run at a time. We want to start with four solid passes in qualifying, and hopefully place our CENTURY 21( Firebird in the top half of the field. After that, we want to go some rounds in eliminations on Sunday. Quite simply, we want to put ourselves in position to win, which I know we can do. This is one of our favorite tracks, and winning here would be awesome."
MARTINO MOMENTS: This will be Tom's fourth Pro Stock appearance at Gainesville Raceway .....If conditions are right, Tom and the rest of the Pro Stock contingent will look to join the Speed-Pro 200 mile-per-hour club, which added two members here last year....Tom looks to improve upon his quarter-final finish at this event (accomplished in 1996 & 1998).
WHAT: 30th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, the third event on the 22-race 1999 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series Schedule.
WHEN: March 18-21, 1999
WHERE: Gainesville Raceway, Gainesville, Florida
SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions start on Friday, March 19 with two sessions at 10:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m., and conclude on Saturday, March 20 with two rounds at 11:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, March 21.
TV: ESPN2 will provide an hour of qualifying highlights on Friday, March 19 from 5-6 p.m., with two hours of final round coverage from 6-8 p.m. on Sunday, March 21. (All times Eastern) As always, please check your local listings.