MARTINO MAKES PROGRESS IN PHOENIX CHANDLER, Ariz., February 22, 1998 - An NHRA Pro Stock racecar is a complex machine comprised of many parts. When properly set-up and driven, it is capable of incredible speeds, and is a formidable opponent on...
MARTINO MAKES PROGRESS IN PHOENIX
CHANDLER, Ariz., February 22, 1998 - An NHRA Pro Stock racecar is a complex machine comprised of many parts. When properly set-up and driven, it is capable of incredible speeds, and is a formidable opponent on the racetrack. These "factory hot rods", as they are known, provide the closest competition in all of drag racing. Maximum performance is demanded from driver and vehicle on every run. To succeed, a team must be able to make the changes necessary to adjust their mount to the conditions in a quest for speed. Unlike a passenger car, however, there is no owner's manual. This crucial knowledge is obtained solely through experience, and every racecar is different. At the ATSCO Nationals at Firebird International Raceway, Tom Martino and his Six Flags Racing team continued their learning process with their new Firebird. Throughout the weekend, changes were made, and improvements obtained with every run. Their schooling came to an abrupt halt in the first round of eliminations, as, ironically, they faced the "Professor of Pro Stock", 3-time champion Warren Johnson. Although the Six Flags Thrill Machine was able to gain an early lead, Johnson posted the quickest elapsed time of the round and edged Martino for the win.
"WJ is the toughest competitor in the Pro Stock division, and we knew it would take a perfect run by our Six Flags Thrill Machine to beat him," explained Martino. "We had made a lot of changes to our Firebird after qualifying, and it helped -it drove straight down the track. I was able to get a good jump on him at the start, but we were a little off on our clutch set-up, and that preventing us from putting him away."
As it had in Pomona, rain played a major factor in the qualifying process. After a downpour canceled Friday's sessions, competitors were left with but two chances to make Sunday's field. However, despite the best efforts of track officials, a treacherous left lane in Saturday morning's session prevented any Pro Stock competitor on that side, including Six Flags pilot Tom Martino, from posting an elapsed time fast enough to qualify. As they pushed their Pro Stock Firebird to the staging lanes for the afternoon run, the team was well aware of the situation. Thirty-three cars for sixteen spots. One pass to either make it or go home. As one of the later teams in the round, the Martino crew knew precisely what time they needed to run. The yellow and purple Six Flags Thrill Machine launched well, and stormed down the track. Halfway through the run, however, the car veered to the right, and it took all of Martino's considerable skills to keep the car headed for the finish line. Martino and crew were rewarded for their efforts when his 7.036-second elapsed time was good enough to capture the sixteenth qualifying position and set-up the first round confrontation with Johnson.
"This Six Flags Pro Stock Pontiac certainly lived up to its name, because that was a thrilling run!" said Martino. "We're still trying to establish what this Thrill Machine is looking for. Right now, it's light on the clutch at the start, and heavy down track, which throws it around. In that second pass, it was a handful, but I was determined to keep it on the track, and put it in the field for Sunday. We're pretty excited by our season so far. We haven't yet reached our potential, and we're qualifying. We're ahead of last year, and we've had good power, which is encouraging for our engine program. This is one thrill ride that is just getting started!"
In Sunday's final, Warren Johnson defeated reigning Pro Stock champion Jim Yates to gain his first win of the season, and his first ever at Firebird International Raceway. The NHRA now takes next weekend off before heading to Gainesville, Florida for the Mac Tools Gatornationals March 5-8.