Author: Littlefield, Brad
Date published: April 22, 2011
It's not how you start, it's how you finish. Tony Bartone gave proof to the old adage when he started slow but proceeded to dominate at the 12th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals.
Before Bartone went on to score his second national event win of the season driving his Centre Pointe Collision Mustang, he wasn't a safe bet to qualify following his efforts in the first two sessions on Friday, but he didn't back down Rick Jackson's Steve Boggs-tuned entry and went to the No. 1 spot with an impressive 5.62, 257-mph run.
Bartone was glued into the 5.60s with one exception, a pedaling 5.77 in the second round when the team underestimated track conditions early Sunday. His best qualifying effort and his three representative laps in eliminations, 5.62, 5.63, and 5.62, were quicker than what anyone else ran all weekend.
"We had a weak qualifying effort in day one, but we had it together when it counted on Saturday and Sunday," said Bartone. "It ran pretty consistent in eliminations except for the one lap when the car hit the tires, and I had to pedal it."
Going into the semifinals against Pomona final-round opponent Doug Gordon and into the final round against Brian Hough, Bartone stayed grounded and focused despite having the fastest car on the property.
"I've been racing a long time, and anything can happen," said Bartone. "I was nervous in the semifinals and finals. You always pray that you have your stuff together."
Gordon gave Bartone his best race of the weekend in a side-by-side effort that Bartone won by six-hundredths. A rejuvenated Hough had been only a tick off from Bartone on race day, but he shook the tires in the final, and Bartone streaked to victory.
Bartone is undefeated in his first two national event starts of the season, which gives him some ammunition in his quest for the national championship despite the fact that he hasn't won on the divisional level yet. Having been in title fights before, the 1996 Top Alcohol Funny Car champion knows not to look too far ahead.
"We kind of do one race at a time," said Bartone. "It's certainly a good national event start, and we are trying to keep our consistency."
Bartone thanked sponsors Centre Pointe Collision Centers, Red Line Oil, Hussey Performance, Roger Dean Automotive, and DMPE; car owner Jackson; Boggs; tuning consultant Darren Mayer; and crewmembers Chris Perl, Lew Larsen, Scott Manning Javier Gonzalez, and Casey Suzuki. It was a big team outing because several friends and family members came out to support Jackson, who won the inaugural Las Vegas event in 2000 with Rod Alexander driving, and Bartone's mother, Martha, joined him.
Bartone isn't thrown off by the similarities between the start of the 2011 season and the 2009 season, when he won the Pomona and Las Vegas events but fell off after that.
"We have a different race car," said Bartone. "We have a better race car. We've been together as a crew now for three seasons. We have all the makings to keep it going."
The key race: Bartone was pretty much untouchable in three out of the four rounds of eliminations. The only exception was the second round, where he shook the tires and pedaled, but Bret Williamson spun the tires off the starting line and was unable to take advantage.
The runner-up: Hough is a regular in the top 10 and a six-time Division 6 champion, including the last five consecutive titles. His successful outing is a morale booster for the team after a season opener in which separate misfortunes prevented him from taking a green light in either of the two qualifying sessions, causing him to DNQ in a short field. Hough is continuing to unlock the performance potential of his brand-new McKinney race car.
Fast facts: Keeter Ray made his season debut after new crew chief Randy Goodwin made several changes to his race car. Clint Thompson unveiled a brandnew Bob and Greg Miner-built chassis. Gordon has five round-wins in his last two national event appearances at The Strip; in his previous 11 such starts, he was snakebitten with a total of two round-wins and three DNQs. Alexis DeJoria, who posted a surprising DNQ, stayed in Las Vegas to test her car the following weekend and match racing against Bucky Austin's nostalgia Funny Car. Following the event, NHRA prohibited the use of automated rpm control devices during the starting/launching procedures (except for automatic transmission/converter-equipped entries), such as the two-step device that Bartone has been utilizing this season. Bartone responded by saying, "I find it very odd that they chose to allow it in a number of categories besides alcohol. But, hey, we're big boys. We ran good with it and ran good without it. As a matter of fact, we ran quicker and faster without it."
Did you know: Bartone began racing a nitro-burning, front-engine dragster late last season that is also tuned by Boggs. He qualified No. 4 in Nostalgia Top Fuel at the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series event in Bakersfield in early March even though he is yet to drive the entry all the way through the lights under power.
Quotable: "Steve is a pioneer. He's a leader. He's a tuner. He understands the application of the motor, clutch, and tires. He understands the totality of the race car in a way that might be unmatched." - Bartone, on crew chief Steve Boggs