Author: Littlefield, Brad
Date published: May 20, 2011
Tony Bartone and the Centre Pointe Collision team have had trouble mastering the racing surface at Royal Purple Raceway this season, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the final results. Bartone caught some breaks to score a runner-up finish at the Division 4 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series season opener in early March, but he was unable to reach the finish line under power during qualifying for the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil.
As bleak as it may have looked when Bartone ended qualifying at the bottom of the sheet in the short field, crew chief Steve Boggs found his raceday tune-up at the eleventh hour, and Bartone picked a great time to cut his best light of the weekend. They finally got Rick Jackson's orange Mustang down the track in 5.61 seconds in round one, and Bartone's .037 light was enough to withstand No. 2 qualifier John Lombardo Jr., who made the best run of the event in the opposite lane.
"Thank goodness it was a 13-car field," said Bartone. "There were a couple of times this year where I got key lights to keep us in the race with holeshot wins. In this sport, if you don't get one holeshot win, it takes the win out of the equation and you go home."
The apex of Bartone's turning point was exceptionally sharp. Not only did that holeshot win keep him in the race, it gave him a single in the second round, during which he was unable to maintain traction. Boggs got the car sorted out for the semifinals against defending event winner Mickey Ferro, and Bartone ran a strong 5.60 to advance to the final round with lane choice.
"Mickey is a personal friend of mine and has a great car, but racing is racing," said Bartone.
Bartone's team set its car up to repeat in a final round against Steve Burck. Burck and his ARC Specialties team thrashed to turn their car around for the final after going into the sand trap at the end of his semifinal victory over Todd Veney. Burck's valiant effort ended at the hands of Bartone, who stepped up to a 5.58 at 262 mph.
"It was remarkable that they were even able to come back," said Bartone. "He went into the sand after his chutes deployed but didn't blossom. They went into the sand trap, but they seemed to come out in good enough shape to come back for the final. That was good for them. The atmospheric conditions were getting cooler, and the track was getting a little tighter. We tried to make it repeat, and it went .58 instead of .60. That was a crazy weekend. We didn't qualify well and maybe wouldn't have qualified in a 16-car field. To go rounds and win the thing, that was great."
Regardless of how he got there, Bartone had a strong car in the late rounds on Sunday and earned the 34th win of his career and his fifth at Royal Purple Raceway. Bartone thanked sponsors 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, and Javier Gonzalez. Bartone's win was his third in three tries this season, giving him some ammunition in his battle for the season title.
"That's what we call a good start," said Bartone.
The key race: Bartone's holeshot win over Lombardo in the first round was critical in the outcome of the race. "It doesn't always work out like that," said Bartone. "That time, we were able to get around Lombardo, who was really the only threat of the race. They had the short end of the stick that day. I've been there myself."
The runner-up: Burck used consistency to earn the first final-round berth of his career. The driver from nearby Corpus Christi, Texas, and crew chief Tony Garanzuay were able to qualify No. 7 and fend off tough competitors Lee Callaway, Jay Payne, and Todd Veney. The crew did an impressive job of turning the ARC Specialties Camaro around for the final round despite having gone into the sand in the semifinals.
Fast facts: Three of the 12 side-by-side races in eliminations were determined by holeshots. ... Bryan Brown made his national event debut in the EmpireIronWorks.com Monte Carlo. The class rookie is the son of veteran Burl Brown, who was the 2010 JEGS Allstars representative for Division 4. ... Vern Moats, the Kendall-sponsored driver who has been driving Alcohol Funny Cars since before the class' inception, made his season debut.
Did you know: This is Bartone's sixth season with three or more wins and first such season since he ran Top Alcohol Dragster in 2003. Bartone spent his time driving Jim Dunn's Funny Car between 2004 and 2008 before he began driving for Jackson.
Quotable: "It took us a number of laps to come up with the ol' race-day tune-up, and we developed it on race day, which was almost too late but not quite." - Bartone ND