Author: Burgess, Phil
Date published: April 6, 2012
They say any win is a good win, but when it came time to present the Wally trophy to the Comp winner at the JEGS NHRA Cajun SPORTSnationals, there couldn't have been a more grateful guy than Arnie Martel.
Whether it's been struggles the last few years to manage the size and logistics of a growing team, a blown engine in the quarterfinals, or the persistent and nearly crippling kidney pain he has suffered the last five or six months, the Tewksbury, Mass., racer has been through the wringer. After winning four national events in 2008, he'd won just once until he finally cashed in again at No Problem Raceway Park.
I've been trying to downsize to concentrate on being a better driver; bigger ain't better, he acknowledged. I've just been going in too many different directions the last couple of years. Between that and the weather this year in Division 2 and little breakage biting me in the ass, it's already been a tough year. I've been driving good but not winning, and I'm scratching my head
Plus, my kidneys have been killing me, and it's worse when I drive this car just because of the way I sit in it. It's like being in a torture chamber. Once I'm in that thing and see the Tree and mat it, everything goes away - I could be upside-down and on fire - but getting in and getting out is tough.
Martel reached the final round, the 17th of his career, by fending off four pursuing dragsters, beginning with Mark Kirkman's 205- mph A/DA in a race that forced Martel to spend .06-second in Competition Index Control penalty to hold him off.
It's impossible to see out of this car - I was whomping the throttle every round to stay ahead - but even after that hit, I felt I could go .62-.63 under and felt I had enough left to still win the race.
Martel then beat Will Hatcher's B/DA and Jim Kimbrough's C/DA to reach the semifinals but at the cost of a blown engine against Kimbrough (see The key race).
Martel's crew - Fred and Larry Allen and Zack Rausch - not only changed the engine in just 25 minutes but still went fast the next round with a (-.50) 7.58 to bet Joey Tanksley's (-.51) 6.82 thanks to Martel's better light.
After all of that drama, the final was somewhat anticlimactic; low qualifier Kevin Self, who had burned through .11-second in CIC penalties, went red with a -.003 foul against Martel.
I figured the pressure was on him depending on how much he wanted to use to win, said Martel. It was getting dark out, and the Tree was so bright, but it played out pretty good for me. I want to thank Kevin and his team for a great race. They're all good guys.
Winning felt really good. I got 50 or 60 phone calls after I won, and a lot of people went on Inside Comp Racing [message board] to congratulate me. I tried to call most of the people back, but I can't get back to everyone, but I want to let everyone know that I appreciate the calls and kind words.
Hopefully, I'm back on path here and lean and mean. I'm coming out swinging this year. Let everyone know.
The key race: I kicked a rod at 1,000 feet against Kimbrough in the third round, said Martel. I did the burnout, and it didn't feel right, and the car was struggling to leave. I had just started whomping the throttle at the top end when I felt the engine go and was just saying 'C'mon baby, c'mon' and watching him in the mirror coming on. It was really tight.
The runner-up: Self has won two national events in his career, both of them at this event, back to back in 2008 and 2009. The Caddo, Okla., racer, son of former Comp racer and 1969 U.S. Nationals winner Glen Self, qualified No. 1 and raced past Grant Lewis, Keith Hall, and Craig Bourgeois to reach the final, the fourth of his career.
Fast facts: Two NHRA national records were broken in Comp at the event: Hall shattered the old E/SM mark of 8.67 with an 8.51, and Justin Rosen lowered the J/D mark by more than a tenth with a 7.64. On the not-so-great news front, runner-up Self dinged the F/EA index by a hundredth, lowering it to 8.45 (5.37 eighth-mile). The best reaction time of eliminations was a .002, recorded by Jim Greenheck in a losing firstround battle with Kimbrough.
Did you know: After losing the first two final rounds of his career - both in Super Stock, including at the 1990 U.S. Nationals - Martel won 10 of his first 11 Comp finals (including the first six straight) and now has won 12 of 15 final rounds in the class.
Quotable: This car is a rare breed. It 60- foots [at] 1.01, 1.02, 1.03; it's unheard of. We really stumbled onto something with this car. I can't get rid of it. It's starting to get beat up and nasty looking like an old rag doll, but it's probably something they're going to put me in the ground with. It's a great car. - Martel