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NHRA: Amato Likes his Chances at National Trail Raceway

11 June 1998

HEBRON, Ohio -- No longer will Joe Amato's Top Fuel dragster be recognized as a one dimensional machine. In past seasons, especially 1997, Amato's car was known throughout the pits as one that could post out of this world numbers if conditions were perfect. However, throw a little heat into the picture where the track gets just a bit slippery and Amato's chances mostly went up in smoke, as his dragster would lose traction.

After an off-season of hard work by chief tuner Jimmy Prock and crew, Amato's Tenneco Automotive dragster has emerged with a new personality. It's adapting to every type of weather situation.

Amato, 53, of Exeter, Pa., will need that kind of versatile performance availability if he's to be successful at the 34th annual Pontiac Excitement Nationals presented by Summit Racing, June 11-14 at historic National Trail Raceway near Columbus, Ohio. The $1.6 million race is the 10th of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Conditions there at this time of year are often very unpredictable, ranging from unseasonably cool to extremely hot.

But whatever the condition, the five-time NHRA Winston champion will be ready.

"You have to be able to get the car down the track under any conditions, that's what drag racing is all about," said Amato. "I think that's an area where our team has matured and got race-smart. We've always had a fast car. Last year we had a fast car but didn't win the championship because we got into the heat of the summer and smoked the tires a lot. Now we're learning how to control the power."

According to Amato's 1997 statistics the team was 0 for 19 in successfully navigating the track when the conditions were less than favorable. All that has changed this year. Amato has reclaimed his position as driver of the quickest and fastest Top Fuel dragster, posting a 4.523 second elapsed-time at Gainesville, Fla. in March, and a 323.50 mph blast at Englishtown, N.J. in mid-May. He's won two of three finals and trails Cory McClenathan by 45 points in the Winston championship chase.

"We've really got a little bit of a handle on the car during the last few races," said Amato, who posted wins at Dallas' Texas Motorplex and New Jersey's Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. "However, in this business you're only as good as your next race. We're just trying to keep our nose to the grindstone and keep paying attention to what we're doing. We want to be steady, consistent and keep winning rounds and hopefully win another Winston championship."

* Favorite track? Joe Amato says he really enjoys racing at National Trail Raceway, a facility where he's advanced to six final rounds over the years. He says he's especially looking forward to competing there with the recent improvements that have been made to the facility.

"I've always liked Columbus," Amato said. "It's sort of close to home and it's always been a fun place to go. I think that's one of the hotbeds of NHRA Winston Drag Racing in the country. It's a great drag racing crowd."