NHRA: Amato Making Top Fuel Championship Battle a Three Wide Affair
28 October 1998BAYTOWN, Texas -- Just when the NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship chase looked like it was going to turn into a sprint to the finish between the powerful red cars of Gary Scelzi and Cory McClenathan, Joe Amato decided to once again make it a three-man race.
Amato's recent victory at Memphis, his fourth of the season in six final round appearances, put his Tenneco Automotive team back within striking range of winning an unprecedented sixth Winston Top Fuel championship.
He hopes a similar showing at the second annual Matco Tools Supernationals, Oct. 29-Nov. 1 at Houston Raceway Park can move him even closer to his goal. The $1.7-million race is the 21st of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
"We got sidetracked for a few races but I think Jimmy Prock has the car back on track," said Amato, who trails leader Scelzi by 137 points. "Having one good race doesn't make you a champion by any means, but it helps. We needed that win and now I feel like we're on track with our late season comeback. We were closer in the points chase at Indy than we are now, but we got behind the eight-ball a little bit. I think we've recovered now and there's still time left. We hope to make the best of it."
The three-way battle has the makings of the greatest Top Fuel points chase in NHRA history.
"We're going to try and play hardball and bring the big hammer," Amato said. "That's all you can do. There's some really tough competitors out there and we realize that. If we can perform like we did at Memphis I don't think we'll have any problems. Jimmy made the right calls on the tuneup and the car went down the racetrack four times on Sunday. That's what you've got to have. We've earned the 'Prock Rocket' image over the years, but I think right now he's learned that a consistent car that can run four solid rounds will beat a car that's only going to make one out of this world pass."
With five championships in his back pocket and so many years of experience under his belt, some feel that Amato may hold a little bit of an advantage over Scelzi and McClenathan. He says each season presents its own unique set of challenges and past accomplishments really don't matter.
"This is such a mental roller coaster," Amato said. "You have so many ups and downs that you have to learn how to adapt and go with the flow. We're having a lot of fun out here and that's the biggest thing. If we can't win the championship, we're still going to have a lot of fun being a part of it and making it exciting for the fans."
"I like my chances," Amato continued. "The other guys are running good too, so we don't have that much of an advantage. We'll just see how see how everything works out. Bottom line is that by Pomona somebody's going to be smiling and somebody's going to be crying. I don't want to be the guy crying."
He likes his team's chances at HRP. In March, Amato drove his dragster to a then record-setting elapsed time of 4.539 seconds on the ultra-fast quarter-mile.
"Houston is one of those fast Texas tracks that you can really post a number on," Amato said. "If we really get our act together, we might be able to set the national record again. It was really fast there this spring and I think if the weather cooperates this time around we could see some quicker numbers. I'd also love to get the overall speed record back from Force, so over the winter a Top Fuel dragster can have the bragging rights to the 'King of Speed' title. Houston is a great place to do it. If we can get our combination worked out and get the four-barrel kicked in, it'll be hang on Snoopy."