Martino DQ = More Questions then Answers!       

Canada’s Mark Martino was on the event ride of his life yesterday during NHRA’s Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd.   Unfortunately there was a very controversial premature ending to that quest….

Mark was behind the wheel of the Ontario-based Martino Motorsports GXP Pro Stocker and was entered in NHRA national event competition for the first time armed with a Victor Cagnazzi engine program and new association with Charter Communications.  That team and alliance quickly proved itself as they were right in the mix of competition from Friday’s first qualifying session on.

Ultimately Mark qualified #12 with a 6.602 secs to enter Sunday’s final eliminations solidly entrenched in the field.  In round one Mark left on opponent Greg Anderson (.023 to .070) and took that match easily using a 6.599 secs at 207.30 mph to win.  Anderson was forced to abort his run in the Summit Racing Equipment Camaro.

In the second round Mark again left on his opponent – beating Larry Morgan’s Lucas Oil Mustang out of the gate (.024 to .031).  That led to an apparent winning 6.587 to 6.624 secs decision which would have advanced him to his first career semi final round in NHRA racing.

But shortly after that — everything changed.  His team pulled in for the mandatory post race weighing but was then shocked when NHRA officials told him his car had failed that and that they were re-instating Morgan back into competition.   That development completely blindsided Martino and his group. 

In situations like this things can become heated quickly and NHRA’s reputation does unfortunately precede itself.   Realizing soon that his protests would be futile, Martino then did the only thing he could – walk away

“I think there was something wrong with their scale,” said Martino.  “We are always very careful with the weight of the car and in the morning when we scaled it, it “flickered” but showed to be 5 lbs heavy at 2355 lbs.   There was no issue with the car’s weight after winning round one and we did nothing to change the car for round number two.  The fuel was topped right up both times.  But somehow after beating Larry the car was 2345 according to NHRA.  I asked them to re-weigh the back of the car – but they refused.”  

“It’s a real shame that our event effort had to end like this because I felt I was driving well and our crew chief Brian Self was making some great calls,” Mark added.  “Rules are rules and this is part of drag racing – but I want everyone to understand that there was absolutely no effort on our part to cheat in any way or form.  I am however very disappointed and I guess I learned something that I will take away.  Instead we are going into Indy all pumped up because I think we have all our ducks in a row.”

While Mark’s comments above are politically correct for obvious reasons – I’m not sure the story should end there – but I guess it has too.

There will undoubtedly be some “conspiracy theorists” on various message boards out there with more covert ideas as to what really happened.  Some will cite similar NHRA inconsistencies like this in the past and some will point to the fact this was a Lucas sponsored race and that Larry Morgan’s Lucas sponsored car is in a very tight battle for the final countdown spot in Pro Stock.  But, again I will not go there.  

For me my biggest concern instead revolves around one major stinging point.   According to observers the team was not allowed by NHRA officials to actually view the scale’s meter to verify the violation weight — despite repeated requests for exactly that.  If that is policy — that is pretty suspect policy.  So unless somehow Mark became very dehydrated between the first and second round of Pro Stock competition (about 75 minutes) and lost about five pounds (step aside Slimfast!) — NHRA’s position does not hold water (pardon the pun). 

Mark Martino showed great restraint by just walking away from that no-win situation and showing everyone he truly is a Pro.  Unfortunately after this episode I’m not so sure the same can be said for NHRA’s technical staff.  In fact if I was a Pro Stock racer I might be nervous because an injustice like this could happen to pretty much anyone (with no recourse) and who’s next?  

Posted by:  Bruce Biegler

Photo by:  Jim Kampmann