Bartone proving to be a perfect fit for WWF
By Rob Geiger, NHRA.com
One could scour the ranks of eligible drivers competing in NHRA drag racing and never find as perfect a fit as former Federal-Mogul Funny Car champ Tony Bartone and World Wrestling Federation Racing team owner and driver Jerry Toliver. It seems as though Bartone, a 44-year-old pro from Manhasset, N.Y., came straight out of central casting and landed right where he belongs -- at the side of the brash-talking Toliver and his WWF Racing cronies.
"It's true," said Bartone, a 25-time national event winner. "Jerry and I are very much alike, especially as far as our personalities go. And the way we are fits in well with the WWF, which by the way is the best sponsor in the world. We couldn't ask for a better relationship all the way around.
"Life with Jerry is great. I like him immensely. Now, if we can get this car of mine running better, I'm sure he'll start to like me a little more. I'm loving where I'm at and I know the performance will come. I like everyone in this group from the folks at WWF on down. I sincerely mean that."
"What we're aiming to do here is have two identical cars so our team of crew chiefs and mechanics can fully realize all of the benefits of a two-car team," said Bartone. "We have a saying: two cars, one team. We need to add a second part that says 'two cars, one tune-up.'
"I don't mind tellin' ya I'm a little disappointed with our performance so far. (Bartone qualified 16th in Pomona and recorded a DNQ in Phoenix.) But we have a strong team here, I'm still confident in my driving ability, and the tune-up is really coming around. We'll be a contender very shortly."
Learning the ropes
"You really have to manhandle these nitro cars," Bartone said. "Without a doubt you have to do a lot more steering in these things. Plus the car moves much harder and faster than the alcohol car and it's not nearly as forgiving. If you get an inch out of the groove with a nitro car, chances are you're losing traction.
"Procedurally, you are much busier in an alcohol car once they drop the body and the ride is very different. Before I ever made Lap No. 1 in the nitro car I think the popular consensus was that the two cars are about the same to 330 feet. I don't agree. I think they might be the same to about 60 feet but then this nitro car really starts to haul the groceries. I mean things are happening very fast in there. It's a total rush and I love it."
Including all of his testing and licensing laps, Bartone figures he has made about 30 passes in his new car and feels confident that he has mentally caught up to the increased speed. "By the time we arrived in Phoenix for the race, I was ready," he said. "Unfortunately, we ran a 4.99-second lap and didn't make the show because it was the quickest 16-car field ever but we have to be better than we were and be ready to rise to the occasion.
"I was expecting the noise of a nitro car to be the biggest thing to get used to. I thought it would intimidate me a little. But once you get your helmet on and get buttoned up, you're so busy doing your job that you don't even have time to think about the noise. Really, everything is pretty much how I imagined it would be except I love it more than I ever thought possible."
Stepping up to the plate
"We're pulling out all the stops in Gainesville," Bartone said. "We've got a new Wrestlemania body the fans are going go nuts about and we're also bringing a renewed, mean and bad WWF Attitude with us. We'll be ready to rock.
"Let's face it, the competition in the nitro Funny Car class this year is tougher than it's been in quite awhile. Only the strong teams will survive and we are definitely a strong team. I want to help Jerry realize his goals and I'd love to see our car win a few races and get in the top five of the points. That would be a helluva year for me in my opinion."
Just for fun
"He's a little bigger than me so I might have to blindside him," Bartone said with a laugh. "He might be 50 but he's a stout guy for 50-years-old. I'm not that far behind him in that regard. If it came down to it I'd probably have to do the New York Shuffle on him."
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