Toliver wants to make racing fun again
Chicago, pre-race: Rockstar Energy Drink Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car driver Jerry Toliver is smiling once again. After struggling during the early part of the season the California native is on the verge of turning his season around after a quarterfinal finish in Topeka last Sunday. He aims to keep that momentum going at this weekend's Route 66 NHRA Nationals, the 10th stop on the 24-race NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series tour.
With nine races to go in the NHRA regular season, Toliver realizes that it's time to start making a move if he wants to be part of the Countdown to the Championship, which begins for the top-10 drivers following the U.S. Nationals Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis.
"Our car was front-halfed by Murf McKinney following a pair of wheelstands in Bristol two races ago," said Toliver. "We didn't change anything else on the Rockstar Energy Drink Dodge, but for some reason it really seemed to come around in Topeka. After an engine explosion in the first round of qualifying the car made it down the track in the heat on five consecutive runs and we were extremely encouraged by our performance."
Toliver earned his first round win of the season in Topeka and moved up to 16th in the point standings as he continues to claw his way toward the top 10 and a chance to qualify for the Countdown. "One round isn't a season," Toliver admitted, "but it was huge for this team. It was way too late in coming. We just want to keep on working and try and get this thing better and better. We haven't been that far off. It's ironic that the race track we go to and qualify in the top half really didn't make a difference as far as lane choice went.
"This is a good team," Toliver stated bluntly. "We have good funding and good resources and we're starting to get this thing on track. It's just taken longer than we hoped or wished or planned. I think for the crew, and especially for me, we’re going to start having fun. Hopefully that will lighten things up for everybody. We just need to keep marching on as a team and realize that there's going to be more wins out there; we just have to get ourselves on track.
"Qualifying well on Friday, like we did in Topeka (No. 6), gives you confidence going into Saturday. It gives you a pretty good assurance that you're not going to get bumped out of the show. Therefore, you can relax a little bit and try some things that you wouldn't be able to try or do if you weren't qualified in the top 12, and especially in the top half of the top 12. It gives you a little breathing room and allows you to do things with the car that you wouldn't do if you weren't qualified. So it kind of loosens up the noose on your neck.
"I'm wound up over the opportunity to start making up points," Toliver added. "We started chipping away at the points in Topeka but we need to start to chip away little bigger chunks than one round per race because we're running out of time. We've got nine races left and if we can pick up a round or two on the top 10 for the next nine races then we'll be OK."
Toliver, who reached the finals in Funny Car at this event in 2000, is eager to return to the first 'Stadium of Drag Racing'.
"Route 66 Raceway is a great race track," Toliver said. "It's an excellent facility and when the weather is right you can really haul the mail there. It was probably what I would call the first super track that was built. You probably have five or six of them now, but that track was unbelievable the first time I went there. The way it's laid out with the U-shaped grandstands it's a lot different than most of the tracks we go to. It's very unique and we have a great fan base there as well. I love going to Joliet; it's a premier facility."
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