Powered by a new car, drag-racer Marco Abruzzi of Warren has set his sights on a national title.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
WARREN -- After earning a regional championship and No. 5 spot nationally last year, drag-racer Marco Abruzzi of Warren hopes his new car drives him to a No. 1 ranking in the Top Sportsman class of the International Hot Rod Association.
"It's lighter, more aerodynamic and it's a little more technically advanced," said Abruzzi of his brand-new Tim McCamus-designed 1968 Camaro.
The car is powered by a 698-cubic-inch engine that uses a mixture of gasoline and nitrous oxide additive to deliver 1,300 horsepower.
In fact, the car is working so well that the 33-year-old Abruzzi, a graduate of Howland High and Youngstown State, recently posted two straight wins in the Holley Sportsman Championship Series at Quaker City Raceway in Salem.
He won the Quick 16 Eliminator two Saturdays ago by edging Amy Glaser of Shepherdsville, Ky.
The next day, he won the NOS Top Sportsman Class with a win over Tim Molnar of Seville.
Late start: But it did take awhile to complete and test the car and get it running properly, a process that will prevent Abruzzi from pursuing regional and national honors this year.
"I had a lot of bugs to work out of it -- the electrical glitches, just getting the chassis working," Abruzzi said.
"That is usually normal for a new car. Usually you get a chance to test it before races, but we didn't get the car until the middle of this season. But now that I have a few races in, it's working real good," he said.
The setback cost him.
"I missed a couple of races because I was finishing building this new car, and when I got done I had to skip a couple of races to work out the glitches or test the car," said Abruzzi, who competes in IHRA Division 3, which consists of drivers from Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Michigan, New York and Canada.
"You really have to run in all the races to make a bid for the championship," Abruzzi said. "I'll probably get a top 10 this year."
To be eligible for a divisional title, a driver must compete in all eight IHRA-sanctioned races in his division, using his six best finishes for points standings. Nationally, the six-best finishes of 16 national races are used to compile a driver's points.
Family garage: "We travel about 35,000 miles a summer [to races]," said Abruzzi, who works as an automatic transmission builder at the A & amp;T garage in Warren owned by his father, Joe Abruzzi.
In fact, Marco built his car's powerglide transmission at A & amp;T Garage, which also sponsors his car. And Joe is a member of Marco's two-man crew along with Bryan Sexton. Harold Fritsch is another mechanic in the garage.
Last year, Abruzzi, steering a 1998 Tim McCamus-designed Firebird, had two wins and a runner-up to win the Div. 3 championship. And he took fifth nationally for the second time, the first being in 1998.
Eyes it all: But after this season of developing his new car, Abruzzi wants "to win the national championship. That's the big enchilada. Next year I'll probably give it a pretty good run, I'd say."
His best elapsed time this year is 7.18 seconds to cover the quarter-mile strip, reaching 195 mph. He's hoping eventually to produce a 6.9 ET and over 200 mph in a class that has no engine-size restrictions.
Fast reaction: In addition to having a fast car, Abruzzi also has a good reaction time at the starting line, which includes a starting pole consisting of four vertical lights -- three yellow (to get ready) to one green (to go), with a time lapse of .50 seconds between each light change.
Abruzzi achieved a .519 starting time in beating Glaser recently, which means that it took him only .019 seconds to hit the gas pedal after seeing the green light.
"That's just a blink of the eye," said Abruzzi, who practices to improve his reaction time.
At-home drills: "I have one of those Christmas trees [light poles] at home in my basement and I practice every night. I have a clock that measures my reaction time from the last yellow to the green. You try to find the best way to get the lowest reaction time and then duplicate it in the race."
But, he pointed out, a driver also has to have the fastest possible elapsed time without exceeding his dial-in time.
"The trick is for you have to have them both -- a good reaction time and a good ET. So it's a combination of having a good car in working order and getting practice in it. That all comes with practice."
The crew: Abruzzi also has a good two-man crew. Sexton serves as the crew chief and radio man, while dad Joe "oversees everything," said Marco.
Radio communication with Sexton is important to doing well in a race, he said.
"You can say a lot in seven seconds," said Abruzzi, whose next outing is Aug. 18-19 at Dragway 42 in West Salem. "If my opponent is having problems, he lets me know. He lets me know what I ran. You need to have that extra partner away from the car just in case."