By TIM CLEVELAND
For the seventh consecutive season, the NHRA will roll into Ohio for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, which will be held Thursday through Sunday at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk.
There will be several local drivers competing, with Warren’s Marco Abruzzi, Canfield’s Phil Smida, Cortland’s John Frech and Youngstown’s Martino Motorsports contingent leading the way.
While the father-son duo of Tom and Ryan Martino both race, Tom will be the one in the driver’s seat this weekend. Ryan will serve as his race engineer for the event, and Tom will be racing in the top dragster division, which is the top sportsman’s division the NHRA offers. Drivers can reach speeds of up to 210 mph.
Ryan Martino said he feels racing relatively close to home really helps the team’s performance.
“It’s a great feeling. Norwalk may seem far away but it’s only a two, 2 Ω-hour drive,” he said. “I played football at Youngstown State and every time you compete on your home turf it makes you feel you have a great advantage.
“There’s going to be a lot of fans who are going to be traveling to see us compete at this event,” he said. “Dad has competed at Norwalk since the ‘70s so you can kind of say he has the home field advantage. Nothing would feel better than to bring the title back home.
“We’re a father and son operation. My dad Tom will be driving this weekend. We’re one of 40 teams competing. He’ll make four qualifying attempts on Thursday, one on Friday with eliminations on Friday evening.”
The event will be broadcast on ESPN3 on Friday and Sunday, and on ESPN2 on Saturday and Sunday.
Abruzzi will be competing in the top dragster and top sportsman divisions while Smida will be in the super comp and super street divisions. Both said Norwalk is their favorite race because it’s close enough for their families to attend.
“It’s great. For me it’s the best race of the year,” Abruzzi said. “My family comes and my sister in Michigan can come.”
“It feels good because we consider Norwalk our home track,” Smida said. “It’s good to have people hopefully come and see you race. It’s also nice instead of traveling six hours away like you would for another race.”
Martino said he thinks an adjustment the team made has had a positive effect on its performance which he thinks should carry over to this weekend.
“We’ve had a great season so far,” he said. “We’ve tried something different with the motor and we have power like we’ve never had before. We should be a dominant force this weekend.
“We had a great experience at Quaker City Motorsports Park in Salem last weekend and we feel we have a combination that will make us unbeaten at Norwalk.”
With several local pro athletes making names for themselves over the past several years, Martino feels his race team can make the same impact on the Mahoning Valley sports scene.
“We’re from Youngstown, born and raised,” he said. “We’ve got Youngstown in our blood. Kelly Pavlik gets attention for what he does on his level, Jason Kokrak is doing his thing. We’re on the same level in Youngstown.”