Battaglia moving up in racing


January 29, 1995|By STAN DILLON

Tony Battaglia has been racing since he was 16. Now, three years later, the Union Bridge resident plans to move up to Class II competition and race for the track championship at 75-80 Dragway.

Until the latter part of last year, Battaglia raced in the Trophy Class or the ETK class. It is a division where drivers race for trophies instead of money, and can race the car they drive on the street and gain experience while having some fun.

Battaglia has enjoyed the learning process and feels he is ready to move up to Class II. Actually, he is anxious for the season to start in March.

Battaglia's father, Sam, was very active in drag racing when he was a teen-ager. In 1989, he returned to racing along with his two sons, Tony and Jerry, by his side. Tony made his first run two years later in a 1982 Chevrolet pickup.

The next year, Battaglia replaced the pickup with a 1970 Chevrolet Nova that he purchased during the off-season. It was a dependable car that provided the young driver with valuable experience.

While most of the cars are powered by V-8 engines, Battaglia had a straight six-cylinder in his Nova. But it was consistent, and that's what counts in drag racing. With a consistent car, Battaglia was able to concentrate on learning the trade.

"I got to the point where I knew when the temperature dropped I knew what time I had to dial in," said Battaglia.

When the temperature and barometric pressure change, so does the performance of the car. Knowing how your car performs with each change can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Knowing the weather, reading the track and watching other cars, Battaglia has gained a lot of experience, enough experience to make a serious bid for the track title.

Toward the end of 1994, Battaglia continued to prepare for Class competition, switching to a faster car, a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle Super Sport. With a 396-cubic-inch, V-8 engine under the hood, the car was much faster than anything Battaglia had driven.

It took him a little time to adjust, but by the end of the season, he had registered a win.

"The car belonged to my mother," he said. "My brother drove it for five years and he fixed it up with headers, new shifter and cam before it was set aside. It was just sitting there, so I began to drive it."

Driving the faster car was like his inaugural trip down the quarter-mile all over again.

"The first time I jumped into the car I knew it hadn't been run good for a while, so I ran it wide open," he said. "It was a big difference. I said to myself I love it, this is nice."

The car turned out to be more consistent than the Nova. It was so consistent that Battaglia doesn't plan on doing much work to the car during the winter. Instead he is spending time helping his father with his 1967 Chevrolet Biscayne.

"It was running so consistent that there wasn't any reason to fool with it," said Battaglia. "There's no reason to fix anything that's not broken. It has never been run hard. So I am going to run it the way it is. If anything happens, I guess you can say I will be going in debt."

If anything happens, Battaglia will have the Nova on standby to fill in to keep him in contention. A missed night when one is battling for points can drop a driver so far down in points that it sometimes takes weeks to make up the deficit.

The Chevelle was turning the quarter-mile in 12.4 seconds by the end of last year -- almost eight seconds faster than the Nova.

"I'd like to get it down to the 11s," said Battaglia. "Everyone wants to go faster. Your car is never fast enough. I never want to go back to 19 seconds again."

Battaglia works as a cook at Cockey's Tavern in Westminster. He likes his new job because it gives him time to race on weekends.

Battaglia doesn't have any concern about winning in Class II with the new car. Since he has been racing, he has won races in every vehicle he has driven. He feels he has prepared himself for the next step and is ready to go.

Weekend results

Barry Fitzgerald of Westminster passed his rookie evaluation at Daytona International Speedway. Early next month, Fitzgerald will attempt to qualify his 1994 Chevrolet Cavalier for the NASCAR Goody's Dash Series to be raced on Feb. 17.

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