Racing runs deep, and for the Martino's the racetrack is a second home. Father and son duo, Tom and Ryan Martino, share seat time and tear up the track in the NHRA and PDRA Top Dragster classes.
For the Martino family, the drag strip has been their home away from home for more than four decades. The Youngstown, Ohio team consists of the father and son duo of Tom and Ryan Martino, both of whom compete in NHRA and PDRA series racing while also working day jobs to put food on the table.
“My dad started his racing career in 1970, when he was 16,” Ryan says. “He was sneaking his daily driver – a ’65 Chevy Impala – down to tracks like Ohio Drag City and Quaker City Raceway Park. He became pretty successful, but the catch was that he had to ditch his trophies before he went home because his parents didn’t know he was racing! Once he started doing well, word got out about him racing and his parents found out, but they ended up supporting him doing it. Street racing was big at the time, but he decided to keep it on the strip, and his folks encouraged that.”
Not long after that Tom would step up to a Ford Falcon before finding a deal on a Dodge Dart in 1977 that he couldn’t pass up. That car would take his racing career to the next level.
“He started the Dart out in NHRA Super Stock and did well there, along with IHRA,” Ryan explains. “He ended up setting national records with it in his class, and he decided it was the car he wanted to stick with for a while – he knew the ins and outs of the Mopar stuff, the engine combinations, chassis setups, and what modifications worked.”
In the mid-1980s with the support of Coors Brewing Company and discount drug store chain Phar-More, Tom’s Dart was modified into a Super Street class competitor, and it wasn’t long before Martino was moving up the ranks in Super Gas with his famed “Tino’s Toy” Dart. “I remember after we got the car all finished and did the photo shoots for Mopar, Phar-Mor and Coors, my dad had pictures made for the chassis builder, who had pictures of the race cars they’d built all along the wall,” Ryan recalls. “He brings this 8x10 to the builder and he tells my dad, ‘That wall is for winners only. When you win with that car, you give me a picture and I’ll put it on the wall, but you’ve got to earn the right to be there.’ My dad took the car out that night – the first night out – and won. He called the chassis builder at three in the morning after they got done and said, ‘I’m coming down – I’m bringing you that picture right now, meet me at your shop!’”
Clearly the diminutive Mopar clicked with Tom. But then in the winter of 1990, while hosting a meet and greet event for the Coors Brewing Company and Mopar Performance in Cleveland, Ohio, Tom unexpectedly sold his Dart. A few months later he found himself behind the wheel of his first rear-engined dragster.
By the early 2000s Ryan was following in his father’s footsteps, winning three out of his first eight events in Sport Compact competition in 2003. In the summer of 2011 Ryan upgraded his NHRA competition license to Advance E.T. status, and he now alternates driving duties with his dad throughout the race season.
“These days we run in NHRA and PDRA Top Dragster,” Ryan says. “We’ve been a top five points contender for the last three or four years. Right now we’re sitting in a position where we could possibly take the world championship in PDRA – there’s two races left to go. We started the season off well in NHRA, but we’ve been on a roll in PDRA, so we decided we should go for a world championship rather than a divisional.”
The Top Dragster rulebook caps quarter-mile ETs at six seconds flat – anything quicker than that gets bumped out of the class. Nitrous combinations, superchargers, turbos, and naturally aspirated setups are all fair game. “We run a 665ci big block Chevy built by Par Race Engines in Spartanburg, South Carolina,” Ryan says. “Our engine combination uses a Brodix aluminum block, Brodix heads, dual carbs, and we of course run Wiseco pistons. The motor makes around 1,300 horsepower, and then with the nitrous added to mix we’re at well over 2,000 horsepower when we’re crossing the finish line.”
Ryan says that while the minimum weight for the class is 1700 pounds, they typically weigh in at about 2000 due to the team’s decision to run a rear suspension setup. With consistent ETs in the 6.20 range at 215 mph with 60-foot times of less than a second, it looks like that strategic move was worth the weight penalty. “We chose the suspension route because of our chassis builder’s recommendation,” he notes. “Mac Sherrill Race Cars in Sheffield Lake, Ohio builds winning combinations, and Mac set us up with this 260-inch chassis with a suspended rear end. At over 2,000 pounds we’re classified as the ‘Shamu’ dragster when it hits the scales, but it’d be unfair to the rest of the field if we were at 1700 pounds.”
Consistency is a core component of a winning race program, and much of it revolves around a reliable engine combination. “We’ve been running Wiseco pistons for years,” Ryan tells us. “They’ve got 75 years of proven performance and, being a fellow Ohio company, it was an easy choice for us. With this Top Dragster combination we can’t afford any failures – we’ve got large amounts of money invested in our race program, so it’s tough to keep changing parts all the time. With Wiseco we’ve had the good fortune of making it through an entire season with the pistons, and when we’ve gone to refreshen up the motor, those things were in mint condition when we pulled them out. There were anywhere between 100 and 140 hard passes with nitrous on those pistons. The car runs a number with every pass, and Wiseco is a huge part of that formula.”