Tom Hoover was walking around the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona nitro pits and it didn’t take the former Funny Car icon long to realize the atmosphere is totally different from the time he won his one and only race at the famed facility.
Hoover drove his famous Showtime Corvette to the Funny Car crown in the 1979 Winternationals in the one and only race of the season when the track was known simply as Pomona Raceway.
Today Hoover is as different as the facility he once mastered. The one constant has been his love of nitro racing.
“I miss it tremendously,” said Hoover, who spent much of the weekend hanging out in the Santo Rapisarda pits. “I raced for nearly 35 years. When you start dreaming about it at night - of talking to my dad and arguing with him over the tune-up - is a good sign it has never gotten out of your system.”
Hoover generally attends three races per season and those stops are usually one of the Pomona events, Brainerd and Indianapolis. These weekends are about connecting with those he once traveled the tour with, his “other” family. Besides, as Hoover puts it, when the smooth-talking Don “the Snake” Prudhomme says it’s okay to be a spectator it kind of puts the experience into perspective.
“You learn by your peers and some of the mistakes they make,” added Hoover. “You see what they’re doing and not a lot has changed.”
Hoover understands drag racing has always required heaping amounts of cash and dedication. The veteran questions his decision to walk away from the sport; a decision he believes stopped him from falling short of wringing out everything the sport had for him. But in the end, maybe this was the best decision.
“When my Pioneer deal ended, I could look on the horizon and we didn’t come from all that kind of money, just middle class people in Minnesota, and I really felt good that I got as far as I did,” Hoover said. “If you’re not really a commercial thing right now, you’re done.”
With this said, he’s at peace with the tough decision to move on with his life.
“I think we could have run [part-time] but I think you see where it has gone today,” said Hoover. “[John] Force owns half of the field, and Schumacher has the rest. There’s no room for independents.”
Right now Hoover’s closest connection to drag racing is a tribute nostalgia Funny Car built by a fellow independent racer of the same era - Doc Holladay.
“She’s a beauty,” Hoover beams. “But I told to Doc to go ahead and have fun because I bought a house down in Florida near Dick LaHaie and I spend my winters down there. I told him to go ahead and spend his hundred and a half. I will have fun watching you.”
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