Hartman-Smith taking optimistic approach into MAC Tools event

By Matt Hill

   BRISTOL -- When the NHRA MAC Tools Thunder Valley Nationals take place next weekend at the Bristol Dragway, Rhonda Hartman-Smith believes it could be a track where she breaks through.
   Hartman-Smith will be looking for her first-ever nationals victory in Top Fuel when the racers start their engines next week in Bristol.
   Hartman-Smith, who is the only female competing in a full schedule of events this year, thinks Bristol is a track she can do well at.
   "I love coming back here," Hartman-Smith said. "I've been racing here since 1994. I feel we have a really good setup for this dragstrip, even though it's changed somewhat.
   "We've just always done well. We enjoy coming back and the fans are great. Hopefully, we'll get to the final round and not lose in the first round like we've been doing the last three races."
   Racing is a family affair at Hartman-Smith's house. Her husband, John Smith, is also a Top Fuel dragster.
   During the last three races, the couple has met in the first round.
   "It's like racing anybody else," Hartman-Smith said. "It's just ironic that it's happened the last three races in the first round, and one of our cars had to go out. We would like to see our cars advance a little bit further in the rounds.
   Hartman-Smith is hoping that coming to Bristol will bring her some good luck. After a ninth-place finish in the points standings a year ago, Hartman-Smith has yet to crack the top ten in points during 2003.
   Her husband is having a good year, so it might be time for that good luck John is having to rub off.
   "I was discouraged in the beginning," Hartman-Smith said. "We were a little bit slow with our season. John actually performed really well, and he was actually No. 4 in the points. We haven't been in the top ten yet.
   "We didn't qualify in Phoenix. I was really disappointed in that. But we tested after that for about a week and learned a lot of information. We learned what was going wrong. We changed our whole program, and just used both cars to try and see why they weren't running similar with one another.
   In testing I was actually doing really well. When we went to the races, I just felt lost again. The testing helped tremendously, and now we're really starting to pick up.
   Victory lane has eluded both of the Smith's, but Rhonda sees one of them winning in the near future.
   "I think it's just around the corner," she said. "I think our performance is there, I just think we have to get a little more consistent. I think we're right there. I would like to see it come pretty soon, because it sure hasn't been for a lack of trying. We're trying really hard.
   When the family sits down for dinner, the subject is probably going to be about racing. Both the Hartman and Smith families are staples in top fuel drag racing.
   For these two families that have been combined into one, racing is just a way of life.
   "We all have top fuel cars, and we're all competing against one another," Hartman-Smith said. "We all help each other out. Actually my brother's race team is out of our race shop, so we're all one big happy family.
   "We don't go out there and try to duke it out or see who is better than one another. We always help each other out. It's pretty neat that we're able to all race and do what we have to do."