Guest Instructor - Sal Biondo
Sal Biondo has been hanging at the dragstrip since he was in diapers. At the time, he really did not have a choice – his father Sam brought him and Pete almost every weekend (some of you may have heard of his brother – 5-time NHRA World Champion and TIBR columnist Pete Biondo).
Sam would trek to Westhampton Drag Strip, and National Speedway in Long Island, NY with the boys in tow. Sal speaks of times when he watched and attempted to absorb all the basics from his father Sam.
“This racing thing seemed fairly easy, my father was winning most of the time, while Pete played in the sand along the fence at National Speedway, looking like he had it all figured out already, at 6 years old,” laughed Sal Biondo.
It was inevitable that Sal would head down the quarter mile. At about age 9, he was confronted with his big chance. While strolling through the pits at Westhampton Dragway, he was offered a ride in Nick Nikolis’ mid 9 second car (Nick Nikolis raced NHRA Pro Stock many years later). This was in 1976, when running mid 9’s in a door car was considered extremely quick (and it’s obviously still quick today, especially for a 9-year-old!). Sal, at the age of 9, was thrilled by the offer, even if it meant he could only be a passenger. It was allowed back then, as long as the car had a passenger seat, seat belts, and a helmet. His father’s car did not have a passenger seat, so Sal was unable to ride with him.
“I found my father as quick as I could, and asked him to borrow a helmet, and I proceeded to tell him why. His jaw dropped when I told him, and I knew the answer was no.”
Sam explained that the traction was not good, and he did not want Sal to go that fast with anyone.
“I was very disappointed, and hung my head and walked away. But, there was a guy named George Roche who overheard the conversation, and told my father I could ride with him. I quickly agreed, strapped on a helmet, and thought that riding in a slow 13 second car might be boring, but what the heck, let’s go. I climbed into the green “Sugar Bear” Nova, and sat on the bench seat. I could barely see over the dash. My father instructed me to keep quiet, especially while the 5 yellows were coming down! I still remember the first run like it was yesterday. George spoke the entire way through, and explained it all. I just knew I could not talk, I was told to be quiet. George did a quick burnout, staged carefully, watched the tree, and smashed the pedal. I thought to myself that this 13 second car must be on a 10 second pass somehow, maybe the barometer went way up, as I could not even believe how fast it felt. George was once again talking to me after he shifted into 3rd gear, and pointed out the cones, and the finish line. I was shocked at his calmness as we passed the cones, and could not believe he was talking to me while doing 150 miles per hour, or so I thought.”
“I could not wait for first round, and may have had my helmet on for hours in the 90 degree heat that day. Well, George explained that we were leaving second, and we would have to try to catch this guy. I watched in great anticipation as the 10 yellows came down. (yes, ten yellows on an open tree.. 5 in each lane). George once again smashed the gas, and we were off. The competitor appeared miles ahead of us, but George knew we had a handle on him, and told me to hold on tight! We drove up alongside him, and as we passed him, George pedaled him and we crossed the cones. The win light was on, but that only meant we got to the finish line first. George told me not to worry; he pedaled plenty, which was great news, because that meant I get to keep riding! He was right, we picked up the time slip, and he was plenty safe. I think George and I got to the semi’s that day, and I remember thinking that this was fun, cool, and I could not wait to be at the wheel someday. There were no junior dragsters at that time, so I had a loooooong wait.”
When the wait was over, there was plenty of racing to do. Sam, Pete, and Sal would race weekends at a time. Sam would race Saturday and Sunday. On Saturdays Pete would race the tow car, and on Sunday Sal would race the tow car. Yes, the boys drove the same station wagon that towed Sam’s race car!
The Biondo brothers raced in Street Eliminator in the late 80’s, as the class was a 14.00 and slower dial in. The boys had a lot of fun and learned how to win in that old 77 455ci Buick Estate Wagon.
“I learned a ton from that car,” Sal said. “The visibility was perfect, and our late ‘Uncle Butch’ made that car very consistent.”
Those days behind the wheel of the family wagon produced three track championships for Sal (in 1987, ’88, and ’90) before he progressed to other classes and eventually the NHRA tour. In 1992, Sal won the NHRA Division 1 Bracket Finals in Super Pro, and won the division title in Super Stock the same season. He added another Super Stock Division 1 crown in 1994 and finished in the top five of the national Super Stock points chase in ’92, ’93, and ’94 before winning the NHRA World Championship in Competition Eliminator in 1995 driving for Vinny Barone.
Sal Biondo has earned 15 NHRA National Event victories in Competition Eliminator, Super Stock, and Stock. He’s also claimed over 30 NHRA divisional wins and is a 3-time winner of the annual JEGS Sportsman All-Star event (once in Super Stock, and twice in Competition Eliminator). He currently leads the 2011 NHRA Competition Eliminator points standings, with the prospect of claiming a second world championship on the horizon.
Sal, his wife Toni and their children Dylan and Jessie reside in Maspeth, NY. Sal works alongside father Sam and brother Peter at the family business, Biondo Racing Products, which specializes in high performance parts and equipments for the drag racing industry.
ThisIsBracketRacing.com is pleased to welcome Sal along with his experience and wisdom to the TIBR family of instructors.