Mark Pombo faced every race car driver’s worst nightmare last year in a morning practice at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
By TODD ENGLE
Special to The Star
“What happened to me was a freak accident. I lost brakes on one of the fastest tracks we go to, going into the fastest turn,” Pombo said.
The result was an wreck that wiped his memory for two weeks, put him in a hospital for six months and kept him out of racing for a year.
Pombo made his return this season at Watkins Glen. He took the next step Friday at Kansas Speedway, winning the pole in the Street Tuner series for today’s SFP Grand Prix with a time of 1 minute, 27.702 seconds.
Mark will start today’s race, and his brother Mat will finish it. Mark knew that he would be back behind the wheel of a race car. It was only a question of when.
“I’m not going to lie. I think about it a little bit, but I think everybody else thinks about it more than I do,” Mark said. “If I was medically cleared, I was getting back in.”
Team i-Moto finished first, second and fourth in qualifying, and Mark credited teammate Jayson Clunie, who qualified fourth, with doing a lot of the heavy lifting.
“He was the fastest car in practice. So we decided he needed to be the first car, so we could use him as a carrot and draft up next to him,” Mark said. “(The pole) is a little bit special. It would’ve been nice if I could do it on my own raw speed, but I’ve got to give Jason his due.”
Mark thinks i-Moto’s Mazda 3’s are well-suited for the six-turn, 2.37 mile road course layout at Kansas Speedway.
“I think if we have a little luck and don’t do anything stupid, all three cars could be up at the front at the end,” he said.
Jade Buford is no stranger to the pole. He claimed his sixth in nine events this season Friday, turning in a fast lap of 1:20.825.
Cars have 15 minutes in qualifying to get the fastest time. Buford had it early, but was overtaken by Bryan Heitkotter.
“I noted to my guys, ‘If you see a lap time that might stand, let me know so I can set up a draft and we can get something out of it,’” Buford said. “We could’ve gotten close, but we probably would’ve been second without the draft.”
Buford knew right away that he would be tough to beat.
“We hit set up, that was for sure. We were as good as we could possibly be going into it, and I think on our own we didn’t have enough for the pole,” Buford said.
Buford’s bevy of pole positions have yet to translate to a win this season. He has six top-10 finishes, but none higher than fourth.
“I’m optimistic. We’ll see. Racing is crazy. You never know what’s going to happen,” Buford said.
Alex Tagliani, the 2011 Indianapolis 500 pole sitter, is accustomed to going fast. Still, the speed of the course took him by surprise Friday.
Even so, Tagliani won the pole in the Rolex Grand Touring series with a time of 1:14.958.
“The first thing is, when I was on the oval, I was like, ‘(Darn), man, I can’t believe we’re doing 225 miles an hour on here.’ Obviously down force helps a lot and those cars are heavier,” Tagliani said. “You earn your paycheck out there, for sure.”
Memo Rojas took the pole in the Daytona Prototype series, with a fast lap of 1:09.883.
The GX pole went to Sy Tremblay in 1:21.338
Lamborghini Super Trofeo
Kevin Conway became the answer to Kansas Speedway trivia Friday, winning the first night race in the history of the venue.
Conway won with a fast lap of 1:16.237, holding off Al Carter and James Sofronas.
“We were trying to make sure we took care of our tires, and there at the end we got lucky. That caution came out and we actually had a tire going down. We were able to pit under caution and the other guys didn’t.”