Tony Schumacher added a fourth Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals trophy to his collection to highlight a record-setting day in Gainesville. He was joined in the winner’s circle by Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Those victories capped an incredible day of action that included two national speed records, a national e.t. record, numerous runs that rank in the top 10 of all time, and more career bests. The speed records in both nitro classes fell during the day. After his teammate Cory McClenathan posted a 322.50-mph lap in the opening round, Schumacher blew it away with a 324.98-mph shot in the semifinals. He backed up the run with his 322.04 in the final to set a new national mark for speed. Matt Hagan, who had the previous best speed in Funny Car, became the new record holder with his 316.15-mph pass in the first round. After predicting a new Pro Stock Motorcycle national record after qualifying No. 1, Karen Stoffer made good on her word, clocking a 6.847 in round one to reset the national e.t. mark and earn the 20 bonus points that go with it.
It was fitting that the Top Fuel final came down to Don Schumacher Racing teammates Schumacher and Antron Brown because they had the two best cars all weekend. Unlike in qualifying and the other rounds when Brown was just a tick better than Schumacher, in the final, the U.S. Army driver came out on top, wheeling his dragster to a 3.797 to beat the tire-smoking Brown and collect Wally No. 62. This was also the fourth Gainesville win for Schumacher, tying him with Joe Amato, Larry Dixon, and Don Garlits for the most Top Fuel wins at this event. The victory also moved “the Sarge” into the points lead, by 11 markers over McClenathan.
“This is absolutely special,” said Schumacher. “First of all, this is the Gatornationals; it’s Gainesville. I’ve won it four times now. But my lights have been bad at the first two races. We’ve had a car that could win, and I’ve been doing everything I can. We finally started working on it hard, and we needed that confidence; I needed that confidence again. That was perfect. It was exactly what we had to go out and do at the exact right time.
“The [DSR] crew chiefs are doing a great job, but they’ve been asking us, the drivers, to focus on driving the same, and we’ve worked on that for quite a while. We’re trying to keep it the same. Cory goes out yesterday and runs an .83, then he turns around and the crew chief says, 'This is what we have to fix.' We change it and go out and run an .82, turn around and tell Antron’s crew, ‘This is what we got to do.’ It was just perfect — better, better, and best. That’s what teams can do. When they really work well together and jell and they’re not out there doing stupid things, they just get stronger and better.”
Starting from the No. 2 spot on the ladder, Schumacher was consistently quick all day. In the opening three rounds, he clicked off passes of 3.81, 3.83, and 3.82 to defeat Terry McMillen, Doug Foley, and Dixon and secure a spot in his 96th final.
Brown and his Matco Tools-backed team couldn’t have scripted their Gainesville weekend any better. After destroying their primary car in their first-round accident in Phoenix, Brown and his team returned to competition with a brand-new car, and the new dragster performed flawlessly. Brown qualified No. 1, then ran low e.t. of two of the three rounds to advance to his 49th overall final and 16th in Top Fuel. He defeated Todd Paton, Steve Torrence, and Shawn Langdon on his way to the title round.
After losing in the first round of Funny Car at the first two events, Wilkerson more than made up for it here. Racing with the new ’10 Mustang body on his Levi, Ray & Shoup entry, Wilkerson was steady and strong during eliminations, capping the day with a 4.09 to 4.19 defeat of defending Gainesville winner Bob Tasca III. The victory is Wilkerson’s 14th and his first at the historic Gatornationals.
“When you run well and you run consistent, people will show you enough respect to try pretty hard against you,” said Wilkerson, who credits a switch from a three-rail to a two-rail chassis with helping him win. “We did have a good day today. I’m not going to say we were world-beaters, but we made some pretty darn good runs to keep them on their toes.
“I knew we could run better after we blew through the clutch in the first round. If [Matt] Hagan would have run another .06, he would’ve beat me, but I thought we could run good enough to keep him honest. I haven’t figured out how to run an .06 yet, but we go down the track every single run.”
Wilkerson began the day from the bottom half of the field, in the No. 9 position, but he quickly emerged as a contender. After clocking a 4.18 in round one against Jeff Arend, Wilkerson blasted to a 4.09 to defeat new national speed record holder and low qualifier Hagan. He then earned a spot in the 21st final of his career when he defeated Tony Pedregon in the semi’s.
Tasca made a valiant push to defend the title he won here last year, his first victory in the nitro ranks, but he came up just short. Tasca lived in the 4.1s all day, running a pair of 4.13s and a 4.12 as he ended the hopes of Jack Beckman, Robert Hight, and Ron Capps in the early rounds.
Line entered the Pro Stock final knowing that he would need a sizable advantage at the Tree if he had any chance of defeating Mike Edwards, who again dominated the competition. The Summit-backed driver took just that, cutting a nearly perfect .004 light to take a more than .05-second lead out of the gate, and he parlayed that into a 6.58 to 6.55 holeshot win. It was the 21st Pro Stock victory for Line and his second straight in Gainesville.
“It really wasn’t a good weekend, actually,” said Line. “We started out awful, and I didn’t think we were going to qualify. Going into the third session, I really felt like this was going to be the time we didn’t qualify. Some fan came up to me and said, ‘I just wanted to meet you because I read in the [NHRA] Fan Guide that you’re the only guy who hasn’t not qualified.’ It’s like, ‘Thanks a lot, buddy.’ But we got it done somehow. We didn’t run great, that’s for sure, but I guess right now the only way to beat Mike is with your left foot because you’re not going to outrun him. Fortunately, he gave us the opening, and we managed to get it done somehow.
“Ken [Black, team owner] is definitely improving, and hopefully, this is going to help. This Wally has his name written all over it. I talked to him on the phone last week, and he’s really doing good. He’s working hard. The rehab has been tough, but he’s working really hard at it. We want him out there, and he wants to be out here, so we’re just hoping for the best.”
After a rough qualifying outing, in which he entered the final session not in the field, things came together for Line on race day. He began his day with a 6.55 to defeat Greg Stanfield, then trailered Ron Krisher with a 6.58. Line then got the better of teammate Greg Anderson to advance to his 44th final.
Edwards appeared to be well on his way to doubling up for the weekend — he won the delayed NHRA Arizona Nationals during Saturday’s qualifying — and keeping his record perfect for the season with low e.t. of every round of competition. He ran the third-quickest time in history, a 6.520, in the opening round and followed with 6.54 and 6.56 clockings in respective wins against Rickie Jones, Ronnie Humphrey, and Allen Johnson. This was the 13th Pro Stock final for Edwards and second in Gainesville; he was also the 1997 runner-up.
Krawiec began the 2010 Pro Stock Motorcycle season the way he ended the 2009 one, hoisting the Wally in the winner’s circle. Racing in his 18th final, Krawiec put the whole package together, leaving the starting line first and outrunning Shawn Gann, 6.899 to 6.908, to score his sixth victory.
“Gainesville is very special to me,” said Krawiec. “Years ago when I first started out, I wanted to win here. To finally get a win here, I can’t be any more excited. We ended 2009 with a win in Pomona, and to start 2010 with another one is awesome.
“I guess it showed this weekend that all the bikes were pretty close. Everybody did their R&D this winter, and that is great for the class. This time, a Harley-Davidson was fortunate enough to get the win, but it turned into a rider battle, not just a contest to see who had the fastest bike. I almost gave it up in the semi’s against Craig Treble, but I got lucky.”
Krawiec’s Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson was one of the best bikes on the property throughout the weekend. He qualified No. 2 with a 6.868, and he stayed at or near that mark through the four rounds. Krawiec opened with a 6.864 to defeat Angie Smith, then posted a 6.856 and 6.903 en route to respective wins against Steve Johnson and Craig Treble.
After a mostly forgettable last couple of years, Gann got his 2010 campaign off to a strong start, advancing to his 13th final and first since Indy 2004; his last win was in Denver in 2004. Gann, the No. 9 qualifier, began his march to the final with a 6.893 victory over Junior Pippin. He then used low-6.9 runs to oust new national record holder Stoffer and a red-lighting Hector Arana.
Canadian flags waved in the grandstands as Manitoba’s Kenny Lang made drag racing history as the first to win a Wally in the NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.
Lang became the first winner in NHRA’s newest national touring series as he drove his green '53 Corvette to victory over Sweden’s Michael Gullqvist, who drove the ProCare Rx '68 Camaro owned by series supporter Roger Burgess.
“This is a great event, and I am thrilled to win it,” said Lang, who qualified sixth and defeated a tough group of drivers in earlier rounds including JEGS.com’s Troy Coughlin, In-N-Out Burger ’63 Corvette driver Melanie Troxel, and Qatar’s Khalid Balooshi.
Lang powered his ’53 Corvette to a 5.908-second run at 243.68 mph to earn the victory in the final round but ultimately didn’t need the strong performance when Gullqvist fouled at the start.
“It definitely hasn’t all sunk in yet,” said Lang about being the first official Pro Mod winner in NHRA history. “We are one of the lesser-funded teams out here, but we do a good job, and we do it because we love it. I wasn’t surprised to see those flags out there because we get a lot of support wherever we go. We had a great car today.”
The Pro Mod Series continues April 9-11 at Houston Raceway Park.
Though much of the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series action is still under way, the final rounds were completed in the alcohol classes and Comp. Duane Shields defended his Top Alcohol Dragster event title, defeating Darren Nicholson in the final round. Frank Manzo scored his 85th national event Wally when he bested Mickey Ferro in the Top Alcohol Funny Car money round, and Arnie Marel defeated Floridian Glen Treadwell to win Comp.
Saturday: Brown, Hagan, Edwards, Stoffer lead after super-quick day in Gainesville
Friday: Schumacher, Hight, Edwards, Pippin lead rain-plagued opening day
Edwards wins delayed Arizona Nationals Pro Stock title