Friday Gators Gallery
Friday, March 11, 2011

News and views from the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals Last update: 6:40 p.m.
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Friday at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals dawned clear and cold, in the high 40s headed to a high of just 66 degrees ... in other words, perfect weather conditions for the record-breaking hospitality of Gainesville Raceway, whose futuristic, Miami Vice-colored control tower welcomed race fans for day two of the annual East Coast opener.

The Full Throttle teams won't hit the Gainesville Raceway surface until noon, when the Pro Stock Motorcycles get their first passes of the season, but the Sportsman cars are filling the lanes, eager to hit the legendary strip.

Last night, the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame welcomed its newest inductees: Leonard Abbott, of Lenco Transmissions fame; Top Fuel legend Joe Amato; aftermarket parts tycoon Jeg Coughlin Sr.; fuel altered hero Rich Guasco; and the late Top Fuel great Clayton Harris, whose wife accepted the award on his behalf.

An NHRA Legends autograph session took place this morning featuring heroes of the sport, including, from left, Don Garlits, Steve Gibbs, Herm Petersen, Marvin Graham, Don Hampton, and Dick LaHaie. More sessions are scheduled throughout the event.

Fuel altered legends Rich Guasco and Dale Emery, along with former Top Fuel driver Dale Funk and Strange Engineering's Bob Stange, also signed autographs for fans. Others included Jeg Coughlin Sr., Roger Gustin, Jerry Baltes, and Barbara Hamilton.

The Gatornationals Hot Rod Corral features an impressive display of vintage race cars and hot rods in all shapes, sizes, and colors, including Garlits' famous Swamp Rat VI-B (below), the first car to eclipse 200 mph.

The fans are out "in Force" in Gainesville, and a popular stop for many is the pit of 15-time champ John Force.

While the crew of the Prestone/Fram Top Fueler readied the car for battle ...

team driver and former rookie of the year Spencer Massey signed autographs for his fans.

Tony Pedregon, who won the Gatornationals Funny Car title in 2002 and 2008, put the finishing touches on the Nitro Fish vinyl wrap applied to his Monte Carlo for this weekend's event. The former world champ will enjoy backing from Wix Filters in Charlotte and will make a major announcement soon about another sponsor. Nitro Fish will return to the car for four to five races later this year.

Based on today's fabulous Friday attendance at Gainesville Raceway for the East Coast opener, it's safe to assume that productivity is down across the board in Florida.

Drag racers get paid to go fast, but in John Force's case, it's him who will do the paying after getting pulled over in the notorious Florida speed trap town of Waldo. "I'm coming into town with Lori and Courtney, coming down, doing everything right," Force said at Thursday's press conference, "and Smokey just pulls me over.  So I go right into the John Force bull drive talk to get out; 'Hey, you know how fast I'm going to be going at the Gators this weekend?' And he said, 'I don't know how fast you are but I know what my speed deal showed, and you got a ticket.' Told me, 'Shut up, get back in the car and see you at the Gatornationals.' "

Former world champ Hector Arana made the first 6.7-second Pro Stock Motorcycle pass during the day's first qualifying session aboard his Lucas Oil Buell. Arana's pass of 6.77 was quicker than the 6.811 pass recorded at the 2010 finals by Eddie Krawiec.

Krawiec got his own measure of revenge on the record books as he rode his Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley Davidson to a speed of 199.26, blowing away the old mark of 197.65 set by Michael Phillips last season. His e.t. on the pass, 6.788, was the second quickest in history.

Six of the 10 quickest elapsed times in Pro Stock history – including the first five -- were recorded in the fist qualifying session, which was led by Rodger Brogdon's 6.495. Greg Anderson matched that e.t. but Brogdon had the top spot based on his superior speed, 213.47 to 212.86. The five fastest speeds also were recorded, led by Erica Enders' 213.57. Brogdon, right, was interviewed by WFO radio's Joe Castello, who is broadcasting live at the event.

He didn't end up No. 1, but Mike Edwards made Pro Stock history by becoming the first factory hot rod driver to cover the quarter-mile in less than 6.5 seconds when he wheeled his Interstate Batteries Pontiac to a 6.497 at 213.47 mph early in the first qualifying session. "All I can say is that was an incredible run," said Edwards, who failed to qualify at the season's first race. "To run a 6.49 and at over 213 mph in a Pro Stock car is quite a rush and is hard to explain. This is the best medicine any of us could ask for. In my first few years in Pro Stock, we were shooting to break the six-second barrier and the 200-mph mark, and we thought that was the plateau. Now we are running these types of numbers, it goes to show how much we knew back then."

NASCAR star Kurt Busch's first official Pro Stock pass didn’t go as planned as the driver of the Shell/Pennzoil Dodge shook hard and coasted to an 18.33-second lap.

Jack Beckman led the Funny Car field after the first qualifying session, where a lot of teams apparently over-tuned for the prime conditions and tire smoke was not a rare commodity. Beckman's Valvoline/Aaron's Dodge topped the pack with a 4.051 at 308.47. DSR teammates Johnny Gray (4.079) and Matt Hagan (4.096) were the only other flopper drivers in the 4.0s.

Larry Dixon, who shares a four-way tie for most Top Fuel victories in event history with four – a mark he shares with Tony Schumacher, Joe Amato and Don Garlits – grabbed the early qualifying lead with a 3.852 at 318.47. Dixon's run was nearly a tenth better than the 3.947 registered by second-place Terry McMillen.

Karen Stoffer, who last year at the this reset the national e.t. record (since bettered) broke the national speed record in Pro Stock Motorcycle with her GEICO Suzuki this year, backing up her first-session 197.16-mph pass with a run of 198.00 in the second frame.

Pro Stock Motorcycle low qualifier ran 6.790 to back up his earlier 6.777 to reset the national e.t. record in Pro Stock Motorcycle. If his runs stands at the top of the pack through Saturday's final two sessions, it will be Arana's 16th career No. 1 position.

Florida Top Fuel legends "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, near lane, and Darrell "the Kid" Gwynn squared off in the first of three special match-race passes in battery-powered dragsters. Garlits took the first round.

Garlits' car was modeled after his famed Swamp Rat XXX that broke the 270-mph barrier at the 1986 Gators.

Gwynn, who won this race twice in Top Fuel and also in Alcohol Dragster had on his game face.
Both cars were constructed by Brad Hadman and Mike Gerry to represent their respective 1986 cars. The attention to detail is amazing, and the appearance added to the emotional moment that had the fans on their feet.

Erica Enders showed that her Winternationals pole was no fluke as the driver of the ZaZa Energy Chevy reset the national speed record in Pro Stock with a pass of 213.57 which she backed up with a run of 212.83.

Last year's championship runner-up, Matt Hagan, hot off of a runner-up finish at the Winternationals, powered his DieHard Dodge to the provisional pole in Funny Car with a run of 4.030.

Tony Schumacher jumped into the No 1 qualifying position with a 3.814-second pass in the second Top Fuel session. If the run holds through Saturday for the pole, it will be the four-time Gatornationals champ's second at this event, the first coming in 2006.

Kurt Busch opened day began with tire shake on his first pass and ended with frustration when he didn’t stage quickly enough and was timed out, invalidating his second pass.

"We just didn’t do our jobs today," he admitted. "We struggled as rookies and the driver was the one with the issues. On the first run we shook the tires because the track had so much grip and it wadded up the tires. On the second I got timed out. I pre-staged and was looking down at my line loc and when I looked up, Vincent [Nobile, his qualifying partner] had already staged. That was my fault. Allen Johnson told me you've got to always watch the Tree. By the time I realized his stage light was on, I tried to stage but I never got there. Seven seconds went by and I got timed out."

Even though the run was not valid for official purposes, Busch went ahead and made his run anyway to get some tuning data. "We got a little tire shake in second and I was late shifting to third, but the telemetry said it would have been about a 6.535, which would have been 12th or 13th quick.

"This is worse [than humble pie] because I'm the one making all of the mistakes. I've even messed up backing up the car both runs. I thought the humble pie would be running a 6.56 and did pretty good and everyone else was running 6.49. We had such an eventful day, there's no way we can screw up tomorrow."

Busch was asked if he could liken his opening day at NHRA with a point in his NASCAR career.

"It reminds me of 11-12 years ago when I went from trucks into Cup and had never been to tracks such as Dover and Darlington and Atlanta and I didn't know what to expect or even what the garage flow was supposed to be," he said. "Those are the moments here that I don’t have all science out and that I have to learn. I came into Cup with a microscope on me as well. There were a lot of rookie things that I'm ready to put behind me and get ready for tomorrow and do what we can to get ready for tomorrow."

Busch narrowly avoided another disaster when his parachutes almost got caught on the guardwall gate as he exited the track.

"They said I actually turned the car too sharp and too fast," he said with a grin. "Imagine that, a NASCAR driver turning a corner too fast."