Sunday live: Gators gallery
Sunday, March 13, 2011

News and views from the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals Last update: 6 p.m.
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The Track Walk with Darrell Gwynn drew scores of fans who paid for the chance to set feet on the legendary Gainesville Raceway surface. A number of Pro drivers, including Jim Head, Jack Beckman, Larry Dixon, Del Worsham, Doug Kalitta, Brian Thiel, Andrew Hines, Hector Arana, Jeff Arend, and Johnny Gray, also took part.

The Lagana family Top Fuel team, representing Service Central, which is part of the event sponsor Tire Kingdom/NTB group, qualified for Sunday's final eliminations. Dom Lagana will run Antron Brown in round one.

Prior to the start of Full Throttle racing's first round, we had a bunch of Sportsman action, including Super Gas.

Robert Hight was out mixing with fans, posing for photos, and signing autographs early Sunday.

The legendary "Greek," Chris Karamesines, is part of Sunday's Top Fuel field. He qualified 14th and will race Spencer Massey in round one.

Massey and the Prestone/Fram team earned "first fire" honors in the pits this morning, drawing a crowd to get their daily whiff of nitro.

Funny Car racer Brian Thiel's entry sports multiple HD GoPro cameras, like this one pointed at the driver,  in and on the nitro Funny Car to not only aid the crew with visual data, but create voyeuristic and captivating video content for fans to view. Followers of Brian Thiel Racing can see the procedures a nitro Funny Car driver goes through from the time the engine starts, to shut down. In addition to entertainment, the HD GoPro cameras also are used to record the crew’s service routine on the car between run in an effort to improve productivity and efficiency. The videos can be seen at

NHRA President Tom Compton, right, congratulates Don Garlits after the renaming of the Top Eliminator Club grandstand in honor of the drag racing legend. [Story]

During pre-race ceremonies, 15-time NHRA Funny Car champJ ohn Force received his Fourth Quarter 2010 Driver of the Year award.

The U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Chorus performed "God Bless America" to the cheers of the Gainesville crowd.

As a pair of U.S. Coast Guard jets roar in behind him for a fly-by, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits issued the command to the first two Top Fuel teams -- those of Doug Foley and Doug Kalitta -- urging the crews to "put some fire in them pipes!"

With his first-round victory over Terry McMillen, Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon joined John Force, Kenny Bernstein and Warren Johnson as the only Full Throttle Series drivers to win 600 rounds.  Dixon is fourth on the NHRA’s career round wins list."600 round wins is great, but if we get round win No. 603, that would be a lot more fun," he said.

Robert Hight had low e.t. of round one of Funny Car with a 4.07 in taking out his boss and father in law, John Force.

In one of the most eagerly-watched Pro Stock pairings in memory, Erica Enders, near lane, defended NHRA honor with a first-round victory over NASCAR champ Kurt Busch. Enders left first and finished first, 6.53 to 6.54.

Both Tony Schumacher (pictured) and Larry Dixon advanced through round two of Top Fuel, and will face one another in the semifinals, where Schumacher has lane choice. Both are tied with four career Gatornationals victories, which currently has them tied with Joe Amato and Don Garlits for the most wins in Top Fuel at this event.

In reaching the semifinals for the second straight event in his return to Top Fuel, Del Worsham has already matched his career round-win total of four, recorded in partial seasons in 1993 and '94.

Cruz Pedregon, the No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car at the season opener in Pomona, advanced his Snap-On Toyota to the semifinals, where he will have lane choice over this event's low qualifier, Matt Hagan. Pedregon, who won this race in Alcohol Dragster in 1989, hasn't won the Gatornationals in Funny Car since 1998.

Reigning series champ LE Tonglet beat rival Andrew Hines in a round-two battle in Pro Stock Motorcycle between last year's top two riders. Tonglet took the win with a 6.825, a career best and the seventh quickest pass in class history. It's been a rocketship ride to fame for Tonglet, an unknown one year ago. “I think we had only three or four fans come by last year who really knew who we were ... and they only knew that because of [brother] GT.” LE said. “Now they are going to be coming by because they know who I am. I like that attention. That’s going to make it a lot more fun.”

For the third straight day, the stands at Gainesville Raceway are packed with NHRA race fans.

Del Worsham's 40th career final round will take place in Top Fuel after the longtime Funny Car runner-up reached the money round for the first time in the fuel dragster class. Worsham, who has 25 Funny Car victories and 14 runner-ups, won the Gatornationals in Funny Car in 2004 and also was runner-up at this event in 2003. Worsham will take on Tony Schumacher for the title.

Winternationals champ Jason Line will be gunning for two in a row at Gainesville when he takes on Summit Racing teammate and reigning world champ Greg Anderson in the final. Gainesville Raceway is one of two tracks on the 2011 Full Throttle Drag Racing circuit where Line has more wins that his teammate (the other is Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill.) This is Line's fourth straight Gators final. He's won it the last two years.

Pre-final-round activities kept the buzz alive as the finalists prepared for the big shootout. A return road parade of classic and vintage hot rods and race cars (above) was followed by the final round of the Darrell Gwynn vs. Don Garlits match race (below). Gwynn drew a roar from the crowd when he downplayed his 0-2 Friday/Saturday record by saying in a pre-race interview, "That was just qualifying; Sunday is the real deal." If it was, it was good for him, as he defeated "Big Daddy" in their final race.

A good old fashioned Cacklefest had the fans cheering and on their feet. The fuel burners were pushed down the return road (above) and then idled on the track to the delight of the crowd.

Your 2011 Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals Full Throttle champs. from left, Eddie Krawiec, Jason Line, Mike Neff, and Del Worsham.