This week, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series heads to Gainesville Raceway for the annual East Coast opener, the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. Through its nearly 50-year history, the Gatornationals has produced a number of memorable moments and barrier-breaking runs, including the following five.
First Top Fuel 260-mph pass
Joe Amato etched his name into the history books when he became the first Top Fuel driver to eclipse the 260-mph mark, doing so in eliminations at the 1984 Gatornationals. Amato got close the mark on his first run of the weekend, powering a speed of 259.36 mph. Amato added to speculation of the barrier-breaking run with a trio of runs over 257 mph that followed his 259. Amato finally got his 260 when he recorded a 260.11-mph clocking against Gary Ormsby in the semifinals. Amato backed that up with a 262.39-mph run in the final against Gary Beck.
First Funny Car 260-mph run
The first 260-mph run by a Funny Car also came at the 1984 Gatornationals. With the crowd still buzzing over Amato’s record-setting performance, Kenny Bernstein added to the electricity in the air and the historic nature of the event when he drove his swoopy Budweiser King Tempo to a speed of 260.11 en route to a final-round win against John Collins.
First Top Fuel 270-mph pass
Two years after Amato busted through for the first 260, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits upped the ante with the first 270-mph pass in Top Fuel history during the 1986 Gators, where Garlits debuted his new Swamp Rat XXX streamliner. Garlits didn’t tiptoe into the 270s, though; he smashed into them, running a 272.56-mph speed in his semifinal win against Dan Pastorini. Garlits went on to defeat Dick LaHaie in the final, clocking a speed of 268.65 mph that wasn’t quite enough to give him the national speed record.
First 300-mph run
One of the most memorable moments in NHRA history came at the 1992 Gatornationals when Kenny Bernstein truly became the “King of Speed,” driving his Budweiser-backed Top Fueler to the first 300-mph run ever recorded. The pass came during the second round of qualifying Friday afternoon when Bernstein was lined up next to Al Segrini in the second pair of cars. Bernstein blasted to a 301.70-mph clocking, earning the $50,000 bonus from Slick 50 as the sport’s first driver to surpass 300 mph. Bernstein backed up his 301.70 for the NHRA national record with a 299.30-mph blast in the quarterfinals of Sunday’s eliminations after running 298.30 in the first round.
First Pro Stock Motorcycle six
A combination of improved times the season before and a very favorable forecast entering the weekend had many buzzing about the possibility of the first Pro Stock Motorcycle six-second run entering the 2005 Gainesville event, and late in the day Friday, Andrew Hines delivered. Moments after then-teammate GT Tonglet rode his Harley to a 7.007, the quickest run in history at the time, Hines bettered that with a 6.991-second time. The run made Hines the first member of the Mickey Thompson Six-Second Pro Stock Motorcycle Club and earned him a $10,000 bonus.