Gatornationals promises can't-miss attractions for NHRA fans
Wednesday, March 02, 2011

For many, it is the East Coast opener. For others, it is a reprieve from the winter weather and a trip to central Florida. But whatever it means to you, it is by far one of the most historic events on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule: the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals. And it is simply a must-attend event.

Traveling around the circuit, fans from around the country always say that “the Gators,” as it is familiarly known, is one race that is on their bucket list. This year, however, will be more special than any year before and probably any year hereafter.

The Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals, March 10-13 at Gainesville Raceway, is the host event for NHRA’s Official 60th Anniversary Kickoff Party. On March 13 60 years ago, Wally Parks and a small group of other hot rodders inked to paper the official beginning of NHRA Drag Racing. The National Hot Rod Association was born.

And there will be no other place in the country a fan of NHRA Drag Racing will want to be than at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals. In a year of celebration that honors the NHRA fan, there are five things you won’t want to miss as the circuit makes its annual visit to Gainesville Raceway.

1) The Tire Kingdom Fan Fest and Kickoff Party at Gainesville Ale House, Thursday, March 10. Tony Schumacher, Jack Beckman, Johnny Gray, Shane Gray, Spencer Massey, Matt Hagan, and Dom Lagana are scheduled to be there signing autographs and participating in an exclusive Q&A session.

2) The 60th Hot Rod Corral and car show. Fans will have the very rare opportunity to see 50 classic drag racing cars, highlighted by a '68 Ford Mustang GT500 (one of only 51 made for sale), Jeg Coughlin Jr.’s ’49 Austin AA/GS, and a '40 Ford convertible re-creation of Don “Big Daddy” Garlits’ first drag racing car. The list of classic drag cars goes on and on -- Don “Skeet” Russell’s ’48 Plymouth Sport Fury, Greg Sullivan’s ’65 Ford Falcon, Barbara Hamilton’s ’37 Willys CC/G, and several other vintage cars from the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing.

3) NHRA Legends/Track Walk. And when we say “legends,” we are talking about the No. 1 driver in NHRA’s history: “Big Daddy” Don Garlits. Joining "Big Daddy" will be Florida’s own Darrell Gwynn. Both will be available throughout the weekend for meet-and-greets and autograph sessions. And, coming on the heels of the hugely popular Track Walk with Don "the Snake" Prudhomme at the opening event in Pomona, fans in Gainesville can journey down the historic dragstrip – the first one to host a 300-mph run – with Gwynn. Hear from the legends about their trials and tribulations on the dragstrip just hours before the beginning of Sunday’s final eliminations.

4) The popular NHRA Cacklefest. Those familiar with the sport remember the days when nitro-burning race vehicles lined up side by side with engines cranked to the max. Well, at this year’s Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals, NHRA will again stage a Cacklefest with nitro-burning cars lining the dragstrip and coming to life all at once. The cackling of vintage cars will keep the crowd on its feet, and likely there will not be a dry eye in the house!

5) The Gwynn-Garlits Match Races for a Cause. There will be one match race each of the three days of the race weekend that no fan will want to miss. Don Garlits will face off against Darrell Gwynn in 1960s-style exhibition match races that will renew their intense rivalry from the mid-1980s. The dragsters will bear period-authentic paint schemes. The only difference between these dragsters and the ones of years gone by is that these drag cars are custom-built battery-powered dragsters designed by noted race fabricator Mike Gerry.

Anyone attending the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals is likely to rub shoulders with some of the legendary racers of the sport who will be there for the weekend signing autographs. Fans will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see 50 vintage drag racing vehicles as part of the 60th Hot Rod Corral car show. Fans will be able to be a part of the return of the legendary NHRA Cacklefest. It is a can’t-miss opportunity. Plus, to top it all off, you can witness history as NASCAR driver Kurt Busch attempts to qualify in the Pro Stock category in his Shell Dodge Avenger for Allen Johnson and J&J Racing.

And, oh yes, there will be the stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series set to bring 300-mph action to historic Gainesville Raceway, the opening event for Pro Stock Motorcycle, and the start of the 2011 NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.

The Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals has long been a must-see destination event for race fans across the world as they make the pilgrimage to the track in north-central Florida, where fans are always treated to tremendous racing. For tickets for the 42nd annual Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals, log on to or call 800-884-6472.