Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals Saturday Notebook

Tony Schumacher and John Force held on to the top spots in qualifying for the 48th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. The top spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle changed hands when reigning world champ Jerry Savoie used a 6.753 to bump Eddie Krawiec from the pole.
18 Mar 2017
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage

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Jerry SavoiePRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q3 (12: 35 p.m.): There was a lot of shuffling in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class after a spirited session where 12 of 23 qualifiers showed an improvement over yesterday’s runs and several racers recorded the best runs of their careers. Reigning Mello Yello champ Jerry Savoie took over the top spot with a 6.753 on his White Alligator Suzuki while Eddie Krawiec tied the fastest speed in the history of the class with a 199.88-mph blast on his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson. The bump spot plummeted from a 7.02 to a near-record 6.94 with one more session to go. 

Erica EndersPRO STOCK Q3 (1:02 p.m.): The top spot in the Pro Stock field did not change in Q3 but reigning NHRA champ Jason Line did strengthen his hold on the top spot with a 6.488, the only 6.4-second run of the session. Line’s teammate, Bo Butner, was second-quickest with a 6.503 and Erica Enders, who is the No. 3 qualifier, drive through early tire shake to record a solid 6.526 best. A couple of drivers who struggled yesterday managed to improve their fortunes including Vincent Nobile and Allen Johnson, who recorded bests of 6.574 and 6.549, respectively. 

Leah PritchettTOP FUEL Q3 (2:05 p.m.): Low qualifier Tony Schumacher made the quickest run of the round, 3.710, but it was Leah Pritchett under the microscope after a disappointing Friday, and Leah Pritchett who posted the second-best time of the round, 3.750, in the Papa John’s entry to move from No. 13 to No. 7. Doug Kalitta was third quickest in the session with a 3.753 and remained the No. 2 qualifier behind Schumacher’s Friday 3.682 with his same-day 3.698.

Alexis DeJoriaFUNNY CAR Q3 (2:35 p.m.): Despite prime air conditions, the majority of Funny Cars were not able to hook up to the track, and only three of the 16 cars that ran made it into the threes. No. 1 qualifier John Force led the way with a 3.88, but Alexis DeJoria continued to impress with her quickest pass – and third straight three – with a 3.928. Matt Hagan’s 3.98 was the only other full run.

Joey GladstonePRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE (Q4 4:18 p.m.): Rookie Joey Gladstone picked up three bonus points after making the quickest pass of the final qualifying session. After stunning the field with a 6.810 earlier in the day, Gladstone rode the San Marino Excavating Suzuki to a 6.793 to move into the third spot in the field behind leader Jerry Savoie and second-place Eddie Krawiec. Five-time champ Andrew Hines also ran a 6.793 but Gladstone’s slightly faster speed will give him the higher qualifying position. There was also plenty of drama in the back of the pack where Angelle Sampey rallied to qualify with a 6.898 on her new Team Liberty Polaris entry. Sampey has qualified for 210 of her 211 previous events. 

First-round pairings (lane choice first): Jerry Savoie vs. Karen Stoffer; Steve Johnson vs. Angie Smith; Andrew Hines vs. Angelle Sampey; Hector Arana Sr. vs. Scotty Pollacheck; Eddie Krawiec vs. Mike Berry; Hector Arana Jr. vs. Matt Smith; Joey Gladstone vs. Melissa Surber; LE Tonglet vs. Cory Reed

Vincent NobilePRO STOCK Q4 (4:42 p.m.): Vincent Nobile made a big improvement in the final round of Pro Stock qualifying when he went from a 6.574 to a 6.539 in the Mountain View Camaro. The top of the qualifying order did not change but Bo Butner did grab three more qualifying bonus points when he made the quickest run of the round with a 6.509. Erica Enders (6.512) and low qualifier Jason Line (6.522) also made solid runs ahead of tomorrow’s opening round of eliminations.  

First-round pairings (lane choice first): Jason Line vs. bye; Drew Skillman vs. Tanner Gray; Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Kenny Delco; Greg Anderson vs. Matt Hartford; Bo Butner vs. John Gaydosh; Chris McGaha vs. Vincent Nobile; Erica Enders vs. Alan Pruisensky; Shane Gray vs. Allen Johnson 

K&N HORSEPOWER CHALLENGE FIELD SET: The top seven spots for the upcoming K&N Horsepower Challenge in Las Vegas have been settled following final qualifying for the Gainesville event. Jason Line managed to hold off his KB Racing teammate, Greg Anderson for the top spot. Bo Butner, Shane Gray, Vincent Nobile, Drew Skillman, and Allen Johnson have also locked up their spots in the special $50,000 to win event that is open to the top eight Pro Stock racers based on their qualifying performances over the past year. The final spot will be filled via an on-line fan vote with Chris McGaha, Erica Enders, Jeg Coughlin and rookie Tanner Gray are the leading contenders for the final spot.  

Antron BrownTOP FUEL Q4 (5:05 p.m.): World champ Antron Brown matched his Friday best of 3.716 to lead the final session but will enter eliminations in the No. 3 spot behind Tony Schumacher (3.682) and Doug Kalitta (3.698). Schumacher didn’t improve but also may have given away anther super run with a planned early shutoff pass that nonetheless yielded a 3.798 at just 266 mph. Also impressive in the final qualifying session were Troy Coughlin Jr. (3.738) and Steve Torrence (3.750).

First-round pairings (lane choice first): Tony Schumacher vs. Smax Smith; Doug Kalitta vs. Larry Dixon; Antron Brown vs. Pat Dakin; Brittany Force vs. Ike Maier; Steve Torrence vs. Chris Karamesines; Troy Coughlin Jr. vs. Shawn Reed; Leah Pritchett vs. Scott Palmer; Clay Millican vs. Terry McMillen

Matt HaganFUNNY CAR Q4 (5:25 p.m.): No one could displace John Force from the No. 1 spot (the 155th pole of his career) and the team boss’ 3.832 leads a 1-2-4 monopoly of the top of the qualifying sheets ahead of Robert Hight (3.844) and Courtney Force (3,860) with only points leader Matt Hagan (3.854) breaking up the sweep. Hight’s 3.868 was low of the final session, Courtney’s 3.873 was second.

First-round pairings (lane choice first): John Force vs. Del Worsham; Robert Hight vs. Bob Tasca III; Matt Hagan vs. Dave Richards; Courtney Force vs. Jim Campbell; Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. Cruz Pedregon; Ron Capps vs. Alexis DeJoria; J.R. Todd vs. Jonnie Lindberg; Jack Beckman vs. Tim Wilkerson

Saturday Mello Yello qualifying recap: Final fields set for Sunday eliminations at Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Nationals

holbrook2SAM Tech NHRA Factory Stock Showdown round one (5:25 p.m.): David Barton, Chris Holbrook, and Stephen Bell, the top three qualifiers in the School of Automotive Machinists and Technology Factory Stock Showdown were able to survive the opening round of eliminations on Saturday afternoon in Gainesville. They will be joined in the semifinals by No. 8 qualifier, Chuck Watson, who upset No. 4 seed Peter Gasko Jr. 

Barton drove his Gary Wolkwitz-owned COPO Camaro to an 8.18 for the win over two-time Mello Yello Pro Stock champion Erica Enders, who spun the tires in her Omaha Track COPO. Enders’ teammate, Todd Patterson, also spun the tires, allowing Bell to advance with an 8.308 in his COPO entry. Watson, the winner of the Factory Stock Showdown event at last year’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, drove his Cobra Jet Mustang to an 8.151 for the win over Geoff Turk’s Dodge DragPak Challenger. 

When eliminations resume on Sunday afternoon, Barton will face Bell and Holbrook will be paired with Watson assuring a Ford vs. Chevy final round. 


Terry McMillen

The Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals is a big race in everyone’s books, but it would be hard to dispute how much it means to Terry McMillen, who’s sponsored by the Tampa-based company. He’s had his share of disappointments at his sponsor’s home race, including DNQs in 2013 and ’14, but he also had his greatest moment here last year, when he reached his first final round. Although he lost that round to Brittany Force, it still resonates with him.

“Last year was huge and it gives you all the motivation one needs when you get that close,” McMillen said. “Just to get to the final round was just huge. Every employee at Amalie was behind us and that kept our motivation up. We’re just blessed to have that relationship. We’ve got a new car, and it’s fast and running as well as anybody out there. We’re coming in with a lot of motivation and redemption of getting back there to the final round, and getting a win this time.”

Fans may remember it was just two ago that McMillen was in the verge of hanging up his helmet after a series of engine malfunctions and lackluster results, but so far in 2017 he and Rob Wendland have been in the 3.70s on almost every run.

“It feels great,” he said. “Now when we run .85 it’s like, ‘What happened?’ Two years ago we would have been thrilled with that number. Heck, there are times we would have been happy with a 4.0.”

Terry McMillenIt’s always a busy weekend for him, especially in the large hospitality tent next to his pit area, where he’s entering scores of Amalie executives and employees, as well as representatives from auto-parts retailers who sell Amalie oil.

“Every time we’ve had hospitality, it’s always been a great thing for us and our partners,” he said. “It’s one thing for them to watch it on TV, but to come out here and see it, and see how interactive it all in, with people have access, TV cameras running around, and all of the fans. There’s nothing better than getting someone away from the office and out to the track for them to see what we do and see how huge this is.”

After barely missing the Countdown in each of the last four years, McMillen is determined to make the cut this year. He comes into the event tied for 10th in points.

“Our goal is to finish in the top 10 and we need to do that this year,” McMillen said. “The next phase of that is to go deep in rounds and put ourselves in position to win, not just once a year but trying to do that three to four times a year. We just have to do a better job of putting ourselves in that position and then taking advantage of that opportunity.”


Tony SchumacherAfter getting beat around pretty hard last year en route to an eighth-place finish, Tony Schumacher and the Army team are riding high after pacing the field Friday with a 3.68, a run that they think may hold up through Saturday’s final two sessions.

"I think that run may do it," he said. "Looking at the weather, it originally was going to be a little cooler, but I think that has changed. Is there potential that someone could go quicker? Possibly. Conditions would have to be just right for someone to knock us off the top spot.
"We are getting to a confidence level that we haven't had in a long time," added Schumacher, whose four Gatornationals Top Fuel wins have him tied with Don Garlits, Joe Amato, and Larry Dixon. "The car is running extremely well from the get-go. We've gotten beat on some unfortunate situations. We know how to do it. We can leave here Sunday with more Gatornationals wins in Top Fuel than anyone else. That’s the kind of history we’re looking to make.”


Barry PatonAfter a four-race, get-acquainted campaign last year, drag boat racing champion Shawn Reed is off to a flying start in what will be his rookie-of-the-year campaign season, having reached the semifinals at the NHRA Arizona Nationals in the Hughes Oilfield Transportation entry, which is fielded by the Paton family and patriarch Barry, who’s been competing for more than 50 years overall and at the Gatornationals -- first as a Super Stock driver and later Alcohol Funny Car pilot before his son, Todd, took over -- since 1971. Todd drove the family car to four Alcohol Funny Car wins, including the U.S. Nationals in 1996.

The team has been solidly in the .80s since the Winternationals and, most importantly, doing it without hurting parts.

“We think we could run high .70s, but then you start to tear up a lot of stuff,” said Paton. “We’ve got everything that everyone else has – the same parts that are on [Steve] Torrence’s car -- just not as much of it.”

After running the first three races, the team will skip the upcoming Las Vegas event, then return in Houston, in Hughes’ homestate of Texas, where they will entertain employees from the Midland-Odessa-based company, including its two owners, Floyd and Barbara Hughes.

“I’d love to run all 24,” said Reed, “but it’s just not possible right now. This is pretty much an all-volunteer crew – you could probably spend $500,000 paying eight guys for all 24 races – so that’s something you need to plan for. I want to not just be out here but be competitive. It’s something I work towards every day.”


Troy Coughlin

As a rookie driver in the class with the fastest accelerating race vehicles in the world, every lap is a learning experience – just ask Troy Coughlin Jr.

The third-generation racer, who took over the controls of J.R. Todd’s SealMaster Top Fueler this season, has enjoyed both sides of the lessons, from great runs to some real white-knuckle rides, including on back-to-back runs here, in Q2 and Q3. In Friday’s session, he got very crossed up as he deployed the parachutes. In today’s first run, the car smoked the tires and he didn’t catch it quick enough and the car sashayed wildly in his lane before he gathered it back in.

“I’ve only made two runs like that, and the last one was in Phoenix testing on a track that was only 88 degrees and this one was 120, and it spun in the same spot, but I was able to feel it so much better on the cold track.

“I’m still following the car instead of leading it,” he admitted. “These cars steer so much different than anything I’ve ever driven, even my Super Comp dragster. The steering is the same concept, but the car is so much longer and the corrections you make are so different. I just need to keep making laps and keep learning. I’ve never had to take so long to get something right.

“I’ll get it; I have a lot of good help in Doug [Kalitta], J.R. [Todd], Alexis [DeJoria], and, of course, Connie [Kalitta, team owner]. It’s all just so different and so new.”


Force-HightJohn Force and Robert Hight have probably answered the “Why?” question 100 times since it was announced earlier this week that they were swapping crew chiefs – reuniting Hight with Jimmy Prock and Force with Mike Neff, combinations that previously yielded championships – that they’re probably growing a little weary of explaining. Well, except Force that is.

“We made changes, and people said, ‘Why?’ I was walking through my shop and got all emotional because it’s the 10th anniversary of Eric Medlen’s (death). We know how much we all loved him. 

“I was looking at all these pictures and all these things that mattered, and all of a sudden my brain popped, and it said, ‘You’ve got to change.’ “

Force and Hight were quick out of the box in Q1, with Force sitting No. 2 and Hight No. 4. But they were even quicker in the second session. With Force No. 1 and Hight No. 2 at 3.832 and 3.844.

“There is no magic,” Force said, downplaying his legendary eric moves. “Sometimes change is just good. I have good people. It’s getting the minds right and hearing the music, and the boys heard the music.”


Second-year Funny Car racer Jim Campbell keeps getting lessons in the school of flopper racing, and got welcomed with a little “heat treating” as the drivers call it when the Jim Dunn Racing/7-Eleven/Oberto Charger lit up after spinning the tires at halftrack on his third qualifying pass. It was a good-sized but relatively harmless fire.

“The car spun the wheels and I tried to catch it as fast as I could,” he said. It blew the burst panel out, but it didn’t kick the rods out or put any oil on the track, so we’ll be back for Q4.”


Del Worsham

Three races into his heartwarming reunion with his son, Del, Chuck Worsham is a happy man. Not only has his son returned to partner with him again after eight years out winning races and championships with the likes of Al-Anabi Racing and Kalitta Motorsports, but their family team is flourishing. They’re 10th in points and shown themselves capable of running in the 3.80s with their Lucas Oil-backed Toyota.

Chuck Worsham“We’re probably doing better than we expected, other than last night,” said Worsham of their Q2 run. “We went from running 3.89 without having to touch the [piston] rings to kicking a rod out. But overall, it’s been going well, and it’s great to have Del back driving. I had a lot of guys drive for me over the last couple of years, and although all of them could drive the car – some better than others – Del’s got so much experience that it lets me run the car harder.”

The elder Worsham, who’s been racing since 1976, when he teamed with Richard Day on the Lil Screamer Alcohol Funny Car – Del began working on his cars when he was just 10 – and sees no end in sight for him. He’s not only enjoying strong performance but, of course, racing with his son. “We get along pretty good, and he’s still got a lot of energy,” he said. “We’re going to go as long as we can. Talking about those first six races was kind of like throwing the hook out there for us; then we started reeling it in.”

Although the team originally announced they would compete at just the first six races, Worsham expects them to make the entire tour, catastrophe notwithstanding. They will do some match racing to help pay the bills and enjoy the support of their many supporters, which also includes John Fink, one of their original partners when Del started driving in the early 1990s.


Erica Enders

It has been 15-months to the day since two-time Erica Enders last made a 6.4-second Pro Stock run in competition and for the two-time champion that is far too long. Enders posted a 6.490-second run in her Elite Camaro during Friday’s qualifying. The last time she received a 6.4-second time slip was on October 18, 2015, when she defeated Jonathan Gray in the final round of the Dallas event. 

“We used to go 6.4s pretty often but the fuel injection set us back a year or so,” said Enders. “We’re just now getting back to where we were power-wise. We’re still not quite there, but it’s a lot better than it was last season. That was basically a throw-away.”

After a solid start to the 2017 season, Enders tested last week in Bradenton, Fla., and her Elite team posted solid gains. The air conditions in Bradenton are similar to Gainesville but according to Enders, the track was totally different. 

“We blew the tires off the car yesterday because we over-estimated the track,” she said. “In Bradenton, we had great air and a great track. Here, because of the number of runs that are made, it’s hard to have the same grip as you’d have during a test session. Still, I’m excited because we have a good race car. We can compete with anyone this year.”

Dropping from first to ninth in the Mello Yello standings, Enders clearly did not enjoy the 2016 season but while the Elite team struggled to get up to speed with their new fuel injection combination, her reaction times remained a constant. 

“I tried,” she said. “I tried to keep my lights consistent because there were times when that was all I had. When you go up against someone that is four or five [hundredths] quicker than you are, that’s all you can do.”

Erica EndersEnders’ “side project” in Gainesville is the COPO Camaro that she’s racing in the SAM Tech NHRA Factory Stock Showdown. Enders’ Omaha Track Camaro is powered by an engine from the Patterson/Elite Shop, where she is a minority partner. 

“I love that car,” said Enders, who is qualified for the quick eight-car field with a fifth-best 8.170. 

“That car is so much fun to drive,” Enders said. “It’s a challenge to get it to hook up on a nine-inch tire but when it does, it does a big wheelstand and it’s just a blast to race.”

Enders plans to compete in all five of the SAM Tech Factory Stock Showdown events this season and compete for the series championship with her COPO teammate, Todd Patterson. 


Vincent Nobile

After two aborted runs, Vincent Nobile and the Mountain View team were at the bottom of the Pro Stock qualifying chart after Friday’s two runs but he improved to a 12th best 6.574 after Saturday’s first run. 

“We had an issue with a set of tires that wasn’t working and I think we’ve finally fixed it,” said Nobile. “There is nothing wrong with the tires but every now and then you get a set that just doesn’t work with your combination and I think that’s the situation we were in. It doesn’t help that the air here is go good that we’re making the most horsepower we’ve ever had. It makes tuning quite a challenge.”

Nobile is off to a fast start this season, particularly in qualifying where he was third quickest in Pomona and fourth-best in Phoenix. He’s also made it to the quarterfinals at both races and enters Gainesville as the seventh-ranked driver in the class.

“We’re doing okay but we certainly can do better,” said Nobile. “We know we can win races. We just had to sort out a few issues. We’re definitely not showing everything we have yet.”


John Gaydosh

Friday was a forgettable day for Pro Stock privateer John Gaydosh who didn’t make it on the qualifying sheet after either run in his Pypes Camaro. Gaydosh opened with a solid baseline run of 6.71-seconds, but that run was disallowed after the racing gas did not pass fuel check. On his second attempt, Gaydosh was shut off on the starting line after his radiator developed a water leak.

“It just wasn’t our day,” said Gaydosh. “I picked up the fuel in Delaware on the way down here and it passed the first time but it failed fuel check when we got here. Then the water leak set us even further behind.”

Gaydosh, who races Pro Stock as efficiently as possible, is also debuing a new engine that was built by Gray Motorsports. It is equipped with an intake that Gaydosh fabricated himself during the long off-season. On Saturday’s first run, he improved to a 6.776 and then, with a little fine tuning, settled into the No. 15 spot with a 6.708. 

“This motor is fresh and it should run 6.64-65 in this air,” he said. “That 6.77 run was only the second full pass on the engine. We still have a lot of tuning to do and I’m sure there is a lot left in it.”



Two-time Pro Stock champion and veteran crew chief Jim Yates has taken on a new and unfamiliar role as the new crew chief/advisor on the Lucas Oil Buells of Hector Arana Sr. and Hector Jr. Yates admits that his knowledge of two-wheel racing is limited, but he also sees a lot of similarities between two and four-wheel Pro Stock racing.

“A lot of what I know applies to these bikes but there are some significant differences and that’s what I’m learning,” said Yates. “These [Arana bikes] have no problem with power but we need to figure out how to manage it. They both blew the tires off yesterday. One of the good things about these deal is that since I’m new to the bike class, I can’t come in and say, ‘Well, that’s how we’ve always done it.’ I’m very open to new ideas.”

Yates went on to explain that since Pro Stock Motorcycles do not have a sprung suspension, there are fewer variables, but in light of that, each adjustment becomes more critical, especially when it comes to the clutch.

“There is no weight to move around on these bikes but the biggest difference is in the clutch,” Yates said. “This [bike] clutch is far more complex than the one we use in the cars. It’s got five times the variables. There are also a lot more options when it comes to gears because you can change sprockets and the transmission has six speeds. That’s where I think I can do the most good because I’m a clutch and gear ratio guy. I don’t think many people know this but when I got out of college I worked in the patent office and handled a lot of gear drive innovations.”

Two days into the new season, it already appears that Yates is helping the Arana team. After three qualifying sessions, Hector Arana Sr. is fourth-quickest with a 6.813 and Hector Jr. is sixth-best with a 6.828. 

“We should be able to put both bikes in the 6.7s but for now, I’m happy that they’re both in the top half of the field,” said Yates. “On race day, my goal is to be able to take a few things off of Hector’s [Sr.] plate so he can concentrate on winning rounds.”


Andrew Hines

While his Harley-Davidson teammate Eddie Krawiec was sitting atop the sheet with a 6.791-second run, Andrew Hines struggled through Friday’s two runs on his Harley V-Rod. 

“We made a horrible run in the first session and then on the second, we went the wrong way with our tune-up and it bogged,” said Hines. “We have just been too aggressive. One the second run, my bike was like a Super Comp car; it left hard initially, and then shut off.”

Hines improved to a 6.855 on Saturday’s first run but he’s currently not in the top half of the field. The five-time world champ also addressed the possibility that he or someone else could run over 200-mph this weekend. In Q3, Krawiec came close with a 199.88-mph run. 

“Yesterday, we had a tune-up in my bike that could have run 203-mph as far as the gearing goes,” Hines said. “Today, we dialed it back a bit to about 199. It’s still possible with the tailwind we have today but it’s going to be really tough. Eddie’s 199 run might have been the best chance we’re going to get this weekend.”


Joey Gladstone

There were plenty of impressive Pro Stock Motorcycle performances on Saturday but few riders were more were eye-opening than rookie of the year contender Joey Gladstone. Riding Joe Riccardi’s San Marino Excavating Suzuki, Gladstone improved upon his career-best by more than a tenth of a second in Q3 with a 6.810 and then lowered the boom in Q4 with a 6.793 that was the quickest pass of the round. Gladstone qualified in the top half of the field for the first time in his brief career.

“This morning, I knew it was on a good run and I was hoping that it was maybe a 6.88 or 6.89 but when I found out it was an .81, that was hard to believe. I had to ask twice,” said Gladstone. “And then, we came out and ran a .79. That was almost too good to be true. I know we have good power but we haven’t been able to make many runs. We wanted to test last week but that didn’t work out so well.”

Riccardi owns the team and also handles most of the tuning duties with the help of Gary Stoffer, and Vance & Hines rider Eddie Krawiec. The team attempted to test last week at South Georgia Motorsports Park but encountered a number of problems that prevented them from gathering much data.

“We had a front axle break and I had to drive 100 miles to use a lathe and get one machined,” said Gladstone. “Then, we broke a front fender and had to have one shipped int. I think we would have been light years ahead of where we are if we had a chance to do more testing.”

The San Marino team plans to compete in all 16 Pro Stock Motorcycle events this season and Gladstone is happy to throw his hat into the ring for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future award along with Troy Coughlin Jr., Jonnie Lindberg, and Tanner Gray. 

“Now that I’ve got a taste of running fast, I’m stoked,” Gladstone said. “I want to win some races and I’d love to win the rookie of the year. There are some bad dudes in the running for that deal. I’m just happy to be in there with them.”


Pro Mod racer Sidnei Frigo gave himsellf -- and everyone else at Gainesville Raceway -- a fright when his turbocharged Corvette lost an engine during the final qualifying and, with oil under the tires, got wildly out of control before hauling the car back under control (animated gif).



After an impressive fan turnout on Friday, the Gainesville Raceway grandstands and pit area was packed to near-capacity again on Saturday with NHRA fans who got to watch one of the best days of qualifying in recent memory. 


Gator Lane
A new fan-friendly feature debuted today. Gator Lane allows fans access to one lane of the staging lanes, where they can watch drivers suiting up, take photos, and get autographs.
Nitro School
NHRA announcer Alan Reinhart held another edition of the popular Nitro School with Rob Wendland, the crew chief on Terry McMillen’s Amalie Motor Oil Top Fuel dragster. During the class, Wendland was able to explain in inner workings of a modern NHRA nitro team. 
Fans in Gainesville got to meet many of their favorite drivers during the Mello Yello autograph session. The participating drivers included two-time world champ Del Worsham, Clay Millican, Vincent Nobile, and reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Jerry Savoie. 
Papa John
Top Fuel points leader Leah Pritchett took on her sponsor, “Papa John” Schnatter, is the inaugural Charity Challenge match race. Pritchett, in a supercharged Gen III Hemi-powered Dodge Challenger, drove to the win over Schnatter, who is driving his prized ’71 Z-28 Camaro. The race raised $20,000 to benefit the Infinite Hero Foundation and former U.S. Marine Mike Wilson, who was injured in combat operations in the Middle East.
After their charity match race, Schnatter and Pritchett posed for photos with fans in a special appearance.


It didn’t take long for track records to fall during the first day of qualifying on Friday for the 48th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. Eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher set the pace in Top Fuel with a 3.682 in his U.S. Army dragster. Schumacher edged rival Doug Kalitta, who also found the 3.6-second zone with a 3.698. Leah Pritchett, who enters the Gainesville race riding a two-race win streak is off to a slow start. Pritchett’s first run was a competitive 3.768 but it was disqualified after her car came up light at the scales. The Papa John’s entry smoked the tires on the second run of the day. 

Team Force cars currently occupy three of the top four spots in Funny Car with 16-time champ John Force leading the charge. With new crew chief Jimmy Prock making the tuning calls, Force wheeled his Peak Camaro to a track record 3.832 at 333.25 for the provisional pole. Both of those marks are career bests for Force. Teammate Robert Hight is a close second with a 3.844 while Courtney Force is fourth-quickest after a 3.860 on Friday. Matt Hagan, who is gunning for his third-straight win to start the season is off to a solid start with a 3.854 that is third-best. 

Pro Stock drivers found the 6.4-second zone for the first time since the introduction of fuel injection last season and reigning Mello Yello champ Jason Line has been the quickest to this point with a 6.476. Line’s teammate, Bo Butner, is a thousandth behind with a 6.477 while two-time champ Erica Enders heads into Saturday’s two sessions in the No. 3 spot with a 6.490. 

The Pro Stock Motorcycles class made it’s 2017 debut on Friday and three-time champ Eddie Krawiec wasted no time moving to the top of the charts with a 6.791 on his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson. Hector Arana Sr. finished the day in the second spot after a 6.813 on his Lucas Oil Buell while former champ LE Tonglet had the third-best run with a 6.819 on his Nitro Fish Suzuki. 

In the J&A Services Pro Mod class, Stevie “Fast” Jackson made a strong first impression with a 5.781 in the supercharged Bahrain1 Camaro. Jackson, a star in the world of radial tire racing, is making his first start in the NHRA Pro Mod series.