ELIMINATION ROUND RECAPS
TOP FUEL ROUND 1 (11:29 a.m.): The biggest upset of the first round came at the hands of Mike Salinas. The racer out of San Jose, Calif. took down Steve Torrence when the Texan crossed the centerline, disqualifying himself and losing five points in the process. Salinas made a solid run in the other lane, running a 3.793-second pass, by far his best of the weekend. He qualified in the No. 15 spot. Terry McMillen beat Scott Palmer in a tight drag race at McMillen’s sponsor’s event and will have lane choice over No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican in the second round of action.
Round two pairings (lane choice first): Terry McMillen vs. Clay Millican; Tony Schumacher vs. Shawn Reed; Richie Crampton vs. Mike Salinas; Leah Pritchett vs. Antron Brown
FUNNY CAR ROUND 1 (11:59 a.m.): Robert Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock unleashed a salvo in the first round against Dave Richards with the best elapsed time (3.894) of the event so far. That was also the first 3.80 ripped during the Funny Car portion of the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals thus far. That’ll get Hight a meeting with Matt Hagan in the second round, and the Auto Club Chevy Camaro will have lane choice. While Top Fuel Dragster featured three upsets, things went according to the bracket in Funny Car. The higher seed won in every round of action with the exception of Del Worsham beating J.R. Todd after the DHL Toyota Camry deployed its parachutes during the burnout.
Second round pairings (lane choice first): Jack Beckman vs. Del Worsham; Shawn Langdon vs. Tommy Johnson Jr.; Ron Capps vs. Courtney Force; Robert Hight vs. Matt Hagan
PRO STOCK ROUND 1 (12:02 p.m.): Dodge driver Alan Prusiensky and Val Smeland turned in the biggest upsets of the opening round of Pro Stock when they defeated four-time world champ Jason Line and No. 2 qualifier Alex Laughlin, respectively. Prusiensky drove his eCarmover.com Dart to a 6.731 after Line’s Summit Camaro shook the tires. Former Comp racer Smeland picked up his first Pro Stock round win after Laughlin fouled by five-thousandths. Tanner Gray also advanced from the bottom half of the ladder when he scored a holeshot win over Deric Kramer.
Second round pairings (lane choice first): Greg Anderson vs. Drew Skillman; Bo Butner vs. Alan Pruisensky; Vincent Nobile vs. Val Smeland; Tanner Gray vs. Chris McGaha
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 1 (12:22 p.m.): Holeshots were the order of the day in the opening round of Pro Stock Motorcycle with two of the pre-race favorites bowing out early. Jerry Savoie, the 2016 world champ, lost to Karen Stoffer’s .009 reaction time and Hector Arana Jr. and his 201-mph Lucas Oil Buell were caught by nearly-perfect .007 light. Low qualifiers Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec each advanced on their Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson’s while Cory Reed, Angelle Sampey, Scotty Pollacheck, Hector Arana Sr. and Steve Johnson also moved into round two.
Second round pairings (lane choice first): Andrew Hines vs. Angelle Sampey; Cory Reed vs. Scotty Pollacheck; Eddie Krawiec vs. Steve Johnson; Hector Arana Sr. vs. Karen Stoffer
TOP FUEL ROUND 2 (1:40 p.m.): The upsets continued in the second round of Top Fuel racing as Shawn Reed toppled Tony Schumacher with a 4.021-second pass. His Hughes Oilfield Transportation dragster quit early but Schumacher ran into trouble much earlier and that was enough to put “The Sarge” out of commission. Reed will take on No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican after Millican defeated his friend Terry McMillian. Meanwhile, Antron Brown took down Leah Pritchett in a battle of teammates on a holeshot. Brown is trying to get into a final round for the first time this season.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice listed first): Clay Millican vs. Shawn Reed; Antron Brown vs. Richie Crampton
FUNNY CAR ROUND 2 (2:06 p.m.): It won’t quite be an all-Don Schumacher Racing semifinal. Shawn Langdon got by Tommy Johnson Jr. and will take on No. 1 qualifier Jack Beckman for a shot at his first final round in a Funny Car. Langdon’s Global Electronic Technology flopper quit just before the finish line, but that was enough to get by Johnson, whose Make-a-Wish Funny Car gave up the ghost much earlier in the pass. Ron Capps will take on his teammate, Matt Hagan, whose car blew up just before the lights alongside Robert Hight’s Chevy Camaro. Hight’s Funny Car detonated just before Hagan’s making for a spectacular sight.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Jack Beckman vs. Shawn Langdon; Ron Capps vs. Matt Hagan
PRO STOCK ROUND 2 (2:16 p.m.): Low qualifier Greg Anderson shook the tires and lost to Drew Skillman while reigning world champ Bo Butner marched on in eliminations with a convincing win over Alan Prusiensky’s Dodge. On the other side of the ladder, Tanner Gray outran Phoenix winner Chris McGaha, 6.612 to 6.621 and Vincent Nobile took care of business against Val Smeland. Butner made the quickest run of the round with a 6.593, 210.14.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Tanner Gray vs. Vincent Nobile; Bo Butner vs. Drew Skillman
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 2 (p.m.): The Harley-Davidson team could be in line for another all-Street Rod final after Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec each won their quarterfinal rounds. Hines defeated Angelle Sampey and Krawiec,, seeking his fifth Gainesville win, rode past Steve Johnson’s Suzuki. Both Harley’s ran 6.87-second elapsed times. Scotty Pollacheck continued his string of strong runs with a 6.875 to stop Cory Reed and Hector Arana Sr. rode his Lucas Oil Buell past Karen Stoffer to round out the final four.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Eddie Krawiec vs. Hector Arana Sr.; Andrew Hines vs. Scotty Pollacheck
TOP FUEL SEMIFINALS (3:28 p.m.): Welcome to March Madness: Top Fuel edition. The final round of the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals will feature Richie Crampton and Shawn Reed. Crampton is racing in a final for the first time since the Fall Charlotte race in 2017, while Reed is racing in his first final round ever. The boat racer defeated No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican after both racers got into trouble and Reed pedaled away from the Parts Plus/Great Clips dragster. That means the No. 10 and No. 12 qualifiers will square off in a battle for the ages.
FUNNY CAR SEMIFINALS (3:30 p.m.): Another Wally will head back to Don Schumacher Racing’s shop, it’s just a matter of which driver will bring it home. No. 1 qualifier Jack Beckman defeated Shawn Langdon, though neither driver got down the track cleanly. Beckman made the pass in 4.478 seconds while Langdon took 9 seconds to make the pass. That’s about how Matt Hagan made his pass (4.056) while his teammate, Ron Capps, ran the lane in 9.134. Hagan made it back up to the lanes after blowing the body off his Mopar Funny Car in the previous round.
PRO STOCK SEMIFINALS (3:36 p.m.): It wasn’t pretty, but reigning rookie of the year Tanner Gray advanced to his first final round of the season following a coasting win over Vincent Nobile. Both drivers shook the tires at the start but Gray recovered to cross the finish line first. Gray will race against reigning world champ Bo Butner, who moved to his second final in three races after a 6.623, 209.39 to 6.642, 210.05 win over Drew Skillman. A few minuted before the Pro Stock semifinals, Skillman was also defeated in the semi’s of Super Stock.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE SEMIFINALS (3:38 p.m.): In will be another all Harley-Davidson final round after Vance & Hines teamamtes Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec each won their semifinal races. Hines stopped Scotty Pollacheck with a solid 6.868, 196.96 run but lost lane choice after Kraweic powered past Hector Arana Sr. and his Lucas Oil Buell with a 6.852. Hines and Krawiec have combined to win the Gainesville race, the traditional season-opener for Pro Stock Motorcycles, six times since 2004. The final will also be a rematch of the 2017 race, which went to Krawiec.
E3 SPARK PLUGS NHRA PRO MOD SERIES FINAL: Three-time Pro Mod series champion Rickie Smith won four the fourth time at Gainesville Raceway when he drove his Bahrain1 Camaro to a final round win over Mike Janis. Smith ran 5.795 in the final after Janis slowed before the finish line. Smith now has 15-career NHRA national event wins including 13 in the Pro Mod class. He outlasted a stout field of more than 30 entries to take the early-season points lead.
SAM TECH NHRA FACTORY STOCK SHOWDOWN: In an all-team final, Stephen Bell scored his first win in the SAM Tech Factory Stock Showdown after Aaron Stanfield spun the tires on the starting line. Bell carded an 8.176, 167.17 for the victory. A record field of 31 factory built Ford, Dodge, and Chevy race cars attended the season-opening event.
MICKEY THOMPSON TIRES TOP FUEL HARLEY FINAL: Tii Tharpe left first but trailed all the way to the halfway mark of the Gainesville Raceway strip; that’s when he started to make up ground. He trailed by a tenth at half-track, but by the time he got to the stripe he defeated Bob Malloy by two-tenths for his second win in a row.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE FINAL (4:47 p.m.): After a lengthy and animated staging battle, which included multiple hand gestures and a lot of good-natured chiding, reigning NHRA Mello Yello series champ Eddie Krawiec got the best of Harley-Davidson teammate Andrew Hines, 6.824, 198.44 to 6.853, 197.19. It was Krawiec’s third-straight win in Gainesville and sixth overall at the traditional season-opener. Hines was also a runner-up at last year’s event.
PRO STOCK FINAL (4:52 p.m.): Tanner Gray overcame a slow start to the season to collect his first win following a 6.588, 210.18 to 6.605, 210.34 win against reigning Mello Yello champ Bo Butner in the final round. Gray had previously lost in the first round at the first two events of the season in Pomona and Phoenix and was the No. 11 qualifier in Gainesville with his Gray Manufacturing Technologies Camaro. Gray now joins his father, Shane, and grandfather, Johnny, as a winner at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
FUNNY CAR FINAL (4:53 p.m.): For the first time in NHRA Drag Racing history, the No. 1 qualifier has won the Winternationals, the NHRA Arizona Nationals and the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in the same season. That’s great news … for Jack Beckman. He won the Gators for the first time in his career by .01 second over teammate Matt Hagan.
TOP FUEL FINAL (4:59 p.m.): Richie Crampton earned the eighth Wally of his career in a solo run when Shawn Reed experienced a fuel leak at the starting line and was forced to shut off. It’s Crampton’s first win in his second final round with Kalitta Motorsports. He is the 10th driver to win for Connie Kalitta.
NHRA LUCAS OIL DRAG RACING SERIES FINAL ROUND RESULTS: In addition to the Mello Yello Drag Racing series action, racing was also contested in nine sportsman categories.
TOP ALCOHOL DRAGSTER: Chris Demke def. Josh Hart
TOP ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR: Sean Bellemeur def. Annie Whiteley
COMP ELIMINATOR: Frank Aragona Jr. def. Greg Kamplain
SUPER STOCK: Kevin Riner def. Pat Clifford
STOCK: Jeff Taylor def. Kenny Miele
SUPER COMP: Greg Slack def. Ray Miller Jr.
SUPER GAS: Jim Perry def. Michelle Furr
TOP DRAGSTER, presented by Racing RV’s.com: Alan Kenny def. Steve Cohen
TOP SPORTSMAN presented by Racing RV’s.com: Ronnie Proctor def. Lester Johnson
PRO STOCK WINNER TANNER GRAY: “We had a completely different car today than yesterday. We obviously stumbled at the beginning of the season. We went testing in Phoenix and then went to Pomona and lost in the first round. Then, we went back to Phoenix and tested some more and then when to the race in Phoenix and lost again. Then, we went home and tested and went to Bradenton and tested some more before we came here. We did a lot of testing but we were banging our heads against the wall trying to get this car to act right.”
“It looked like a race car today. I did get lucky in the semi’s against Vincent [Nobile]. That was my first Pro Stock pedal-fest and I didn’t’ go very well at that. It’s my job to hit the Tree and get the car to the other end. As a driver, that’s my responsibility and I take it very seriously. I get upset at myself when I don’t do well. Today was far from perfect but we clearly made some progress this weekend. That is encouraging.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE WINNER EDDIE KRAWIEC: “We were having fun up there. I heard him hit the gas a couple of times and I thought, ‘Okay, game on.’ So I waved him in. At that point I knew that I wasn’t going to stage first. Honestly, I didn’t think he was going to mess with me but I know we put on a good show for the fans. I really enjoy racing in those zero pressure situations. It was the same deal as when I raced Matt Smith last year in Pomona after I clinched the championship. I didn’t have any pressure then, either.”
“Right now, I have a lot of confidence. All weekend, I’ve told you guys that we haven’t changed these Harley-Davidsons. We know what we have and when you have that sort of confidence, you go up there thinking that no one can beat you. In the final, Andrew and I both made changes to our bikes. He went one way and I went the other. We agreed to try something different so we could learn. My bike happened to respond to the change a bit better than his did.”
FUNNY CAR WINNER JACK BECKMAN: “I have a tremendous amount of respect (Matt Hagan’s crew chief Dickie Venables) and that whole crew. They unloaded their backup chassis right away. So, rather than take a chance on putting a new body on the chassis they pulled out a brand-new chassis out of the trailer. That’s where testing pays off because you can test all of their stuff. There wasn’t any time to talk to those guys because they were hustling to get ready for the semi’s.
“When you see it’s overcast it’s a slightly different mindset. If it’s nasty hot like it was in the semifinals and the car goes out there and shakes it’s going to smoke right away you better and goes out there and shakes, you better go out there and count to 150, which goes by very quickly to a driver, and roll back into it. So, there’s that preparation for a driver, but otherwise, the weather is for the crew chiefs to worry about.”
TOP FUEL WINNER RICHIE CRAMPTON: “I had a couple of lucky rounds of course and then winning the final by default, it isn’t how you want to win, but Connie Kalitta and Rob Flynn gave me a race car that went 3.85 on that race track, so I knew that was going to be hard to beat no matter who we were racing because that was a great run I thought.”
“To drive for a legend like Connie is huge. He’s done so much for the sport and to strap into one of his cars every weekend is huge. So, when I got the call from him last year one of the priorities for me was to come and drive for him was to stand in the winner’s circle. I’m not taking that lightly. This is one of my most rewarding wins ever. Hopefully we can get four more wins for him and get him to that magical 100 win mark. He’s 80 years old and still going strong, that guy’s my hero.”
If there’s one race a year that Terry McMillen gets excited for more than any other, it’s the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. The racer has been partnered with the Amalie Motor Oil company for many years and relishes the opportunity to take part in the many fan and sponsorship events that take place during one of the biggest events on the NHRA Drag Racing calendar.
“It’s been crazy busy, but it’s awesome,” said McMillen. “It’s kind of like we own Gainesville in a way. The attendance has been amazing, it’s so busy around here you can’t even get a scooter through here. That’s great though that people want to get here early and stay all day.”
McMillen hopes to turn all the off-track hoopla into on-track success. He reached the final round in Gainesville in 2016 but came up short to Brittany Force. He wasn’t so fortunate in 2017 and qualified eighth this year. McMillen will take on Scott Palmer on Sunday.
“The first run I think we started okay, but we just never separated from the clutch far enough,” he said. We moved a little slowly and then tried to make up for it at the end. Then the second run, it was over as soon as we hit the bump, but we were fine up until then.”
His best run of the weekend was a 3.83, which while nothing spectacular was enough to get into the top half of the field as teams struggled with a tricky racing surface. Crew chief Rob Wendland backed the Xtermigator dragster up a bunch to get it down the track in the third session and made a solid pass in the final session to keep McMillen in the top half of the field.
“The conditions are a lot better than the track is,” McMillen said. “That’s why we’ve backed our car down so much; we’ve been here enough that we know that. It didn’t matter Friday night, though, there was just nothing there. We were spinning the tires last night, just like everyone else was.”
Now McMillen will see if they’ve learned enough from the first two days of qualifying to get four round wins and the second Wally of his career. As good as that Las Vegas win was, a win in front of all his sponsors could be even sweeter.
Shawn Reed is making his season debut at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in the Hughes Oilfield Transportation Dragster, but not quite the same dragster as last season. Reed plans to race in 10 events this season in what he said is practically a brand-new car.
“It’s got all new wiring done in the Capco shop, so it mimics Steve Torrence’s car, Dom Lagana’s car and Scott Palmer’s car,” said Reed. “Everything is exactly the same, tunability wise. Once we get it figured out, we should be pretty good. Dom is helping us out a lot this weekend.”
The NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four Wide Nationals in Charlotte is next on Reed’s schedule. He plans to run a handful of races on the Eastern side of the United States before taking a break during the middle of the season and then closing out the season with a handful of races during the Countdown to the Championship.
His goal for the Gatornationals, and really for the entire early part of the season, is to slowly back down his car.
“This weekend with a new race car, we’ve lowered the fuel pressure a lot and have different fuel lines just to get them in line,” said Reed. “We have a whole different clutch system than what we ran last year. We’re just looking at getting into the 3.80s this weekend and then we’ll try to get into the 3.70s from there. After we’re comfortable there is when we’re going to try to switch to the six disc.”
That should sound familiar if you followed Palmer last season.
“This car is set up the same way that Palmer’s was last year,” said Reed. “We’re trying to get it run more consistently. We could run a .75 if we wanted to, but we don’t want to blow it up and hurt parts, we want to get data from it. It’s just baby steps in this thing. We want to run a mid-80, maybe a low 80 on Sunday if we can get there.”
The major difference between Reed and Palmer is the number of races Reed is running this season. The process remains the same, though. He’ll try to back the car down slowly, hurt as few parts as possible and eventually switch to a six-disc clutch. First thing’s first: Reed has Pat Dakin in the first round on Sunday. Starting his first race of the season with a round win wouldn’t be too shabby.
Defending Gatornationals champion Tony Schumacher is looking to add another Wally to his ever-growing collection. To win his first race since he won this race a season ago, he must go through defending Top Fuel world champion Brittany Force. The winningest Top Fuel racer of all time is, as usual, excited about the opportunity.
“I love this race,” said Schumacher. “It’s top three for me without a doubt. We just do so well here and that gives us a ton of confidence. The place was sold out Saturday and fans jammed in here to see us do battle. There’s just something about racing here. It’s been a long time since we’ve won a race. I’m hungry. This U.S. Army Racing team is hungry.”
Getting his first win in a year will also get new U.S. Army Dragster crew chief Mike Neff his first win with the team. Neff came over to work with Schumacher over the offseason, and while the team hasn’t earned a win yet, the partnership has already appeared fruitful.
“I’d like to get Neff his first Top Fuel win here tomorrow,” said Schumacher. “A year is too long for us to go between wins. We will do everything we can tomorrow to make it a long day and put ourselves in position to win this thing.”
Schumacher has one of the quickest and most consistent Top Fuelers in the sport. Only Clay Millican and Steve Torrence can claim quicker cars, and perhaps only Torrence can say his car is more consistent. That’s good company to be among. The earliest Schumacher can race Millican is the semifinals and “The Sarge” can’t face off against Torrence until the final round of racing. Of course, he has to get there first.
The NAPA Auto Parts car driven by Ron Capps and tuned by Rahn Tobler has yet to earn a Wally this season, but the team left the NHRA Arizona Nationals encouraged by the progress made after smoking the tires in the second round of eliminations.
“We felt all the way up to going into round two we had a pretty good handle on it,” said Tobler. “We ran pretty well on Saturday, we had low e.t. in the first round on a track a lot of people had trouble getting down. Then we came back for the second round and it just didn’t… the clutch system, the regulator is something that controls the clutch pressure.
“So, you manipulate the clutch pressure to slow the bearing down or the speed the bearing up. And the problem is that it didn’t get on that, it should have slowed the bearing down. So, we figured out that we need to run it on the regulator, and we’re trying that out here.”
After four runs, the NAPA Funny Car got into the No. 7 position and Capps will race Bob Tasca III in the first round on Sunday. A rough run in the first round (4.7 seconds) was followed by three runs in the 3-second range; the NAPA team was the only one to accomplish that feat. Capps and Tobler remain a consistent duo if nothing else.
“It didn’t quite work on the first run on Friday, but it worked better on the second run even though it wasn’t all that quick. It was okay, though, we got some data,” said Tobler. “We had some questions about the six-disc clutch, and when we ran it a few years ago we took it out because it would unexpectedly smoke the tires and there was nothing we could see that would tell us why it was smoking the tires.”
This recent experience helped answer some questions for Tobler.
“The little thing I talked about with the regulator? We didn’t have that set quite right,” he said. “So, it’s about fine tuning the pressure and getting that set up and fine tuning it.”
The team enters race day as it often did last season: not with the quickest car on property, but one that’s consistent enough to march through the field. Capps felt the NAPA team was on the cusp of winning its first race of the season following the NHRA Arizona Nationals. Now, it’s time to see if he was right.
John Force is trying to get his Peak Funny Car right after three massive explosions in three-straight races. An early shut off during the final round of qualifying on Saturday went as planned, and the team plans to play it safe during eliminations on Sunday as he faces off against his daughter Courtney Force. The goal is simple: get a handle on this Funny Car.
“I am banking on the experience of the people around me,” said John Force. “I am the kind of guy that, when it is qualifying day, I run it to the edge. I run it even if I know it will hurt itself. I am rethinking all that. What I am looking is the long haul.”
This new perspective comes after detonating three bodies, including one that resulted in a crash with fellow Funny Car pilot Jonnie Lindberg at the NHRA Arizona Nationals. Both drivers escaped the crash relatively unscathed and participated in the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. Lindberg didn’t qualify for the field in a new flopper.
“To go out here and say I have to win this race or I have to qualify low after as much stuff as we have put on the ground in Pomona and Phoenix and then to come here and do it again is bad,” said Force. “Jimmy (Prock) was up all night and so was (Brian) Corradi. (Jon) Schaffer and (Jason) McCulloch were up all night too. We want to fix this problem and move on.”
All eyes will be on the two John Force Racing Funny Cars in round one, but the team feels they’ve fixed the problem, once and for all.
Bob Tasca III feels the performance of his Motorcraft Ford Mustang Funny Car is coming around. The team qualified No. 10 and must race 2016 Funny Car world champion Ron Capps in the first round but given how much teams battled the racing surface at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, Tasca is encouraged.
“I’m thrilled on how the car performed,” he said. “When you come out in the toughest conditions that we’ve seen all year and the Motorcraft Mustang was second quickest three out of four sessions, it’s a remarkable job. We’re still learning this six-disc clutch. We’re really gaining on it. I like the progress. I like the performance. We just missed the setup in the night session. We pressed a bit too hard. We’re one of the most dangerous cars on the property right now.”
Tasca knows he’s in for a tough matchup when facing off against Capps in the first round. This is the first time crew chief Eric Lane will face off against his former boss Rahn Tobler as a crew chief; but everyone who follows NHRA Drag Racing is aware of what the team is up against. With that said, Tasca feels the team has a car capable of going deep into the race.
“We’re going to see some heat tomorrow,” said Tasca. “I think the first round will be the best chance to take a big shot at it. Second, third and fourth rounds, you better go out there and run 3.98 to win the race. We just have to get through the first round. We’re focused on a good pass. I feel like we’re one of the three best cars in the field tomorrow with (Ron) Capps and (Jack) Beckman.”
The racer has never lacked confidence, but the team is still looking for its first round win of the season. Getting one over Capps would be a significant way to do it.
So far, so good for Greg Anderson who scored the pole in Pro Stock for the 94th time in his career and also banked nine qualifying bonus points after posting the quickest elapsed time in three of the four qualifying sessions. After a disappointing start to the 2018 season, Anderson is extremely happy to be in Gainesville, an even that he’s won four times including back-to-back wins in 2015-16.
“It is always good to come back to Gainesville; there’s a lot of history here and this track is a good track for Pro Stock,” said Anderson. “And there’s the fans. Anytime you can race in front of a sold-out grandstand that’s a plus. You roll up there and you do the burnout you don’t even want to put it in reverse. You want to get out of the car and get up on the roof. Makes you feel good. We’re in the right motorsport. Others are struggling but we’re headed in the right direction.”
Another little-known fact about Anderson and Gainesville Raceway; Anderson was a DNQ in his first trip to the Sunshine State in 1998. A year later, he qualified No. 12 and defeated Allen Johnson in round one for the second professional round win of his career. Few remember Anderson because all eyes were focused on Johnson, who barrel rolled his Dodge numerous times in one of the most frightening Pro Stock crashes ever seen.
“I remember rolling around the corner and the Safety Safari trucks went flying past me,” said Anderson. “I had no idea that A.J. had crashed. Thankfully, all the safety equipment did its job and he wasn’t badly injured. That’s just one of many memories I have from this place.”
If Jeg Coughlin Jr. wasn’t the eternal optimist, he might be frustrated by the performance of his Elite Motorsports-powered JEGS Camaro, especially after he failed to get down the track on three of his four qualifying runs in Gainesville. As it is, the five-time Pro Stock champ sees a silver lining in every dark cloud.
“The one run we made [6.581] was a good one and it was pretty consistent with what most of the top cars ran in the same session, so I feel good about that,” said Coughlin. “No doubt we’ve struggled a bit and it definitely is frustrating at times because we strive to be the best out here and to win races. We know we have all the ingredients; the cars, the engines, and the knowledge to put the puzzle together but it has just baffled us a bit. We’ll get there, though.”
Coughlin pointed out that the recent changes in the Pro Stock class, from the addition of electronic fuel injection to the new Goodyear rear tire to the Sunoco Race Fuel, has forced teams to alter their combination. Some teams were able to adapt quickly while others have missed the mark.
“Anytime you throw a major variable at this its going to require some thought and some adjustments and we’ve just come up a little short,” Coughlin said. “One thing that is encouraging is that it’s not a power issue. We know we have power. That’s not the issue. I really don’t see any reason why we can’t get something done here today. We do have a good car and if we make the right calls it will respond. I don’t feel like I’m out of this race by any means.”
Three days before the start of the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals, Tanner Gray was the star of the Bradenton, Fla., test session with runs of 6.49 and 6.50, two of the best Pro Stock passes in the post-efi era. After struggling out of the gate with a pair of bottom-half qualifying efforts in Pomona and Phoenix accompanied by a pair of uncharacteristic round one exits, it appeared the Gray Motorsports team had righted the ship. Once he arrived in Gainesville, Gray struggled again and ended up in the No. 11 spot with a 6.571 best.
A quick left foot is a good cure for almost anything that ails a Pro Stock racer and Gray delivered when he scored a holeshot win over Deric Kramer’s American Ethanol Camaro in the first round. Gray was also encouraged by his 6.577, the quickest run of the round in the left lane.
“We’ve struggled with the car but I still have to do my job,” said Gray. “We actually made a decent run there and I think we’ve got something to work with. It’s been disappointing, but we’re getting there.”
“We don’t know what the problem is,” added crew chief Dave Connolly. “Obviously, if we knew we’d fix it. We go testing and the car is great but out here, we’re missing something. We just need to find it. The kid still gets it done; just the car not so much, lately. I’m just happy just to see a win light on in our lane.”
For the most part, Scotty Pollacheck has already picked up where he left off last November in Pomona. Pollacheck, once again riding a Vance & Hines-powered Suzuki for the Stoffer/Underdahl team, enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career last year with a fourth-place finish. Pollacheck won 22 elimination rounds and went to the semifinals eight times, half of the events on the schedule. Despite his success, Pollacheck did not appear in a final round and he is still awaiting his first NHRA professional victory.
“I’m happy with what we did last year but we just weren’t able to get over the hump and finally win a race,” said Pollacheck, who is a former Division 6 Sportsman Motorcycle champ. “We all know its coming. Gary [Stoffer] and Greg [Underdahl] have given me a great bike; easily the best bike I’ve had in my career. We just need for all the pieces to fall together. I have a lot of faith in this team and what Gary and Greg are doing with [four full-time bikes]. It makes us a strong team and we’re already seeing that with all four bikes qualified in the top 12. Having a quarter of the field automatically makes your odds better.”
Of the four Stoffer/Underdahl entries, Joey Gladstone is the quickest with a 6.793 and Pollacheck is close behind with a 6.816. He is set to face teammate Jimmy Underdahl in the first round.
“Obviously, I’d prefer to race someone other than Jimmy or one of my other teammates,” said Pollacheck. “That’s the unfortunate part of having four bikes; you’re going to have a hard time avoiding each other. In a perfect world we’d all meet in the semifinals. Hopefully, that will happen someday. I guess the best thing is that we’re going to have at least one of our bikes in the second round.”
For the record, this is Pollacheck’s 98th career start in Pro Stock Motorcycle and he’s got five runner-up finishes to go along with 17 semifinals.
“Let me guess, you want to know how my life will be the next five weeks until we race again?”
That quote came from Angie Smith, who was thrilled to make the field in the No. 10 spot on her Denso Buell, but also concerned about the demeanor of husband Matt, who did not qualify in his debut aboard Joe Riccardi’s San Marino Excavating Suzuki. Matt posed a best of 6.945, missing the bump spot by just two-thousandths of a second.
“Actually, Matt has been very supportive of me and I appreciate that a lot,” said Smith. “He told me he’s going to do whatever he can to give me the best bike today.”
As for her own performance, Smith was only moderately impressed. There was a time when she would have been thrilled to be the No. 10 qualifier, but given her recent success, including last year’s top ten finish, she expects more from herself.
“I ran okay; it was not exactly what we expected. We didn’t run up to our potential,” said Smith. “We changed an engine on Friday. It wasn’t blown up, but it looked like it might be hurt a bit. The new engine was better, and we had no tune-up for it. I make some good runs and I’m pleased with my riding, but we know there is more there. I made six runs in testing before we got here, and the bike ran really well. I never made full runs but we could tell by the eighth-mile times that they were good runs.
“As for Matthew, I know he’s going to test a lot before we get to the next race. He wasn’t making the tuning calls this weekend. I know he’s not happy but if you know Matt, he knows how to make one of these bikes run and he doesn’t give up easily.”
When Hector Arana Jr. made his historic 200-mph run on Friday, it was shocking in the sense that his first run of the day was only 196.93 mph and the record setting pass came with an off-pace 6.937-second elapsed time which was initiated by a lazy 1.11-second sixty-foot time. However, if there was even the slightest hint of doubt about the legitimacy of the milestone pass, Arana Jr. backed it up with a 199.97 mph run and then blasted to an even-more impressive 201.01 run on Saturday afternoon. Arana Jr. now has the four fastest speeds in the history of the class with three of them coming this weekend.
So, what allowed the Lucas Oil team to put more than a full mile-per-hour on the competition? Most agree that the swoopy new EBR body is a key component in the package. Arana made the switch to the body at mid-season in 2017, and his fortunes have steadily improved ever since.
“We’ve been working on this body for over two years we’ve developed it with Mark Kirkman of Kirkman Composites,” Arana said. “Mark worked around the clock to get us those fairings so we were be able to run these bodies at the beginning of the year. They work, and they are for sale. This is huge, it gives us a really big boost. It relieves a big weight off our shoulders. Now we can relax and focus on what it takes to win races. We’ve always run big speed numbers. We probably have most of the mph records. Sometimes people forget to look at us. Doesn’t matter because we did it.”
Lucas Oil Drag Racing champions Jeffrey Barker (center-left), David Rampy (center) and John Labbous Jr. (center-right) received their rings during pre-race ceremonies.
NHRA President Glen Cromwell gives 2017 Pro Mod Champion Troy Coughlin Jr. his championship jacket and ring during pre-race ceremonies.
NHRA announcer Joe Castello (right) interviews Hector Arana Jr. during the SealMaster Track Walk.
Fans packed the stands during eliminations at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
Matt Hagan and Robert Hight's Funny Cars were parked side by side after blowing up, well, side by side in the second round of eliminations.
NHRA announcer Brian Lohnes helps entertain fans in the stands with a Mello Yello t-shirt cannon during gaps in the on-track action.
Here are the elimination brackets and the pairings for the first round in all four professional classes: