Robert Hight accomplished a rare feat by driving to his third-straight low qualifying spot in Funny Car to start the 2019 season. Hight's teammate, Brittany Force also claimed the top spot in Top Fuel while Roger Brogdon claimed the top seed in Pro Stock, and Andrew Hines set a new record to qualify No. 1 in the season debut of the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
David Grubnic appears to be adjusting nicely to his new role as the crew chief for 2017 Top Fuel world champ Force. In his third race with the JFR team, Grubnic tuned Force’s Advance Auto Parts dragster to a 3.680 to lead the field at the 50th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. Force led after Q3 with a solid 3.718-second run and then lowered the boom in Q4 to edge Mike Salinas, who had earlier run 3.694 in his Scrappers Racing dragster. Force is the first female to qualify No. 1 in Top Fuel at Gainesville Raceway since Shirley Muldowney in 1979.
Hight also made history in Gainesville by claiming his third-straight pole in Funny Car. Hight earned the honor by driving his Auto Club Camaro to a 3.868 at over 331-mph, and he is the first driver to start the season with three-straight low qualifier awards since Kenny Bernstein in 1987. Tim Wilkerson, Tommy Johnson Jr. and John Force, also found the 3.8s. Johnson’s crew will have their work cut out for them after an engine explosion in Q4 destroyed the Make-A-Wish Dodge body.
Brogdon went to the top spot in Pro Stock for the second time in three races following a strong 6.490 in his Elite Motorsports-powered Camaro. Brogdon, who also topped the charts in Pomona, leads Greg Anderson, who was just four-thousandths behind with a 6.494. Matt Hartford and Deric Kramer also earned top-half starting spots. Brogdon, who returned to the NHRA tour this season after the 18-race schedule was announced, was also the low qualifier at in Gainesville in 2011.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle elapsed time record that stood since 2012 is no more after Hines rode his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson to a 6.720 on Saturday. Hines also recorded a career-best speed of 199.94 mph but missed a chance to joint he Denso Spark Plugs 200-mph club. Hines’ teammate, Eddie Krawiec is second with a 6.747 while reigning champ Matt Smith is the No. 3 seed after a 6.753. Smith also has a chance to leave Gainesville with the speed record after a 201.76 mph run on Friday.
Top Fuel low qualifier Britany Force: “I was shocked to her that stat [about it being 40 years since a female qualified No. 1 in Top Fuel in Gainesville]. That’s just insane because the ladies have been killing it lately. I'm very proud to have that record and put a number of the board like that, but we’re not done yet. We want to go out and win the race tomorrow.
“We’ve been struggling the last couple of races and the plan coming into here was to play it safe, but once we picked up and good run we could use that, which is exactly what we did after our run in Q3. We’d improved every single run. I’ve very proud of my entire Advance Auto Parts team. They gave me a race car and told me it was going to do that.”
Funny Car low qualifier Robert Hight: “This success we’ve been having this year goes back to the end of last season. We had the chance to win the championship but didn’t get it done, and that didn’t sit well with my team over the winter. They worked really hard to figure out where our weaknesses were.
“We’ve been quick everywhere we’ve been, starting in testing. It’s pretty impressive but we didn’t do it by a lot this time. Tim Wilkerson was close, three cars ran 3.89 in Q3. In Pomona and Phoenix we had a little bigger edge on the field. They’re starting to catch up with us; that’s what happens when you run good – you make the others press hard. The trick for us is to not get complacent, to jeep pressing ourselves and try to stay on top. Qualifying is over, now we have a race to win.”
Pro Stock low qualifier Rodger Brogdon: “I came back because the opportunity I needed was there. I work 80 hours a week. I always have something going on but I made a good arrangement with Elite. I just couldn’t pass it up. I had been considering coming back for the last year or so and Richard [Freeman, Elite team owner] assured me that things in Pro Stock are getting better which everyone can see is happening. I couldn’t get a better deal or have a better team to race with.”
“I’ve always been able to drive a race car. I’m not trying to pat myself on back but driving has never been an issue. The hard part is having a lot of power and a good car. With this deal I just drive. I tell people that I own a golf cart, a helmet, and a driving suit. That’s all I bring to the races. Richard and his guys give me a lot of power. That’s the key.”
Pro Stock Motorcycle low qualifier Andrew Hines: “It’s been seven years since anyone has set the [elapsed time] record. I knew that is might be set this weekend but I didn’t think it would be us. I thought Matt Smith had the best shot at it. I was really trying to run 200-mph and we missed it on both runs but I’m happy to keep the record in our camp. We can finally retire our old [four valve engine] record from 2012. We had a busy off-season building motorcycles for us and the Harley-Davidson Flat Track team and we also added Angelle [Sampey] so we had to prepare a bike for her. We had some issues testing but today everything looked flawless. Its nice to have that gratification of a record for all the hard work that our crew put in this winter.
Going winless last year was a tough pill to swallow and yes, it ate at me a little this winter. It actually motivated me to get in shape and I lost about ten pounds. I’m about as light as I can be and that has allowed us to set the record. Last year, Eddie had me covered pretty much everywhere we went and now I feel like I can give him a fair fight.”
TOP FUEL QUALIFYING RECAP
Top Fuel Q3: As predicted by most, Saturday Top Fuel qualifying completely obliterated the marks set in Friday’s warmer conditions as nine drivers, led by Brittany Force’s 3.718, bettered T.J. Zizzo’s Friday-leading pass of 3.762.
Closest behind Force’s Advance Auto Parts dragster is Leah Pritchett with a 3.724 after improving by nearly a tenth of a second over her Friday best. Pat Dakin, who competed in Top Gas at the first Gatornationals in 1970, powered his way into the field in the No. 11 spot, sitting just behind Zizzo’s fallen position. The bump spot is 4.048 held by Chris Karamesines with one qualifying session to go.
Top Fuel Q4: Brittany Force powered to her 11th career No. 1 start, running a strong 3.6870 to deny Mike Salinas what would have been just his second career pole position.
Reigning world champ Steve Torrence looked for all the world to be on the way to yet another No. 1 spot when his Capco Contractors rail ripped off a 3.709, but Salinas one-upped him with a 3.694. One pair later, Force’s David Grunic-tuned Advance Auto Parts dragster was back in the No. 1 spot it held before the session began.
First-round matchups (lane choice first): Brittany Force vs. Chris Karamesines; Mike Salinas vs. Jordan Vandergriff; Steve Torrence vs. Dom Lagana; Leah Pritchett vs. Pat Dakin; Antron Brown vs. Richie Crampton; Terry McMillen vs. Doug Kalitta; Clay Millican vs. Austin Prock; Scott Palmer vs. T.J. Zizzo.
Funny Car Q3: Three Funny Cars broke into the 3.8-second zone as qualifying resumed under cool and cloudy skies. Tommy Johnson Jr. leads qualifying with one session left after charting a 3.896 in the Make A Wish Hellcat Charger.
Johnson, who made his NHRA national debut at this event in 1984 in Super Gas, and crew bounced back in a big way after a rough weekend in Phoenix three weeks ago that cost them two bodies. T.J.’s run edged the 3.897 of eight-time Gatornationals champ John Force and Friday leader Robert Hight, who improved from a 3.928 to a 3.899 but still dropped two spots.
Funny Car Q4: Robert Hight collected his 62nd career No. 1 spot in Funny Car, wheeling his Auto Club Chevy to a 3.868 in the final session to reassert his dominance. Hight and crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham earned bonus points in three of four sessions; their last session heroics stole the No. 1 spot from Tim Wilkerson, who had busted off an out-of-nowhere 3.875 after three previous four-second struggles.
The round concluded in dramatic fashion with Tommy Johnson Jr.’s Make A Wish Charger exploding before halftrack, sending the body sky high, while John Force, in the other lane, crossed the centerline behind him.
First-round matchups (lane choice first): Robert Hight vs. Terry Haddock; Tim Wilkerson vs. Dave Richards; Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. John Smith; John Force vs. Jim Campbell; Matt Hagan vs. Jonnie Lindberg; Jack Beckman vs. J.R. Todd; Cruz Pedregon vs. Shawn Langdon; Ron Capps vs. Bob Tasca III.
Pro Stock Q3: Since the introduction of electronic fuel injection three years ago, 6.4-second runs have become something of a rarity in Pro Stock but the prime weather conditions on Saturday in Gainesville allowed Rodger Brogdon and Greg Anderson to take the top spots with runs. Brogdon, who qualified No. 1 at the season-opener in Pomona, is on track for his second green hat of the season after a 6.490. Brogdon was just four-thousandths quicker than Anderson, who has been the qualifying leader 102 times in 454 prior starts.
As quick as Brogdon and Anderson are, they cannot rest comfortably because the top eight drivers in the field are separated by just .029-second. Deric Kramer is third-quickest with a 6.509 while Friday leader and Pomona winner Bo Butner was shuffled by to fourth despite improving to 6.511 seconds. Earlier, Butner missed the record all-seven second field in the SAM Tech.edu NHRA Factory Stock Showdown with his Summit-backed Cobra Jet Mustang.
There are 17 Pro Stock cars in Gainesville which means one driver will not be a part of Sunday’s driver introductions. Currently the battle for that final spot is close between Wally Stroupe, who is 16th with a 6.675 and Jeff Isbell, who is just eight-thousandths of a second behind at 6.683.
Pro Stock Q4: With a pair of 6.4-second runs, Rodger Brogdon earned the top spot in Pro Stock for the second time in three races this season and the third time in his career. In front of a packed house, Brogdon ran 6.490 and 6.498 in his Elite Performance-powered Camaro to earn the top spot in the in the field ahead of four-time world champ Greg Anderson, who also found the 6.4s with a 6.494 in his Summit Camaro.
The final qualifying session produced a significant improvement for several Pro Stock racers including Matt Hartford, who moved to the third spot with a 6.509 in his Speed Pro Camaro. Hartford was the No. 4 qualifier at the most recent event in Phoenix and reached the final round before fouling against Jeg Coughlin Jr. The top half of the field is separated by less than three-hundredths of a second.
Sunday’s opening round will feature several interesting match-ups including a battle between native Texans Chris McGaha and two-time world champ Erica Enders. Alex Laughlin will also be paired against Jason Line. They last raced in Pomona with Laughlin winning a close 6.527 to 6.527 contest.
First round pairings (lane choice first): Rodger Brogdon vs. Wally Stroupe; Greg Anderson vs. Alan Prusiensky; Matt Hartford vs. Shane Tucker; Deric Kramer vs. Val Smeland; Bo Butner vs. Fernando Cuadra; Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Kenny Delco; Alex Laughlin vs. Jason Line; Chris McGaha vs. Erica Enders.
Pro Stock Motorcycle Q3: As expected, there were dramatic improvements across the board during Saturday’s third round of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying and after yielding the top spot on Friday to reigning world champ Matt Smith, Harley-Davidson riders Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines fought back to take the top spots. Krawiec was quickest with a 6.747 while Hines was just a tick slower with a 6.751. For his part, Smith remained competitive with a 6.787.
Several riders came close to claiming the fourth and final spot in the Denso Spark Plugs 200-mph Club including Hines and Ryan Oehler. Hines, the first rider out in the session, posted a personal best speed of 199.94 mph. Oehler turned in what was perhaps the most surprising run of the round with a 6.803 and 199.91 speed, both career bests.
With one run remaining, the bump spot is Cory Reed’s 6.918.
Pro Stock Motorcycle Q4: Andrew Hines went to extraordinary lengths to earn a spot in the Denso 200-mph Pro Stock Motorcycle club but was forced to settle for a new elapsed time record of 6.720 seconds and the pole position for the 43rd time in his career. Hines shut off early during Friday’s second qualifying run so that he’d be the first rider out on Saturday morning, when conditions were at a premium. That plan almost worked when he recorded a 199.94 mph top speed, just missing the 200-mph mark. A few hours later, Hines reset his own record, which has stood since the 2012 season.
Qualifying ended with Harley riders Hines and Eddie Krawiec in the top two spots and reigning world champ Matt Smith is third with a 6.751 run. The bad news for Smith is that his wife and teammate, Angie, finished qualifying in the No. 14 spot which means they will meet in round one. The Smith’s last raced at the season-ending Auto Club Finals a year ago.
Of the eight female riders that attempted to qualify in Gainesville, five of them made the competitive field including three-time champion Angelle Sampey, who impressed in her debut with the Vance & Hines Harley team. Sampey is joined in the field by Angie Smith, Kelly Clontz, Karen Stoffer, and Melissa Surber.
First round pairings (lane choice first): Andrew Hines vs. Cory Reed; Eddie Krawiec vs. Scotty Pollacheck; Matt Smith vs. Angie Smith; Hector Arana Jr. vs. Kelly Clontz; Ryan Oehler vs. Karen Stoffer; Angelle Sampey vs. Joey Gladstone; Jimmy Underdahl vs. Melissa Surber; Jerry Savoie vs. Hector Arana Sr.