Shirley Muldowney defeated “Big Daddy” Don Garlits in the opening round of the Unfinished Business competition at the 50th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, which pitted eight legends in identical Toyotas in head-to-head competition. Joe Amato, Warren Johnson, and Ed McCulloch also advanced into Saturday’s second round.
Fans got to choose the first-round matchups via an online vote and did an amazing job of pairing the rivals.
The Muldowney-Garlits race was a rematch of their 1982 Top Fuel final at Gainesville Raceway and ended with the same result. Garlits surprised many by deep-staging against Muldowney in the battle of former three-time world champs, but her pink Shirley’s Kids Toyota roared away to take a comfortable win, 15.49 to 17.41.
Johnson, the all-time Gatornationals win leader with nine Pro Stock victories, also advanced easily in his black “Professor of Pro Stock” machine, defeating past Pro Stock Motorcycle kingpin Terry Vance, 14.96 to 17.22.
Another pair of longtime Top Fuel rivals in Amato and Kenny Bernstein waged a good battle with two of the best reaction times of the rounds – Amato’s .222 being the frame’s best – before Amato’s blue and white ride powered ahead to win 16.52 to 17.20.
The round closed with a battle between two of the sport’s fiercest Funny Car pilots, McCulloch and Don “the Snake” Prudhomme. McCulloch, who was lifetime 2-14 against Prudhomme in NHRA national event competition, put another notch on his side of the ledger with a 15.50 to 15.67 victory his his Revell-ution themed Toyota, after gaining a four-hundredth advantage at the green on Prudhomme’s Army-liveried machine.
In round two, Muldowney will face Johnson while Amato will race against McCulloch.