Following a very active day of qualifying that featured a lot of shuffling and bumping among NHRA’s top four pro divisions, the stage is set for an epic finish to the 51st annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. Following a six month delay due to COVID-19, the Gatornationals is being held in September for the first time instead of its traditional March date and the hot and humid conditions have provided a challenge for drivers and crew chiefs.
On Saturday, Clay Millican made the fastest run of the weekend so far in Top Fuel with a 3.821 to earn the pole. As an added bonus, Millican will get a bye run in Sunday’s opening round because there are just 15 cars in the field. There are also 15 Funny Cars in Gainesville so Matt Hagan, who made the only three-second run of the day with a 3.97 in his Dodge Charger R/T, will also be the recipient of a bye in round one.
There are some extremely intriguing match-ups during Sunday’s opening round for nitro racers including a much-anticipated battle featuring Tony Schumacher and Steve Torrence, who have combined to win ten NHRA Mello Yello Series titles. Incoming Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta also has his hands full with the Amalie dragster of Terry McMillen while Justin Ashley and Shawn Langdon, the two more recent winners on the tour, will race in a battle of two of the class’ best starting line drivers.
There are also interesting battles in Funny Car including a match between Indy champ Jack Beckman and Paul Lee. Beckman, the incoming points leader, will not have lane choice against the Global Electronic Technology Dodge. Another battle that could have major championship implications features Indy runner-up J.R. Todd and Tommy Johnson.
There were 21 cars in Pro Stock and none of them were quicker than Deric Kramer’s American Ethanol Camaro. Kramer drove to a 6.602 late Saturday to knock points leader Erica Ender from the top spot. Kramer will take on No. 16 qualifier Bob Benza in round one while Enders will continue her pursuit of a fourth world title with a race against her teammate, Troy Coughlin Jr.
Perhaps the most dominant performance of the day came from Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Matt Smith who rode his Denso EBR to a 6.814 to earn the top spot. Smith was significantly quicker than No. 2 qualifier Angelle Sampey, who ran 6.858. After some initial troubles in Q1, championship leader and Indy winner Scotty Pollacheck settled into the No. 4 spot and will race Hector Arana Sr. in round one.
Sunday’s schedule also features final eliminations for the E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod series, the SAM Tech.edu Factory Stock Showdown, the Mickey Thompson Top Fuel Harley series and the Lucas Oil Series sportsman classes.
You can catch the action today on Fox Sports 1 and NHRA.tv.
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Sunday, September 27, FS1 will televise final eliminations coverage from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. (ET)