After four races at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis, the NHRA Mello Yello tour takes a much-needed road trip to Gainesville Raceway for the resumption of the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals, an event previously scheduled for mid-March. When it comes to handicapping the longtime East Coast season-opener, Tipster had to resist the temptation to recycle his picks from March because let’s face it, a lot has changed since then. Given the latest available data, Tipster has chosen Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock), Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle), and Stevie Jackson (Pro Mod) as his pre-race favorites.
Indy is an emotional place and it’s often been the site of some of NHRA’s most touching moments. With his longtime friend and crewmember Dom Lagana still hospitalized following a highway accident, a victory here would be extra special. Not that the Capco team doesn’t try hard to win every event, but expect them to put forth every effort to “Do it for Dom.” Oh, and they’ll be running a special “Swamp Rat 14” tribute scheme this weekend and who bets against “Big Daddy” Don Garlits in Gainesville?
A storied history in Gainesville that includes a perfect 3-0 record in final rounds makes him the co-favorite this week. When it comes to Gainesville Raceway, team Kalitta has few peers. Connie Kalitta also won here in a memorable final round against late son, Scott. For good measure, the last two Gators Wallys have also gone back to Ypsilanti, Mich., courtesy of Richie Crampton.
The last three races at Indy have produced a pair of semifinals and a runner-up at the U.S. Nationals which helps explain why the Dodge dragster is still in the championship hunt, just 50 points our of first place. It wouldn’t take much to see this team leave Gainesville in first place, but that would almost certainly require a victory.
The Capco captain has cooled a bit since his win at the first Indy race but make no mistake, this is still a very dangerous car that can not only win races but can also contend for the championship. He’s currently in fifth place but only 161-points out of first place and remember, he also missed the Pomona season-opener.
Now that he’s got his first win in the bank, let’s see how long it takes to get back to another final. Smart money says it won’t be too long. It’s easy for forget that he’s about to make his tenth start in a nitro car. Then again, his reaction time average is quick enough to make the top ten in Pro Stock. That’s not something that happens often, if ever.
He didn’t just win Indy; he looked darn good doing it with a solid low qualifying and a string of low 3.7s. That combination would be more than enough to get the job done here. And for what it’s worth, this is also the car that is unbeaten in the last two Gatornationals races.
Amalie Motor Oil
When the Amalie dragster races at the Amalie event, there are always heightened expectations but, in this case, they are more than justified. This car has been really good at times this year, specifically two races ago when they qualified on the pole and went to the final round. It shouldn’t be at all surprising to see that sort of outing.
The 2013 Gatornationals Top Fuel champ is still looking for his first win of the season, but it appears to be closer than ever. Lately, his qualifying results have improved dramatically with top half starting spots at the last three events. That’s a sure sign of progress.
Why is he No. 1 this week and not Indy winner Jack Beckman? Call it a hunch more than anything. It’s also extremely difficult to win back-to-back races so that has to factor into Tipster’s decisions. As for Hagan, he’s been rock solid with two wins and a semifinal in the last four races which helps explain why he’s challenging for a third world championship. A Gainesville win would go a long way towards making that a reality.
Infinite Hero Dodge
The U.S. Nationals win was extra special because of the uncertainty surrounding this program and the same could be said for a Gatornationals victory. If this is indeed the last hurrah for Beckman and the Infinite Hero crew, then nothing would be better than holding a Gainesville Wally. They did it two years ago for what it’s worth.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
Facing a 162-point deficit in the battle for the championship, the time is now for a championship run. The Motorcraft Quick Lane team has been impressive at times this year but has not done so consistently. Fix that small issue and watch the points begin to accumulate.
For sure, it hurt to lose the Indy final but it’s worth pointing out that he’s been to the final at the last two races and the DHL team as a while has made huge strides since the beginning of the season where they lost early in both Pomona and Phoenix. A Kalitta Funny Car has never won in Gainesville but this could easily be the year that changes.
When it comes to success at Gainesville Raceway, there isn’t anyone in the field who’s had as much success as this guy with three wins in five final rounds including back-to-back titles in 2006-07 and another title in 2015. As for the championship, he’s still very much in the picture.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
MD Anderson Cancer Center Dodge
We hate to bring up a bad memory, but Indy was a heartbreaker for the MD Anderson team after they qualified on the pole and then lost a tough battle against Dale Creasy Jr. That being said, the news isn’t all bad. This car is still very quick and fairly consistent and they’re still very much alive in the battle for the world title.
Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford
So how much does a prior win affect future results? Hard to say but the 2010 Gainesville winner certainly seems capable of winning here one more time. More recently, he was the No. 3 qualifier at Indy and reached the semifinals on Sunday before losing a squeaker against points leader Jack Beckman.
Global Electronic Technologies Dodge
Little by little this program is coming together including an impressive semifinal finish at the third Indy event. Funny Car racing is so darned competitive right now that anyone who qualifies can win and that certainly includes the Global Electronic Technologies team. Don’t be surprised if this is the sport’s next first-time winner.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Is this the last time the five-time world champ races a Pro Stock car at the Gatornationals? Hard to say but it could be. Whether or not that’s true, he’d certainly like to win a third Gatornationals title at some point and after losing the points lead at Indy, it would be a smart move to get back on track as quickly as possible. To that end, he rates a very slim edge over his teammate here.
Yes, there was some luck involved but her Indy win was a thing of beauty and the timing could not have been better. After all, who wouldn’t want to be the points leader with five races remaining? Now that she’s got the lead, the challenge will be keeping it. Historically, the Elite flagship hasn’t had a lot of success in Gainesville but that might change this weekend.
Summit Racing Camaro
During his career, he’s been good just about everywhere, but Gainesville Raceway is special. In the last 15 years, he’s been to the final round here seven times and has won four of them including three-straight wins in 2009-11. To suggest that this place has been good to the Summit team would be a massive understatement.
Total Seal Camaro
We’re going to take a hunch here simply because he was really good at Indy. Qualifying numbers were solid and so was his driving on Sunday, which helps explain how he got to the final round. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise if he does the same thing here.
Summit Racing Camaro
Much like his teammate, Jason Line, he’s been very successful in Gainesville with four wins in seven final round appearances. He’s been sitting on 94 wins for a while so should be just about time to take another big step towards the 100-win club.
Butner Auto Camaro
Let’s face it, the three Indy races this summer were not kind to the former Pro Stock champ unless you count his runner-up finish in Pro Mod. Maybe a change of venue is just what he needs to get back on the winning track. Call this a hunch more than anything but we’re expecting a much better effort going forward.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
Some days you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t and that almost perfectly describes his Indy experience which was an early loss against his 18-year old son, Mason. Clearly, he’d like to repeat the part where he qualified No. 2 and had one of the best cars on the property. The holeshot loss should be forgotten. This car is good enough to win. Period.
The battle for the final spot was intense with multiple deserving candidates but we’re going to go with the Havoline team largely because they made it to the final round here a year ago. We’re sure he’d also like to quickly make up for a disappointing early loss at Indy.
Earlier, Tipster said he was going to continue picking the three-time champion until he won a race or no longer had the best bike in the class. Well, he did win the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle and his qualifying results have been fantastic so we’re going to roll the dice one more time. He could use a big win to remain in the title fight.
If you had placed a bet on him at Indy, you’d have cashed a nice ticket afterwards. Now, his odds won’t be so long. Furthermore, with success comes expectations so he’ll be held to a higher standard. It will be fun to see if the floodgates open after his first victory. It almost certainly won’t be the last.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
How’s this for your stat of the week. He hasn’t missed a final round here in five years and has three wins in that span. If there was ever a perfect spot to ditch a two-year winless drought, this is it. Honestly, there isn’t much keeping him out of the winner’s circle other than luck. Once that changes, he should go back to being “steady Eddie”.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Defending world champ. Defending event winner and a finalist in Gainesville for the last three years. Much like his teammate, he’s done quite well for himself at Gainesville Raceway and after losing the final at Indy, we’re sure he’d love another shot at one of the majors before the year is over.
Slick 50 Suzuki
Don’t laugh. This is currently the best Suzuki out there and it’s capable of running with very V-twin in the field although consistency remains an issue. Then again, he’s historically done some of his best work in Gainesville so we’re also giving credit where it’s due. Admittedly, we’ve got him pretty far up in the standings but let’s roll with it one time and see what happens.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Will the real Angelle Sampey please stand up. Her win at the Indy III race was amazing and reminiscent of the form that made her a three-time world champion and the sport’s most successful female racer. Then, the U.S. Nationals was not so kind. Regardless, she’s made great progress since joining the Harley team so another win this season is well within reason.
Hector Arana Jr.
Lucas Oil EBR
He won this race in 2013 and if everything happened to fall together just right, it certainly could happen again. We also expect to see dad back on a bike this weekend which should do a lot for the general mood in the Lucas Oil camp.
White Alligator Suzuki
No way, no how, and no where should this team be winless this season but here, we are. Granted, we’ve only had three races but it’s worth pointing out that the White Alligator bike came within one round of the championship last season. At some point, there’s going to snap out of it, and it will most likely happen in a big way. Count on it.
An Indy win will cure just about anything so expect to see a little more bounce in the reigning champion’s step when he arrives in Gainesville. He also had quite a weekend in Richmond during the Shakedown Radial vs. The World race last weekend so “Stevie Fast” is on a roll. Pro Mod is a tough class and it’s almost impossible to handicap, but he’s a slight favorite for now.
Rickie Smith Racing Camaro
We’ve mentioned this before but he’s a way above average driver who is liable to steal a round or two simply because he gets off the starting line on time. Coming into Gainesville, he’s practically tied for the lead so this is a good time to pick up a round or two on leader Jackson. At the very least, he can’t afford to fall too far behind.
Scruggs Racing Camaro
He hasn’t been past the opening round in the last two races but we’re leaving him in the No. 3 spot. Why? Because this car is really, really quick and he’s got the ability to dominate the competition if conditions are right. Just look at his qualifying results where he’s been No. 1, No. 2, and No. 7 so far this season.
Bond Coat Camaro
Some people thought the nitrous combination was in trouble this season but obviously this guy wasn’t one of them. Now that’s he’s been to the winner’s circle in NHRA Pro Mod racing, we should expect to see more round wins. In this abbreviated season, almost everyone is still in the running for the championship and that certainly includes the Bond Coat team.
He won this race last year and really looked good doing it. That’s what we wrote back in March and it still holds true so there is absolutely no reason why we can’t expect an encore performance especially after a strong runner-up finish at the U.S. Nationals. Here’s another guy who could easily win the title.
When you start setting odds for an NHRA Pro Mod event, you usually don’t go too far down the list before including “Tricky Rickie”. Yes, he’s not a kid anymore but no one in the class takes him lightly. Safe bet that he’s still got a few wins left in him and no reason to think one of the won’t happen this weekend.
So, when will the new ProCharger engine combo win an NHRA Pro Mod race and who will be the driver? How about this race and this team? Don’t laugh, it is certainly possible. His qualifying results have been most impressive with a pole and a pair of No. 2 finishes. Sooner or later, the Sunday portion of the program is going to come together.
The 2020 season started slowly for the former series champ but with back-to-back semifinals, he’s pretty quickly righted the ship. Losing a chance for a U.S. Nationals win on a holeshot was not part of the plan but a Gainesville win would certainly help soothe the pain.