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Comp racer David Eaton continues to show he's handy at the start

In recent years, David Eaton has been a strong contender for the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Comp eliminator title and finished No. 1 in the Southeast Division standings. Typically a strong starter, the Florida native is already on the board with a 2024 win and looking for more.
01 Mar 2024
Kelly Wade
Feature
David Eaton

In recent years, David Eaton has been a strong contender for the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Comp eliminator title and finished No. 1 in the Southeast Division standings. Typically a strong starter, the Florida native is already on the board with a 2024 win and looking for more.

"An early start makes a huge difference and sets the tone. You feel confident that you have a good shot of achieving something," said Eaton, who staked initial claim on the season with a win at the Southeast Division's opener at Orlando Speed World Dragway two weeks ago. 

Eaton has become well-versed in achievement in recent times, particularly in the early hours of a long year. In 2022, he was victorious at the "Baby Gators," the praised Southeast Division event held at Gainesville Raceway ahead of the historic Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. The year prior, Eaton vaulted into the new year with a win at South Georgia Motorsports Park, the first division race that year in the Lucas Oil Series. At the national event level, Eaton has won the East Coast opener in Gainesville twice – the first time in 2009, and then again in 2022. 

Looking to build on the sturdy footing found in Orlando, Fla., he's continuing the season at the Gainesville races held this weekend and next. Eaton has won at Gainesville Raceway a total of four times between national and divisional events. 

"I like Gainesville," he said. "There are a lot of big-name racers that have never won the Gatornationals, so to win it twice, and to win the Baby Gators twice, too – those are tough ones, and it means a lot. It just feels like I'm at home there. I love it, not only because I do well, but also for the nostalgia of the place."

As for his tendency to do well early, regardless of where the season starts, Eaton shrugs it off.

"I think we just come out with a good car," he said, utilizing an easygoing tone characteristic of the surfside town of Merritt Island, where he resides. "The early races, a lot of guys are trying to figure out their combinations. Comp is a class where the car has to be right and the driver has to be right. I've had a little success with that early in the season, I just wish I would do better at the end."

Modest and unassuming, Eaton has actually put together plentiful points in multiple seasons, and he's done it with a somewhat unusual race car. His Right Trailers and Oakley-branded '32 Bantam altered was built from the ground up by Eaton and longtime friend and racing partner Frank Virginis, quite literally with pieces found behind his shop. The altered is powered by a former Pro Stock engine previously run in the Gray Motorsports entry piloted by 2018 Pro Stock world champion Tanner Gray. Eaton and Virginis maintain and freshen the engine themselves, and Pro Stock's Greg Anderson hones the block and offers technical advice. 

"It's not an easy car to make work in a lot of ways; the '32 altered is an overpowered, archaic race car," said the 2022 JEGS Allstars Comp winner. "But I think that after a lot of years of poking at it, it wants to be told how to run. How we're doing things now is a whole different way of doing things. That has changed the way the car works and the drivability, and I think it's made it a fierce race car. I beat my head up against the anvil for many years thinking I'd eventually win, and the only thing I got from it was a hard head. But I finally started listening to what the car was telling me and making big changes. It's paid off." 

Their small but effective team, including the contributions of Stock racer Matt Rover at the racetrack, has so far earned 12 divisional wins and five trophies at the national event level. Last season, Eaton finished No. 3 in the Comp standings, and the year before he was second in the world. Starting this season on a note of strength has potential to get the ball of momentum rolling, but Eaton's ego is well in check. 

"I don't expect to win; I'm actually surprised by it," he said. "It's so difficult to do. We have a very small operation, and we're able to use a lot of stuff other people think is junk. We get a lot out of nothing, and I think I'm happier about that than anything. In drag racing, I don't take anything for granted."