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Famous firsts highlight rich history at Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals

Known for its remarkable history, Gainesville Raceway has been home to several historic firsts over the past five-plus decades at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
16 Feb 2024
Posted by NHRA.com staff
Gainesville firsts

Known for its remarkable history, Gainesville Raceway has been home to several historic firsts over the past five-plus decades at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.

From first career wins to milestones reached for the first time, magical moments have always been a part of Gainesville Raceway’s illustrious history. So, what comes next in 2024?

Odds are, something incredible will happen on March 7-10 during the 55th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals to add to the amazing accomplishments that have taken place at the legendary facility. 

To help prepare for the start of the 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series, let’s look at some of the historic happenings that have made Gainesville so special for so many years:

FIRST PROFESSIONAL WINS COMING AT THE GATORS: It’s happened the last three years, in fact, with a standout racer picking up their first NHRA professional win at Gatornationals. Eventual world champ Gaige Herrera did it last year en route to his record-breaking year, Tripp Tatum picked up his first Top Fuel win in 2022 and, in 2021, Josh Hart rolled to the Top Fuel win in his first career start (one of only eight drivers to do that in NHRA history).

It stretches back in history, too. Two-time world champ Brittany Force earned her first Top Fuel win in 2016 in Gainesville (as part of the first-ever John Force Racing double-up as well when Robert Hight won in Funny Car), while Bob Tasca III’s first Funny Car win took place in 2009. Plus, the likes of Andrew Hines (2004), Kenny Delco (1990) and Frank Hawley (1982) all picked up their first professional wins in Gainesville, and Eddie Hill’s first NHRA win came in 1988 at the renowned race.  

MAJOR MILESTONES: Gainesville Raceway has been a proving ground for history-makers and record-breakers. The first 260-mph run in both Top Fuel (Joe Amato) and Funny Car (Kenny Bernstein) in NHRA history came in 1984, while Don Garlits became the first to 270 in Top Fuel just two years later.

Of course, the run heard around the world took place in 1992 when Kenny Bernstein became Mr. 300 with his historic 301.70 mph run, becoming the first driver in NHRA history to reach the 300-mph mark.

Hines made the first 6-second pass in Pro Stock Motorcycle history in 2005, while Hector Arana Jr. became the first rider to go 200 mph with his run of 200.23 in 2018.

REMARKABLE FIRSTS: Something unique also seems to happen in Gainesville as well, such as Connie and Scott Kalitta meeting in the first father-son final round in NHRA history in 1984. Connie won the final round in Top Fuel, while 14 years earlier, Candies & Hughes put together the first all-team Funny Car final in NHRA history with Leonard Hughes and Larry Reyes in 1970,

Some 46 years later, Jeff Strickland did something special on the sportsman side, becoming the first racers to win two classes at the same Gatornationals when he rolled to victories in Stock and Top Dragster.

LEGACY DEFINING WINS IN GAINESVILLE: Legendary status is guaranteed with a Gatornationals win and so many of the NHRA’s best have thrived at the race. 

Bob Glidden’s first – and only – Gatornationals win came in 1979, while the first Pro Stock win at the facility belonged to Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins. Garlits’ 1972 Gators triumph was the first of four for him, while Don Prudhomme won it three years in a row (1974-1976) en route to five total wins. 

John Force won five straight from 1992-1996 in Funny Car and has enjoyed eight wins in Gainesville, but nobody has been better there than Warren Johnson. “The Professor” didn’t win at the track until 1984, but reeled off eight more after that, including four straight from 1991-1994. His nine Gatornationals wins are the most in NHRA history.

These days, four-time Funny Car world champ Matt Hagan has ruled Gainesville, posting back-to-back wins, with his boss, Tony Stewart, looking to make his own sizable impression at the race next month when he makes his Top Fuel debut. 

Other active world champs who also hold wins at the historic race include Tony Schumacher (5), Greg Anderson (5), Ron Capps (4), Robert Hight (4), Doug Kalitta (3), Angelle Sampey (3), Jeg Coughlin (2), Matt Smith (2), Antron Brown (1), Steve Torrence (1), Cruz Pedregon (1), Bo Butner (1) and J.R. Todd (1)

Last year, Mike Salinas (Top Fuel and Troy Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) also won in Gainesville. This year’s race will air on FS1, including the Pep Boys Top Fuel All-Star Callout at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, live coverage on Sunday from 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m., and continuing finals coverage at 9 p.m. ET on Sunday.
The Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout is back to open 2024 as well, pitting eight standouts against each other in a unique, big-money specialty race on Saturday, March 9. Local standout Josh Hart won the Callout last year. Action will also take place in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, the Congruity NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by LearnEV+ and Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown to open 2024.

Race fans at Gainesville Raceway can enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies for drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and the fan favorite SealMaster Track Walk, which benefits the Darrell Gwynn Foundation in Gainesville, as well as a ring ceremony for the 2023 world champs (Kalitta, Hagan, Enders and Herrera) and a flyover from the U.S. Air Force. The final can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday, where fans are invited to congratulate the event winners.
The Nitro Alley Stage is a huge attraction and the main entertainment hub in the pits, hosting Nitro School, the NHRA Insider Podcast, Shirley Muldowney Q&A and meet and greets. Marching bands will also entertain the crowd each day, including the University of Florida on Sunday. As always, fans get a pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. Fans can see their favorite teams in action and servicing their cars, get autographs from their favorite drivers and more. They can also visit NHRA’s Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and vendors create an exciting atmosphere of interactive displays, merchandise, food and fun. 

NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series qualifying features two rounds at 2 and 4:30 p.m. ET on Friday, March 8, and the final two qualifying rounds on Saturday, March 9 at 12 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. ET on Sunday, March 10.

The first round of the Pep Boys Top Fuel All-Star Callout takes place on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET and the semifinals at 2:45 p.m. The finals are slated for 4:25 p.m.

To purchase tickets to the 2024 Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Children 12 and under are free in general-admission areas with the purchase of an adult ticket. Get your tickets now for the Top Eliminator Club because these will sell out.