NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


Last season's Gainesville winner Jeff Strickland returns to defend the title

The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series season has begun, and two-time world champion Jeff Strickland is eagerly anticipating kicking off his own 2024 run in just a couple of weeks in Gainesville, where he won last season's division race and national event.
20 Feb 2024
Kelly Wade
Jeff Strickland

It's official: the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series season has begun, and two-time world champion Jeff Strickland is eagerly anticipating kicking off his own 2024 run in just a couple of weeks. He'll do so at Gainesville Raceway, where he went back-to-back last season with wins at the division race and national event. 

Much of his success in Gainesville and beyond has come because "Strick" has been unfailingly devoted to drag racing for 35 years, and he has no intention of slowing down anytime soon. 

"I just love the game," said the two-time NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series world champion who got his first start at the local dragstrip at the tender age of 13. He now competes regularly in Stock and Top Dragster, though he has claimed wins in four different categories, including Super Comp and Super Stock.

"I have the two most fun race cars you can possibly drive. As long as I'm competitive and mentally capable, I don't see ever retiring from drag racing," he said.

Last year, Red Bay, Ala., native Strickland put together one of his strongest seasons in recent history with national event wins claimed in Stock eliminator driving the GM Parts Now/Berger Chevrolet COPO Camaro owned by Victor Cagnazzi. Strick, who has driven a COPO for Cagnazzi for a decade, finished No. 2 in the nation in Stock with 633 points behind Kyle Rizzoli's 699. 

While three wins in Stock and a strong finish was pleasing, his scorecard in Top Dragster was just as commendable. In addition to locking down the Southeast Division Top Dragster championship in his Sticker Punk-themed rail – the eighth division title of his career – Strickland also scored a long-sought, hard-fought win at the NHRA U.S. Nationals. In the final round at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, he threw down a .009-second reaction time and went 6.292 on his 6.24 target to defeat Holden Laris' .050 and 6.251 (6.17). 

"It was a different kind of national event win," said Strickland, who enters the new season with 23 national event Wallys on the shelf but acknowledged the enormity of finally winning drag racing's most prestigious and historic event. 

"My goal is to win at every racetrack I race in my lifetime; Indy was one I had never won – and never expected to win. I drive good there, my cars are good, I've just never had any luck. But this particular past year, I was like, I'm just here to shake hands and kiss babies. If anything, I thought I could win in the COPO – that COPO is dangerously good – but I actually won in Top Dragster. I don't think I've ever been as nervous as I was for that final. But I've always said, 'If you get good people around you, good things happen.' "

Strickland, whose nearly two-dozen wins have taken place at 11 different facilities, generally sticks to racing where he has good history. The upcoming Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway is an event that he has won five times, including last season in Stock, and he'll prime for the national event by working to defend the Baby Gators title he scooped up there last year in Top Dragster. The acclaimed Division 2 event at Gainesville Raceway will take place the weekend before the Gatornationals. 

"Gainesville is a very important track to me," said Strickland. "Just like Bristol and now Indy. Anytime you win at a track, you crack the code. Now you can go after them and try to get more wins."

After racing at the Gatornationals, Strickland will move on to South Georgia Motorsports Park and Silver Dollar Motorsports Park for additional division races before heading to the national event in Bristol, which he has won four times. With the recent history of a great season fresh in his mind, he's looking forward to biting into a new campaign. But while others were building, rebuilding, refreshing, and updating in preparation for the new year, Strick took a somewhat different approach. 

"To be honest, we didn't change anything in either car over the winter," he said. "They're sitting there on jack stands, ready to go, and were not touching anything. I want to pick up where we left off 2023, if that's possible." 

He isn't going into the new season on a wing and prayer, though. Strickland has plenty of experience to lean into, and previous decisions sprouted from that experience have churned out extraordinary results. In 2016, he became the second driver in NHRA to earn two world championships in one season (Stock and Top Dragster), and he's twice doubled-up at national events, a feat reserved for a select few. While he appreciates the accomplishments that have come his way, they're really just part of Strickland's greatest intention. It really just comes down to enjoying life, and the second-generation competitor enjoys the heck out of NHRA Drag Racing. 

"My goal is to make sure I have fun every single day," he said. "Every minute you waste being unhappy is a minute you can never get back. There are so many people who would give a limb to be able to do what we do – how do you not appreciate it?"