NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

The Sports Report: Gator Bites

NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Sportsman highlights from the 55th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at historic Gainesville Raceway.
13 Mar 2024
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor
The Sports Report
Kenny Horne

In the summer of 1974, a then 25-year-old Kenny Horne went to the final round of Stock at the Summernationals in Englishtown, where he lost to Kenny Koonce. Six years later, Horne drove to his second final in Gainesville, where he once again finished as a runner-up, this time to Joe Moore.

Horne finally scored his first national event Wally at the 1989 Englishtown race in Super Stock, and he won again in Richmond in 1996. That was almost 28 years ago, and here is Horne, still going strong at age 74 with his GT/JA Olds Achieva.

Horne also has a handful of NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series divisional wins to his credit dating back to 1973, ironically at Gainesville Raceway. His long win drought came to an end late Sunday in Gainesville after he threw a .008 light at Monty Joe Bogan and turned on the win light in the Super Stock final. Along the way, Horne had to take on some of the toughest opponents in all of NHRA Sportsman racing, including world champs Jimmy Hidalgo Jr., Huge Meeks, and Factory Stock Showdown champ David Barton.

Horne’s win only reaffirms the notion that there is a place in drag racing for everyone, and given good health, a drag racing career can easily last six decades or longer. The list of 70-something national event winners includes some tough hombres, including Mike Saye, Chuck Gallagher, Irvin Johns, and, yes, John Force.


While Horne’s win in Super Stock was one for the ages, perhaps the most impressive performance in Gainesville came from Jeff Strickland, who captured the Stock title in his COPO Camaro following a narrow -.003 red-light by final-round opponent Jay Storey. Strickland now has 24 NHRA wins to his credit, so he’s clearly a threat to win every race he attends, but there is no place he feels more comfortable or has had more success than historic Gainesville Raceway.

Strickland’s love affair with Gainesville began in 2016 when he joined the short list of drivers to double up with same-day wins in Top Dragster and Stock. Strickland returned to the winner’s circle in Gainesville in 2021 when he beat world champ Anthony Bertozzi in the Top Dragster final. That victory launched a winning streak that continues to this day. In 2022, Strickland won again in Stock, a victory that he’s now repeated for the last three years. Since 2021, Strickland’s record in Gainesville with his Stocker is a miraculous 19-0 in elimination rounds.


Comp winner David Billingsley also knows a thing or two about longevity as he won his first national event title at the 1994 NHRA U.S. Nationals. Billingsley scored career win No. 7, and his first since the 2019 season, after topping Robert Bailey in the final round with a strong (-.572) 8.068 run in his D/EA Camaro.

Billingsley qualified solidly but hit a potential snag in round two when he missed the Tree against former Super Stock champ Peter D’Agnolo. Billingsley recovered to win with a (-.564) 8.136, and he was able to shake off the six-hundredths Competition Index Control penalty to finish the job.


Coming off a Top Dragster win last year in Dallas, Holden Laris scored his fifth career Wally in Super Comp to match his father, Ross. In Super Comp, where all but the best runs can sometimes be beaten, Laris did a solid job in the final with a .009 light and an 8.921 to stop Brad Plourd, who was a tick behind at 8.936.

For Laris, the win helped take the sting out of an uncharacteristic round-one loss in Right Trailers Top Dragster. His road to the Super Comp win also included wins against Baylee Mize, Phillip Mollichella, Ken Moses, and Jason Kenny, who made headlines by reaching the semifinals in both Super Comp and Super Gas.


There was a first-time winner in Super Gas as Marty Williams wheeled his Corvette roadster through seven tough rounds before opponent Rick Swank fouled in the final round. Williams would have been extremely tough to beat in the final regardless with a .010 light an a 9.915.

Williams' first win was highlighted by several great lights, including a pair of .00 bulbs in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds late Sunday afternoon. It’s early, but Williams is currently ranked No. 2 in the national standings in Super Gas behind "Baby Gators" winner John Taylor.


Blake Peavler won a pair of national events last season in Right Trailers Top Dragster on his way to a third-place finish in the championship battle. Peavler will likely contend for this year’s title following his most recent win in Gainesville.

Peavler’s fourth national event title came at the expense of Robert Tehle, who fouled in the final. Peavler was ready for whatever his opponent threw at him with a .008 light and a car more than capable of matching its 6.10 dial.


After taking a couple of tough early losses in his first two divisional events of the season, James Hinkle won when it counted the most as he’s now got a coveted Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals Wally to call his own. Hinkle won the final round of Right Trailers Top Sportsman with a great run that was enough to stop past world champion Darian Boesch. Hinkle, in his Pontiac Grand Am, didn’t let the pressure of a national event final get to him as he coupled a .006 light an a 7.196  against his 7.17 dial to finish the job.

Hinkle was also nearly perfect in the semifinals with another .006 light in his win over Curt Fredrich. Hinkle is also ranked No. 2 in the Top Sportsman class, just three points behind early-season leader Bruce Thaxton.