2017 NHRA GATORNATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
SCHUMACHER INKS ANOTHER ACCOMPLISHMENT IN TOP FUEL RECORD BOOK - Tony Schumacher denied team colleague Leah Pritchett a chance to write NHRA Top Fuel history by making some of his own Sunday at the Amalie Oil Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville.
He broke a tie with Florida favorite son “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Joe Amato, and Larry Dixon in becoming the most successful in his class at this spring classic. His fifth victory here came as he defeated yet another Don Schumacher Racing mate, Antron Brown, in the final round.
“That’s a big accomplishment,” Schumacher said, even still taken back at least a little bit that his name appears with theirs on various lists. He said he appreciates just the chance he has had to make the feat happen. “There’s nothing easy about that,” he said, considering he had to outperform a three-time champion – and a racer who has beaten him 34 times, including seven times in their 12 final rounds against one another.
Schumacher, who won from the No. 1 starting position, burst Pritchett’s bubble. She was trying to be the first Top Fuel racer ever to begin a season with three victories. Doug Kalitta eliminated her in the second round.
Promising that the feat would be “a record I wouldn’t forget for a long, long time,” Schumacher overtook Brown at about 400 feet on the 1,000-foot course and cruised to his 83rd overall victory and first of this year in 3.703 seconds at 329.26 mph in the U.S. Army Dragster. No. 3 qualifier Brown countered in the Matco Tools/Toyota/ U.S. Army Dragster with a 3.764-second elapsed time at 322.65 mph.
“Antron’s had my number for a long time,” Schumacher said. “He makes me step up to the pate and drive the car better.”
Pritchett still leads the standings as Mello Yello Drag Racing Series action swings to the March 31-April 2 Denso Spark Plugs Nationals at Las Vegas. She has a 21-point advantage over No. 2 Schumacher. (He made up 71 points with his victory Sunday.)
“We’re in the fight every race,” Schumacher said. “It’s going to be a fun season. We’re already in the Traxxas Shootout.” He said Sunday’s achievement “takes that pressure away” from being eligible as one of eight drivers to vie for the $100,000 bonus payout the weekend of the U.S. Nationals. Schumacher won both last September.
He said he’s thrilled at the way new assistant crew chief Phil Shuler has meshed with crew boss Mike green and the team. He said it’s “a comforting thing so early in the season” that Green and Shuler can accurately predict the performance numbers each weekend.
“They’re doing a miraculous job. So far, so great – beyond good,” Schumacher said. “I’m comfortable driving the car. It’s running right down the middle [of the lane], and its’ running truly fast. It’s doing everything a driver dreams about.”
As always, he said preparation is the key, one that has made the difference between his 83 victories “and hundreds of losses. And yes, there is a difference. One is excellent – buys homes and cars. One doesn’t. Clearly a difference.
“We work for six minutes a year. That’s an embarrassing stat. That’s if you go out and make a lot of runs. It’s a lot of preparation to make those six minutes awesome.”
This weekend, in running the table (qualifying No. 1, winning, and setting low elapsed time and top speed of the meet), Schumacher was awesome for about 18 seconds.
And that was more than enough to get his job done, not embarrassing in the least. Susan Wade
JOHN FORCE CLAIMS GATORS FUNNY CAR TITLE - Nitro Funny Car legend John Force added another line to his illustrious resume Sunday.
The 16-time NHRA world champion, driving his PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car, beat Jonnie Lindberg to capture the title at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.
Force clocked a 3.928-second elapsed time at 328.14 mph to muscle past Lindberg’s 3.971-second lap in his Jim Head-owned Funny Car.
“They made one little mistake out here, they let me find the music,” said Force, 67. “I remember when I was 15 years old driving around without a driver’s license and the music carried me. The Beach Boys, Merle Haggard, I loved that life. I got after him (Lindberg) and we gave the fans a race at the Gators. I love Jonnie (Lindberg’s) attitude. He told me he took it easy on me. He said ‘I let you win old man.’ I just love him to death and I gave him a big ol’ hug.”
This was Force’s NHRA-record 148th career national event win in his 248th career final round. Force’s final round win also was the 2,500th Funny Car round win for John Force Racing. Lindberg is on the other side of the spectrum as he was competing in his inaugural nitro Funny Car race in his career.
“I made a lot of changes coming here, and I don’t know if I’m smart or just lucky,” Force said. “Either way, I surround myself with great people. They are the ones who make it happen and then the sponsors and the cheer of the crowd.”
Force’s victory parade consisted of wins over Del Worsham, Jack Beckman, and Tommy Johnson Jr. before he ousted Lindberg.
Force has advanced to the final round of the NHRA Gatornationals 13 times, winning eight times (1992-1996, 1999, 2001, and 2017). Force’s victory also was his 17th win a Chevrolet-bodied Funny Car making him the winningest Chevrolet-bodied Funny Car driver in NHRA history.
“I showed you all, this old man can still get it (done), age is not a limit,” Force said. “I don’t go to a race without believing I can win. The day I don’t believe I can win, then it’s time for me to quit. I found the music and they’re going to be sorry I found the music, trust me.”
Force’s victory came 10 years to the day of Eric Medlen’s on-track crash during a test session at Gainesville, Fla., a crash that eventually took his life on March 23, 2007.
“Losing Eric Medlen here was hardest on his dad, (John),” Force said. “I know he (Eric) rode with his dad with (Jack Beckman) and Dean Antonelli (with Beckman), but Eric Medlen saved my life. I know a son would always root for his dad, John Medlen, and we are all friends and a big family. I know if his dad can’t win, he would like to see John Force (win) one more time. I know he was in my heart all day. I love you Eric. I know he was with me there in the final.” Tracy Renck
SHANE GRAY CAPTURES GATORS PRO STOCK VICTORY - The talk in NHRA’s offseason was Shane Gray was going to retire from Pro Stock racing to give his seat to his 17-year-old son, Tanner.
Tanner is racing this season, but so is Shane.
And, Shane is doing quite well, especially after Sunday when he won the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.
Shane, driving his Gray Motorsports Camaro, clocked a 6.535-second elapsed time at 212.96 mph to defeat Greg Anderson’s 6.560-second lap at 213.43 mph.
“We use the car I’m driving for a test vehicle,” Shane said with a laugh. “I don’t know how to say this, but I wasn’t supposed to win. When you’re testing parts, you are not supposed to win. That’s basically what we were doing with my car because this whole deal is based around Tanner. I don’t want to run 24 races and I don’t plan on it, so we try to test and use the parts we are testing on my car and slide them over to his car. We want to make sure they are going to work fine before we put new parts on it, and we were testing parts and just had a good day.”
This was Gray’s sixth NHRA Pro Stock national event win and first since the fall race at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2016.
On Sunday, Shane beat Allen Johnson, Erica Enders and Chris McGaha before ousting Anderson. Shane has competed in Pro Stock since 2010, finishing a career-best third in the 2016 points standings. Shane also joined his father, Johnny Gray, as a Gatornationals winner. Johnny won a nitro Funny title in Gainesville in 2013.
“We had a lucky day today,” Shane said. “There were some round wins that the car pulled me out of the hole and there were a couple of rounds that I pulled the car out of the hole. It was a complete team effort.”
Tanner beat Drew Skillman in the first round, but then lost to Jason Line in the second round when he double-stepped it on the starting line.
“Tanner had a little mistake in round two today and we’ve talked since then, and I’m glad he made that mistake,” Shane said. “He’s still a senior in high school and he’s 17 years old. I started racing with him when he was about 10 years old on the circle track. Tanner has always been one of those kids if he makes a mistake, he probably will not do it again because he’s just so competitive.”
Shane acknowledged he hasn’t talked to his son about any secret formula to win NHRA races.
“I think a lot of winning, you just have to let it come,” Shane said. “I kind of compare winning in some sense of maybe looking for a wife or a girlfriend, you’re probably not going to find one if you’re looking. Just don’t look. Don’t worry about winning and you will win. That’s what I keep trying to explain to him. Don’t worry about winning, go drive your car and you’re going to win your fair share of races, there’s no doubt about it.”
Although Shane Gray has had success this season, posting a 6-2 round record in the first three races of the season, he has no plans of making a run for the championship.
“It’s not something I’m interested in because I want my son to win the championship,” said Shane, when asked if he could imagine making a run for the 2017 Pro Stock title. “If my son is going to win the championship, he needs to be able to beat me, but that’s not what I’m in it for. It kind of bums me out a little bit whenever we are too close together in the lines, and I can’t get up there to watch him. I think to myself, ‘crap what am I doing this for?’ The races that are close to home we will run them and if it is not too big a pain in the neck for everybody. We just had a lucky day. We put our 30 bucks down on the blackjack table and we got our money back.” Tracy Renck
KRAWIEC REELS IN OWN BIKE AND HINES FOR FIFTH GATORNATIONALS VICTORY - Eddie Krawiec’s journey Sunday to his 37th NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle victory and repeat triumph at the Amalie Oil Gatornationals began with a scare and ended with a score.
Nearly pitched off his heavily leaning Harley-Davidson during his first-round race against Mike Berry, Krawiec held on.
Then he held off Berry, Matt Smith, and Joey Gladstone, and finally his Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson teammate Andrew Hines at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, Fla., to claim the class’ first trophy of its 16-race season.
It was his fifth victory here, just as Tony Schumacher’s was in the Top Fuel class. They shared the winners circle with John Force (Funny Car) and Shane Gray (Pro Stock).
Krawiec, the second-quickest starter, defeated No. 4 qualifier Hines by about 16 inches (.0046 of a second) on the quarter-mile course with a 6.763-second elapsed time at a 199.76-mph speed that matches Angelle Sampey’s mark for the fourth-fastest NHRA Pro Stock Bike pass ever.
Hines ran a 6.802, 197.10 against Krawiec after knocking out Sampey, Scotty Pollacheck, and Steve Johnson.
“My Harley-Davidson this weekend has been really fast,” Krawiec, who twice flirted seriously with the class’ elusive 200-mph milestone. “We just haven’t been able to harness that power and get it sorted out. As the year goes on, we’re going to get better. We did a lot of R&D over the winter on our tune-up side. Andrew spent a lot of time in the dyno room, tweaking the tune-up. It’s showing that it’s going to be the right way.”
He said he was pleased with the way his recent testing results translated to competition. As for hitting the 200-mph plateau, Krawiec didn’t rule out the possibility that this tune-up soon might become strong enough to keep the 200-mph record from being dependent on natural factors, such as tailwinds and ideal temperatures. He said before this weekend he wouldn’t say that but after he has seen the potential in the tune-up, he has changed his mind.
“If we could have gotten hold of that track Saturday morning, we wouldn’t be talking about it. You’d be saying, ‘Wow – what a monster run!’ We just need to continue to refine it [the tune-up].” He said his bike is cooperating easier, “but Andrew’s bike kind of gives us the finger every once in awhile. But that bike’s coming around.”
Krawiec will hang onto his No. 1 ranking in the standings at least until the Pro Stock Motorcycle class reappears on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series at the April 28-30 Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte. In the meantime, the rest of the series will travel to the March 31-April 2 Denso Spark Plugs Nationals at Las Vegas and the April 21-23 SpringNationals at Baytown, Texas.
“One you win one or two races, you kind of solidify your spot in the Countdown,” he said after guaranteeing a ninth straight season with at least one victory.
Krawiec said his first-round wrestling match with his motorcycle Sunday was “horrible” and “ugly” and “one you’re not proud to make.” He said he was concerned the front tire would slip out from underneath him and that he had to keep sticking his leg out to balance it when he couldn’t get the bike to return to its upright position. He said, “These bikes tend to do that once in a while. It’s a scary deal but you have to stay with it. If you roll off the throttle, the bike will stand up and at that point, it might dart left or right and then you’ve got a real problem.”
He said, “If we make it run straight, it will go a 6.75 or .76.” And that’s what it did, after an axle change. Krawiec clocked 6.76s in his semifinal and final rounds.
In the final, their 19th against each other, Krawiec trailed Hines as late as the 1,000-foot mark as they approached the 1,320-foot finish line.
So Krawiec more than once demonstrated the art of turning something scary into something successful. His sleight of hand or leg or whatever it took ultimately paid off Sunday. Susan Wade
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - FIELDS ARE SET FOR QUICK AND FAST SUNDAY
SARGE AND IN CHARGE - Tony Schumacher secured a track elapsed time record pass of 3.682 seconds at 328.22 mph in the second qualifying session to earn his 81st career No. 1 qualifier, first of the season.
“The Gatornationals to me, even as a kid, was always one of the greatest moments for my father,” Schumacher said. “It’s a great chance, great opportunity. When you’re given a great opportunity, you surround yourself with people capable of that moment, which we have done. You hope for great weather and the perfect situation tomorrow; great storm, great race. What you want is for the fans to walk away going, ‘We paid good money for this race and we feel like we owe more.’”
In the first round of eliminations Schumacher, who will be in pursuit of becoming the first five-time Top Fuel winner at the Gatornationals, will face Smax Smith. Doug Kalitta is qualified second with a 3.698 at 328.78 in his Mac Tools dragster and will race Ike Maier and defending world champion Antron Brown and his Matco Tools dragster are in third and will line up against Chris Karamesines.
A NATURAL FIT - An alligator farmer doing well at the NHRA Gatornationals just seems to make sense. But for whatever reason, Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Jerry Savoie hasn’t been able to enjoy much success at the famed race.
Saturday qualifying provides much hope for a different scenario for the Louisiana alligator farmer heading into this Sunday's final eliminations. During the Q-3 session, Savoie reeled off a 6.753 elapsed time at 198.99 miles per hour.
"I've been coming to the Gators for the last seven years, and I believed when I bought Mr. [Don] Schumacher's stuff it was going to be easy," Savoie admitted. "With all the power we had, we figured we'd qualify No. 1 and win the race. Six years later we finally get to qualify No. 1 at Gainesville.
"For me and my crew, it's a special privilege."
Savoie understands as tough as winning the Battle of Gainesville will be on Sunday, even tougher will be winning the War of 2017.
“A lot of guys and gals are going to be good,” said Savoie, who has six career victories. “We have to step up mentally and physically, and have the right bike. It’s not going to be easy. There’s a lot of talented riders, a lot of new riders and everybody riding a Suzuki now believes they can win a championship. I think last year opened a lot of doors for people. It’s going to be a great year.”
Savoie posted two wins and a runner-up finish during the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, wrestling the title away from Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec on the final day of the season.
SPEED MERCHANTS - Hector Arana Sr. wants to be the first bike in official competition to eclipse the 200 mph mark.
"Having that 200-mph entry with my name next to it in the record books would be neat because it's there forever, but more than anything, I want to bring glory to Forrest and Charlotte Lucas and Lucas Oil Products," Arana Sr. said. "And I'm not being a typical racer talking about their sponsor; I mean this from my heart. I owe everything I have to the Lucas family."
Arana has been racing Pro Stock Motorcycles for 28 years, 25 of which have been with Lucas Oil branding on the side of his bike. His time with Lucas Oil represents the longest continuous current sponsorship in any form of motorsports.
"One thing you learn as you get a little older and hopefully a little wiser is that the people who truly support what you're doing are everything," Arana Sr. said. "Forrest told me when we first started way back when that as his company grew, his support of my team would grow, and he's certainly kept that promise.
"The happiest moment of my career was when we presented him and Charlotte with the 2009 championship trophy. If we could follow that up with the first 200-mph pass on the Lucas Oil Buell, well that would be pretty great also. We're sure going to try our best."
Arana Sr. already ranks as the third fastest rider in class history after running a 199.35 mph top speed in 2015 at the Englishtown, N.J. race. That was the same event where his son, Hector Arana Jr. set the national record with a 199.88-mph blast.
"We have the capabilities to do this," Arana Sr. said. "Both bikes have tested well, and we made a lot of progress in the offseason. You really need a lot of things to fall into place. The weather and air has to be just right, and even something as simple as a big cloud passing over the track when you make a run can be the difference. It also depends where we all line up from one round to the next. The reality is that not just one person can do it; there are several bikes capable of going that fast, if everything falls into place."
Saturday, during the Q-3 session, it was Eddie Krawiec who came as close as any rider to 200 when he reeled off a track-record 198.99 blast. Unofficially, Krawiec has already run 200 before, but it came back in 2012 during a test session in Valdosta, Ga.
THE STEVIE FAST ERA - It's hard to rattle a man who has flown through the air, 30-feet high and backward in a car running 200 miles per hour. This mentality is what makes race fans flock in support of Georgia native Stevie "Fast" Jackson.
Jackson didn't have to self-appoint himself a nickname; he got his the old-fashioned way by running fast and winning at backwoods tracks with cars many seasoned drivers wouldn't get out of the electric chair to sit in, much less drive down a track, even an eighth-mile.
Friday afternoon on the big stage of the National Hot Rod Association at the Gatornationals, Jackson not only made his first-ever quarter-mile run but also jumped to the top of the J&A Services Pro Modified field in record fashion.
Jackson, the quickest man on radial tires, covered the Valdosta, Ga., eighth-mile in 3.737 seconds, thundering into NHRA Pro Modified with pretty much the same bravado which has made him a fan favorite on the smaller venues.
Now, about a month later, Jackson established a new Gainesville Raceway track record for Pro Modified cars with a 5.781 elapsed time on the quarter-mile to lead Friday qualifying.
"It's awesome, I mean, we got here just hoping to qualify. And everybody always says that, but we picked the car up six or seven days ago,” Jackson said. “I told the guys before we took it and tested it we wanted to try and qualify 16th and get beat first round, and we'd call it a success."
Jackson changed his mind when he tested the new car from Jerry Bickel Race Cars.
"I told the boys, I don't want to just qualify - I want to qualify in the top half," Jackson said. "After the first run (in qualifying) I thought we were gonna go to the front. We had it real wicked up there. I wasn't going up there to putt it up to the green; I was going to knock it in the hole from about 300 yards out."
While his golfing etiquette might be more like the Happy Gilmore, the fictional golfer made famous by actor Adam Sandler, Jackson clearly marches to the beat of his own drum, which is usually a few beats ahead of the orchestra.
"I have a Cinderella story, a zero nothing story in that I started from nothing and worked hard," Jackson said. "I worked really hard, and I sucked a lot and did good a lot. People get behind that kind of a story. I have never had so many people come by and tell me they are pulling for me. I think there are more people down here in the sportsman pits than up there in Top Fuel. To see the fans get engaged like this is what our sport needs."
The Happy Gilmore of drag racing says he's bringing the rednecks back out to the track in force. Some love him, some hate him, and he's just fine whichever way they roll.
"I don't need anyone to love me; I love me. People have to take a side. I love those people just as much who cannot stand me and think I am an arrogant punk, as much as those who love me. That's good, go root on someone else, so when I kick their ass, I am happy because you are mad."
In a testimony to his charisma, Jackson was met at the end of the track following his first-ever quarter-mile run by a famous face in Funny Car racing who he learned from at Frank Hawley Drag Racing School. At this point, Jackson realized his dream had come full circle.
"My dream kicked off about ten years ago here in Gainesville," admitted Jackson. "I came to Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School. My first run Jack Beckman met me on the scooter when I turned off the track. He was my instructor at Hawley's. All the fuel guys have come down to my pits to congratulate me."
Jackson has a feeling the same will occur once he decides to pursue the next step of his dream, to eventually go nitro racing.
"Oh my gosh, if y’all give me a Fuel car, I’m gonna turn this place upside down," Jackson warned. "I’ll either fix it or break it; I promise you one of the two."
Today he broke it, as an apparent broken transmission cut his first round race short against Eric Latino, who won with an impressive 5.77 elapsed time.
A WINNING TRACK RECORD - It's no wonder Greg Anderson loves Gainesville. The 87-time NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series winner has scored four wins in six Gainesville final rounds.
The KB Racing legacy is strong at the Florida track; Anderson's teammate and reigning Pro Stock world champion Jason Line has four wins in seven finals there. The only NHRA Pro Stock driver ever to have had more success at Gainesville Raceway is Warren Johnson, who hung up his driving gloves several years ago. Johnson stands at nine Gatornationals victories.
"We love it there," said Anderson, who bested Line in an all-Team Summit final for both of his most recent Gainesville trophies. "It's probably in the top three of our favorite races of the year, and it always has been. Gainesville Raceway is right in the KB Racing wheelhouse. Our Summit Racing Chevy Camaros always run fast there, and it's such a smooth racetrack. It's just one of those Pro Stock-style tracks, and there are a lot of Pro Stock fans down there – so it makes it a darn fun race."
Jason Line’s 6.476 pass at 213.87 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro from Friday held up to secure his third consecutive Pro Stock No. 1 qualifier of the season, 52nd of his career.
“We just try to go as fast as we can,” Line said. “The strategy is the same, early season, late season, mid-season, it doesn’t matter, it’s to put the Summit cars in the Winner’s Circle. Qualifying No. 1, obviously to me, is the best way to start. Our Summit Camaro is running really, really well so I’m super excited about tomorrow.”
DIXON ‘TESTING’ WITH HELP OF STRONG CREW – Shrugging off Friday’s surprising order to remove or cover his World Series of Drag Racing sponsor logo, Top Fuel owner-driver Larry Dixon is continuing to take baby steps with his new team. And he has some capable help in his pit.
Flying overseas from Sydney to Gainesville, brothers Santo Rapisarda Jr. and Tino Rapisarda are lending their tuning skills in backing up crew chief Mike Domagala, as is longtime crew chief Tony Shortall. RAI bottom-end specialist Curtis also is pitching in, along with Brian McDermott, whom Dixon has known since they worked on Roland Leong’s “Hawaiian Punch” car.
The dragster they’re working on is a nearly untested Brad Hadman-built one that Dixon bought from former boss Bob Vandergriff.
“For some reason it never ran,” Dixon said. “It was one of the Yas Marina cars that Don Schumacher put together [in 2009].”
So with less than 20 passes on his dragster, Dixon said he’s using the Amalie Oil Gatornationals – a race he has won four times – as a test session. He can afford to do that, with just enough competitors to fill the 16-car field this weekend.
His run Friday evening was a planned shutoff – although the fire and oildown that cost him five points certainly were unplanned. His early Saturday launch was scheduled to be the same – minus the trouble.
“I’m not trying to be No. 1 qualifier or anything like that,” he said. “I look at it like today is the first day of the rest of my life.”
He said Friday’s setback, with the NHRA determining his World Series of Drag Racing logo was inappropriate because it advertises an IHRA-associated event, was no big deal.
“The last time I raced at Gainesville, it was way worse than yesterday,” Dixon said. “It’s perspective.”
The logo flap had nothing to do with the fact Dixon was unable to take advantage of the first qualifying session Friday. He blamed that on “a couple of non-tune-up-related issues.”
Dixon said he has “something in the works maybe for Vegas” and would like to be at Charlotte. However, nothing is official, for he said, “I’m not entered at any race but this one.” – Susan Wade
ROUGHING IT - There isn't much about Gainesville qualifying which has been fun for the two-time NHRA champion Worsham. A 4.544 qualifying best has done little to dampen the enthusiasm Worsham has for returning to his roots.
Last November, Worsham announced his resignation from the DHL Funny Car team by Kalitta Motorsports to return to his family-owned team to race with his father, Chuck Worsham.
"I’m having fun," Worsham said. "Even though it wasn’t a great day Friday, and Lucas Oil Toyota obviously had issues, still out here, we have great weather, we’re looking forward to the rest of the weekend. I love drag racing, and I am having a great time."
Worsham shared the driving duties on the 2000-plus mile trek from Orange County, Ca., to Gainesville, Fla., which started on Monday and ended Wednesday.
"Hopping in a hauler and driving across country is not much fun," Worsham admitted. "Hopping in a hauler and going across country with your dad is fun, and that’s what made it fun."
Worsham admits the roughing it time which used to be a staple in his early year's experiences, got lost in the years when Worsham Racing began to grow in sponsorship funds.
"I haven’t really driven a hauler you know with any kind of regularity since I was 28 years old," Worsham said. "When CSK came, also came a lot of responsibilities. But this particular trip I thought traveling with my Dad and getting back in there and doing it the way we used to do it would be fun, and it lived up to the hype."
Yes, he missed a few shifts.
"If you can’t find ‘em, you grind ‘em, right?" Worsham asked, with a chuckle. "You know, this particular truck has a different shifting pattern than our other truck, so I grind a few."
There isn't much wrong with the 1996 Kenworth which was originally purchased from legendary dragster pilot Joe Amato in 1998.
"It’s only ever been used for drag racing, and it’s a great truck," Worsham said. "Plus it’s got XM satellite radio nowadays, so it’s good."
GETTING BACK UP THERE - Erica Enders ripped off her first 6.4-second pass of NHRA's fuel-injected era to qualify No. 3.
Enders' 6.490 at 214.01 mph was more than enough to lock up her best qualifying effort since last year's Denver race, a span of 13 national events. It also makes her one of the favorites to win the prestigious and historic Gatornationals, one of the stops on tour she has yet to conquer.
"I'm really pleased with our performance here in Gainesville and if fans recognize we're a true contender again and vote us into the K&N Challenge based on this weekend, that would be a real blessing," Enders said. "It's funny but it's always the weekends where you don't start off on the right foot where you tend to do better. We had to abort Q1 but we've been awesome ever since.
"Tomorrow is going to be a warm day, just like today. The race track is very tricky, very marginal so I think tomorrow it's going to be a driver's race, which I love. My guys give me a consistent car that goes A to B. That's how we won both of our championships and I'm going to do my best to drive to the winner's circle.
"Having run what we just ran in the heat of the day knowing there was more left in the car and being second quickest of the session gives us a lot of confidence going into race day. I'm really excited. One win I lack that is really prestigious is the Gatornationals so we are going to put our heads down and go to work tomorrow."
A LABOR OF LOVE - John Gaydosh to the old days of Pro Stock racing where the measurement of one's heart clearly exceeded their operating budget.
“Nobody out here at the track wants to race more than me," Gaydosh explained. "I want to race in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series more than anyone. My wife Tina and our volunteer crew all come out to help me race Pro Stock because I love it so much.”
Gaydosh's life mission of NHRA began at 16-years old, when he bracket raced a 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix. He his house as loan collateral to buy his first Pro Stock car in 2008 from Jim Yates.
“Nobody knows just how much I sacrifice to be here at the races. I have the most incredible wife I’ve been married to for 23 years, and she does everything to help make my dreams come true,” said Gaydosh. “I also have to thank the Gray family and Pypes Performance Exhaust for their help and support. It means the world to me.”
Gaydosh plans to run a 10-race schedule in 2017, hitting mostly the East Coast races.
Gaydosh made the show as the No. 15 qualifier with an off-pace 6.708, 205.94.
NOT THE KIND OF THRILL-SEEKING SHE SEEKS - You remember Andie Rawlings, the petite Pro Stock Motorcycle rider hanging on for dear life as she went through the lights during Friday’s Q-2. Her actions made for quite the highlight reel.
Given her druthers, Rawlings would just as soon have a do-over.
“It just got real quiet and I just held on to the bike, got through it,” Rawlings recalled. “I wasn’t thinking too much other than just getting through the moment and staying with the bike. So not a lot of thought process up there. I know it looks like gosh what 10-12 seconds, but it was really like a 45-minute talk through. I could go on all day. But just hey, hang on to the handlebars, keep it in, stop, and just ride it.”
Just another day in the life of a thrill-seeker.
“Man, if you don’t get out of bed looking for a little excitement, what are you doing?” Rawlings asked, with a smile.
Rawlings sat out Saturday’s qualifying as her team went through the bike with a rigorous inspection, and as a result missed the qualified field.
BACK TO FORM - Six-time world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. has spoken at length about the supreme confidence he has in his brand-new Rick Jones-built Chevrolet Camaro since he took delivery of the racecar in January.
This weekend Coughlin ran an impressive 6.491 seconds at 214.01 mph, locking up the No. 4 slot on Sunday's elimination ladder, marking his best starting point in eliminations since just after he joined Richard Freeman's Elite Motorsports group in the summer of 2015. The run was also his best since NHRA mandated a switch from carburetors to fuel injection at the start of 2016.
"We ran really well coming out of the box on Friday," Coughlin said. "Conditions were a little bit different yesterday, with a little bit cooler track temperatures, which helped. Today, it was still pretty cool but there was some pretty strong sun on the track and it affected our set-up a little bit.
LISTEN TO THE MUSIC - John Force will always tell you the old dog has plenty of bite left in him.
Force, a sixteen-time world champion, ran a track elapsed time record of 3.832 seconds at 333.25 mph in his PEAK Chevy Camaro in the second qualifying session.
“It feels good. The old hot trod went down the race track well,” Force said. “We made a lot of changes recently. Robert Hight and I decided to switch teams. It all just made sense. My heart felt good and I knew it was good beacuse I started hearing the music and when you lose the music you’re dead and you don’t even know it. You gotta find the music. That’s the hardest thing to do and that makes everything right.”
NOT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS - If only swapping crew chiefs was as simple as it appeared to be in press releases.
In the week leading into the NHRA Gatornationals, John Force Racing announced Mike Neff would return to tune for the boss, 16-time Funny Car champion John Force and Jimmy Prock would once again pair with Robert Hight, the driver with whom he tuned to the 2009 championship.
Team President Hight stepped up and offered, “I’m a big baseball fan, and I remember back in the day when Tommy Lasorda was the manager of the (Los Angeles) Dodgers, and you’d see him out there coaching third base.
"He said, ‘Sometimes, you just have to change things up. When things aren’t working, you change them up.'"
With all due respect, Lasorda didn't have to deal with the logistics of switching rigs and race cars. And in the game, Lasorda is no John Force.
Force couldn't explain to enough race fans and anyone who would listen why there was an AAA Auto Club of Southern California trailer accompanying his Peak Funny Car and vice versa.
Force jokes Neff accused him of getting heavy into the wine and getting emotional, thus inspiring the changes.
"This week is the tenth anniversary of Eric Medlen, when we lost the young kid, and I walked through the museum there in Brownsburg, and I spent a lot of time looking at pictures, and I just felt things weren’t right," Force said. "So I called the crew chiefs in, and I said, ‘This is what I want to do to make me feel right, but how does it feel for everybody?"
The move suits Hight, who didn't exactly say it but described his relationship with Prock, as on BFF (best friends forever) terms.
“Jimmy and I, I think I was with him for nine seasons, and we were best friends,” Hight said. “There wasn’t a day that went by where we didn’t talk about the race car and what we were going to do, and it was a lot of fun. He really included me in things, and I’m excited to be back with him; (he’s a) very smart guy. I was really excited when we get him over the winter, got him back in here, because I knew he was going to make all of our teams stronger. When I called Auto Club and told them we had made the swap, their words were, ‘Hey, this is pretty cool. It’s a reunion.’”
Of course, Force, who races through a mountain of appearances and sponsor commitments at breakneck speed, tackled the logistics of the complex move in much the same manner.
"There's a lot of work just to get certain things done," Force explained. "You notice that trailer’s completely turned around to make tear down much easier, it cuts three hours out of the setup and tear down. That’s hard for the guys to have to do this on the weekends, working out here until midnight after racing all week. But then we also had the car swap.
"The biggest problem, people are saying, ‘Why is the Auto Club trailer in John Force’s pit?,” admitted Force. “Why am I working out of it?’. No, we didn’t swap sponsors, I am with Auto Club, all of us are. But, to change those trailers takes days.
"It’s not just engines, and tools, and nuts and bolts, it’s (a lot of) things, including machinery that’s in there that the guy that works out of that trailer runs. So you can’t just swap, make it simplified and move me into Mike Neff’s trailer, and so forth.
"Neff wants to keep his cars, but I had to change the roll cage. We had to make taller roll cages. And Jimmy wanted to keep his cars, so Robert moved into those cars. But they’re also going to make the roll cages taller because it gives the driver more room away from the bell housing. A lot of changes, but a lot of work."
Just to think, this weekend's moves are just makeshift. Once the race is over, they will head back to Indianapolis where Graphics Coordinator Brandon Baker will have the trailers rewrapped to properly align with the proper car.
The good part for Force and Hight is they will still be with the same crews.
Force said these changes are enough for now.
"Not touching the dragster and Courtney's car, they are running just fine," Force added with a smile.
The move worked well during Friday's qualifying for both Force and Hight, as the former ended up No. 1 with a career-best 3.839 and the latter at No. 2 with a 3.844.
POLITICS PUTS THE KIBOSH ON DIXON’S GATORS SPONSOR - Just because the Presidential election is complete doesn't mean politics aren't still in play. Just ask multi-time NHRA champion Larry Dixon, who isn't running for political office but learned Friday at the NHRA Gatornationals politics are very much a part of sports.
Dixon, who is running his first race with Larry Dixon Racing, learned the hard way promotion of a race closely affiliated with another race series is not allowed in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
The direct competition was The World Series of Drag Racing, an event hosted by Cordova Raceway Park, which is owned by the International Hot Rod Association.
"It was brought to my attention this morning that the sponsor that I had on my car was a direct conflict with the sanctioning body, and it needed to be removed," Dixon confirmed.
Dixon ran in Friday's qualifying with the decal covered by duct tape.
Dixon said he was taken aback by the edict handed down by NHRA officials because in his estimation he didn't see the promotion of the event as a direct competition to the NHRA, which is idle on the August 25 - 27 date.
"I don’t see it as a conflict, and that’s the only reason why I did it," Dixon said. "I spent my whole life in this sport, and everything that I have I owe to the NHRA. I put together a deal to run the match race at Cordova this summer, and I was able to basically get some of the money up front.
"Because the amount of money that we spent to be able to get to his point, from the Winternationals when we decided that we wanted to come to this event, I spent over $100,000 on parts. Had a trailer, had cars, all that stuff, but everything, the people, all that stuff to be able to put it together, we don’t have a lot, but that’s how much it took.
"So anything that I could get from anywhere is digging us that far back out of the hole. So, it wasn’t to try and do anything bad, it was just trying to get us further out of debt."
Dixon figured since there were no IHRA logos, the agreement was fine.
"It’s like we kept it really plain and simple and all that, but it wasn’t plain and simple enough," Dixon said.
Dixon wouldn't say this was a petty move on NHRA's behalf but did say NHRA has allowed other race series promoted on race cars in the past.
Former Funny Car racer Tony Pedregon once ran logos for the American Drag Racing League, which billed itself as a sanctioning body but in reality was an ASO series which ran on both NHRA and IHRA sanctioned tracks.
"The World Series of Drag Racing is not a sanctioned race; it’s not a points race, it’s an exhibition race," Dixon said. "It’s no different than the Night of Fire that Bill Bader puts on."
NHRA's comment on the situation pointed out Section 11 in the 2017 NHRA competition rulebook stating the sanctioning body reserves the right to refuse to display any sponsor decal on a racecar or rig it deems as detrimental to the organization.
All was not lost for Dixon though, Chris Vandergriff of Hedman Hedders stepped up with associate sponsorship to cover the lost revenue.
I'M STEVIE FAST, AND YOU'RE NOT - When your name includes the connotation Fast, with a capital F, there are certain standards one must uphold.
Pro Mod racer Stevie "Fast" Jackson lived up to the billing, and in only his second pass to the quarter-mile raced to the qualifying lead with a track record elapsed time pass of 5.781-seconds at 251.58 mph.
"It's awesome, I mean, we got here just hoping to qualify," Jackson said. "And everybody always says that, but we picked the car up six or seven days ago,” Jackson said. “I told the guys before we took it and tested it we wanted to try and qualify 16th and get beat first round and we'd call it a success. We took it out.
First round down the track in Bradenton two days ago, it ran good. So we got here, I told the boys, I don't want to just qualify - I want to qualify in the top half. After the first run today I thought we were gonna go to the front. We had it real wicked up there. I wasn't going up there to putt it up to the green, I was going to knock it in the hole from about 300 yards out."
MANDATORY TOP FUEL FIX - NHRA Top Fuel dragsters underwent a safety upgrade in the time between the recent NHRA Arizona Nationals and this weekend's NHRA Gatornationals. Teams were required to add an extra crossmember to the bay area just beyond the foot box.
According to NHRA Director of Engineering Tim White, at least three front-running Top Fuel teams approached the NHRA Technical Department with concerns with the lower and upper frame rails from this section on the 300-inch wheelbase dragsters. The top rails were apparently bowing at speed with concern for overloading the bottom.
The crossmember fix was mandatory for this event.
TWO BIRDS WITH ONE STONE - If you cannot be the best, try to at least be spectacular. Fortunately for rookie Top Fuel driver Troy Coughlin Jr., he was both.
Coughlin channeled his inner slalom driver during the Q-1 session when his car got crossed up in a similar fashion to a run he made in preseason testing in Phoenix.
Coughlin stopped the timers in 3.748 seconds at 327.03 miles per hour to claim the provisional Top Fuel No. 1 qualifier.
"It's just a lot of weight moving," Coughlin explained. "The more you jostle the steering wheel the more the weight moves around. At the speeds we are running, it gets difficult. You are just dancing with it."
The fun for Coughlin began as the supercharger expired just as he crossed the finish line.
"Just had to muscle it back, the further you get down track the more muscle you have to give it. You cannot be shy about it, or it will get out ahead of you."
ONE WITH THE SNAKE - Only two Funny Car drivers have ever started the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series with two consecutive wins. NHRA great Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and Don Schumacher Racing's Matt Hagan.
And they've both done it twice.
Hagan is 8-0 in round wins this season with event titles at the season opener in Pomona, Calif., and near Phoenix two weeks ago. It's a feat they also accomplished 2015.
"It's a pretty cool deal to start the season off like this," said Hagan. "We got us a hot rod right now. The car is strong, Dickie Venebles, my crew chief, is putting a good car underneath me. I'm just feeling it right now, we all are. The car is just going down the racetrack every lap.
"It's a great feeling to crawl in the car with the confidence that you're going to run strong. I'm just super, super proud of Dickie, Michael and this group of Mopar guys that they've put around me."
But to continue that streak, two-time Funny Car champion Hagan will have to do something he's never done before - win this weekend at Gainesville Raceway in Gainesville, Fla. He certainly doesn't want to follow the 2015 pattern: after opening with two titles, the team lost in the first round at Gainesville.
Hagan, already a two-time winner this season, ran a 3.854 at 328.70 in his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T for third
THAT GIRL IS ON FIRE - It's not easy to stop reflecting on something you've accomplished, especially when it's something no other Top Fuel driver and team have done in 43 years of the NHRA pro drag racing tour.
Leah Pritchett started the 2017 season by winning the first two events and No. 1 qualifying spots including one with a world record time.
No other Top Fuel driver and team have opened a season by winning the first two trophies from the pole. It's been 20 years since a driver won the first two, and Pritchett can add another chapter to her history book by being the first to ever win the first three dragster titles this weekend.
But Pritchett, the obvious points leader, is looking forward and not behind.
"My mindset is the same as when we went to Pomona after we ran the quickest time ever (3.654 seconds) in testing the week before," Pritchett said. "We had a nice test session and felt we had to do something to prove that our 3.65 was real when we got to Pomona.
"What we did in the first two races wasn't a fluke. We want to prove that to ourselves and everyone else.
"We'll have the same routine here that we had at Pomona and Phoenix, We'll keep our noses to the grindstone and show we are worthy of what we have accomplished so far this year."
The Gatornationals will be the first of four Mello Yello events in which Pritchett will carry the colors of FireAde 2000 Personal Fire Suppression Systems. FireAde owner and developer Ron Thames was instrumental in enabling Pritchett to join DSR last May by committing to sponsor her.
Unfortunately for Pritchett the weekend began anything but smoothly as the team’s first run was bumped for coming up light at the scales.
"THE DON" JOINS THE BOARD - Infinite Hero Foundation (IHF) has added Don Schumacher to its Board of Directors.
Schumacher, more commonly known as the owner of Don Schumacher Racing, serves as the Chairman and CEO of Schumacher Electric. As a driver/crew chief/owner, Schumacher won five NHRA national event titles, including the 1970 U.S. Nationals, through 1974. Since his return as an owner in 1997, Don has extended his resume to include 16 NHRA world championships.
Schumacher's board appointment came during IHF's, Veterans Innovation Society for Investing & Technology dinner held at Oakley Headquarters at Foothill Ranch on Feb. 9, 2017.
"Being asked to join the Infinite Hero Foundations' Board of Directors is one of the greatest honors of my life," said Schumacher, who has been inducted into nearly every major motorsports hall of fame.
"This would not have been possible without Terry Chandler's generosity and commitment to helping our very special veterans. We want to leave every NHRA race with two trophies as winners, but we already win when her Infinite Hero Funny Car goes down the track, and we're joined by some our country's greatest heroes."
HERE WE ARE! - Cory Reed and Angelle Sampey, now officially branded as Team Liberty, have made their debut this weekend. The team has been burning the midnight oil all winter long creating from scratch, their new racing operation including building a new race shop and putting together their brand new, top-of-the-line Victory Magnum Pro Stock motorcycles for competition.
“This winter has been pretty wild,” Reed said. “If we aren’t far off with our motors, we have a good chance of going out there and doing well but we really don’t know how we stack up until we get there. I’m just happy we got so much done and are physically able to go out there, make some passes, and see where we end up the first race out.”
“Gainesville is one of the biggest race of the year for our class besides Indy,” Sampey added. “This is the race everyone prepares all off-season for and for our team in particular, it’s a huge race. We don’t know what’s going to happen yet. Chris Rivas [co-crew chief] told me he’s never worked this hard in his entire life and that goes for our whole Precision Service Equipment team. I just think the harder you work, the more prepared you are and the better your luck ends up being; we definitely deserve to do well based on how hard we’ve worked.”
Reed and Sampey tested in Valdosta, Ga., in the days before Gainesville.
“I feel like I just want to pick up where we left off last year and keep that momentum going,” Reed explained. “It’s a new team but we’ve got a lot of the same people so it doesn’t really feel like anything new. Everyone has the same goal in mind and everyone’s been working their tails off too. Ken [Johnson, co-crew chief] and Chris [Rivas, co-crew chief] have been non-stop working every day and as a rider and team owner, it gives you a ton of confidence.”
A LINE IN THE SWAMP - Defending world champion Jason Line holds the Pro Stock top spot after running a 6.476 at 213.87 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro in the second session.
“The class as a whole has picked up a fair amount of power over the off-season,” Line said. “We’re certainly much faster than we were last year at this time. It felt like we could go that fast, maybe a little bit faster. Nonetheless, saying it is one thing but doing it is another so we did it. It was a good day.”
Line bumped teammate Bo Butner who ran a 6.477 at 213.60 in his Jim Butner’s Auto Chevy Camaro and now sits in second. Two-time world champ Erica Enders is in third with a 6.490 at 214.01 in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro.
WEEEEE'RREEEEEE BAAAAAAAAAACK - In Pro Stock Motorcycle, three-time world champion Eddie Krawiec currently sits in the No. 1 qualifier position with a 6.791 pass at 198.17 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.
“To come off the trailer and to set the pace like that it kind of sets your trend for the weekend,” Krawiec said. “We knew we had fast Harleys we just had to continue to work on the setup. Our main focus was come here, unload off the truck, get a solid run, get qualified, get in the show and then start working.”
Hector Arana Sr. sits in second position with a 6.813 pass at 197.02 on his Lucas Oil Buell and LE Tonglet on his Nitro Fish Racing Suzuki is in third. Defending world champion Jerry Savoie sits fifth.