1 – DON'T SCREW THIS UP - Shawn Langdon admitted he rolled to the staging lanes for the finals of the NHRA Gatornationals with no pressure of a potential double-up on his shoulders. After all, Top Fuel always ran after Funny Cars, and whatever his teammate JR Todd managed to pull off would dictate the weight on his shoulders

“I saw the guys jumping up and down,” Langdon said, realizing Todd had won his race. “So, I just took a deep breath and honestly I told myself, ‘Don't screw this up.’ That was kind of my motto all day long, ‘Don't screw this up. I got a good race car.’”

For some reason or another, in 18 tries, Kalitta Motorsports had come up short in team double-ups. And the two drivers with the only chance to pull off the feat were clearly not on the same page. Langdon was a win waiting to happen with domination throughout qualifying and into eliminations. On the other side of the ladder, Todd had every inclination to go buy a lottery ticket since his DHL Toyota had not run a 3-second run or exceeded 300 miles per hour in the first three rounds.

In the history department, Todd last won in Sonoma in 2024, while Langdon hadn’t won a national event in over four years. 

This weekend had a lot riding on it. Days earlier, the late Scott Kalitta was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, and his father, Connie Kalitta, the team’s patriarch, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award. 

"JR doesn't really think about the double when he goes up there because he's first,” Langdon said with a smile. “And then he wins and then I'm like, ‘Well, here again, don't screw this up.’ Right? Yeah, obviously there's so many pressure situations going on.”

Whether or not it played into the scenario, a social media post on X (formerly Twitter) apparently left the Kalitta team out of the conversation about which team would be the first to double-up in 2024.

“We decided that 100 percent of the comments did not age well,” Langdon said. “Because nobody picked Kalitta. No way. But we're okay with that. We just keep on working. That's all we do. We keep working.”

Apparently, they work well under pressure.



2 – BRIAN’S SONG – Shawn Langdon was asked his opinion ahead of personnel changes being made at Kalitta Motorsports before the season. He responded at the absurdity of the phone call by suggesting, “Why are you calling me?”

Langdon appreciated the sentiment but the decision was a no-brainer. It was to him the equivalent of someone asking if he’d like $1 million with no strings attached. 

Langdon would admit Husen is the perfect crew chief for him.

“This isn't to say anything about any other crew chiefs that I've had in the past or anything, but there's just people that you click with,” Langdon said. “And dating back to 2012, when I started on the Al-Anabi team, Brian and I, I always felt like we clicked from day one. It's just when I say something, he gets what I say. He says something, I understand what he says. You can have short conversations and you just kind of understand where each other's coming from. There's nothing personal. Sometimes I may say something a little chippy, he may say, or whatever the situation is, but at the end of the day, you're in for the betterment of the team. You're there to win races. We've just always got along very well.

“And even when the Al-Anabi deal went away, him and I always stayed in contact, and I've always had great respect for Brian. So, then yeah, when it all kind of came back around and the opportunity, I got the phone call of ‘Hey, this is what we're thinking about doing. What's your opinion on this?' 

“I'm like, ‘Why you're calling me? Of course, yes, yes, yes, yes.’

“So, obviously I'm going to sing praise for Brian. Like I said, I'm so proud of Brian. I'm so happy for him.”

Sunday was the first official victory for Husen as a crew chief of record. And as Langdon sees it, there will be more records to come. 

3 – PERSISTENCE OVER PERFECTION – Truer words were never spoken after JR Todd had just scored another improbable round win. Todd came up on the winning side over speed merchant Bob Tasca III, when both drivers shook, pedaled and manhandled their way to the finish line. 

"That was definitely probably the most bizarre day I've had in drag racing," Todd said. "Usually you might have one run that you call that your lucky run, but we had three for sure.”

Performance came together at the perfect time for Todd and he slew the giant of the weekend, albeit a rookie driver, who was having a weekend Todd would have dreamed of having. 

After starting the day with a win over John Smith in the first round, 28-year-old Austin Prock (3.899 seconds at 332.43 mph) beat John Force (3.913 seconds at 328.46 mph) and Chad Green in the semifinals.

Meanwhile, Todd had run a 4.203, 9.107 and a 4.963 to reach the final round. 

“That run, in the final, that was probably the first good clean run that we made all week going back to Tuesday.” Todd admitted. “Just lot of problems in the bellhousing all weekend. Just couldn't get it figured out really.”

Todd, who has raced nitro cars since he was a teenager, learned a long time ago the differences of how to approach qualifying and eliminations day.

“It's a matter of survival on race day,” Todd said. “Of course, we all want to go No. 1. It would be nice to qualify up there in the top three and get some points for that, but at the end of the day, I'll take one of these trophies any day of the week over qualifying on the pole.

Todd will gladly take ugly race-day wins, too.



4. GAIGING THE DOMINANCE – The more Gaige Herrera runs, the better he gets. The better he gets, the further the rest of the field falls behind him.

A year after scoring his first career national-event victory in his debut race, Herrera was busy putting the finishing touches on his sixth straight race win. He ran a stout 6.636 elapsed time at 204.39 to pull away from Matt Smith. 

The victory marked his 12th career victory and not much was in doubt Sunday. He put together four straight runs in the 6.60s at more than 200 mph, defeating Joey Gladstone, John Hall and Angie Smith leading into the final round. That blistering performance included a track-record best of 6.629 at 204.54 in the second round, which was the second-quickest run in class history, behind only his record-setting run last year in Dallas.

“Today was good and we ran really well,” Herrera said. “The weather was really close to Dallas, where I set the national record. Everyone kind of picked up in the class and we expected to as well. Overall, I had a very consistent motorcycle. We actually hurt the motor in the semifinals, so we had to swap motors for the finals. Overall, I had a very consistent, smooth motorcycle all day. As long as I didn’t miss a beat, the bike didn’t miss a beat. Even though I didn’t do any testing during the offseason, it felt like I didn’t even have an off-season and I’m glad to come home with a win.”

Can we see a 6.5-second run this season? Herrera says no, even though he seems to pull out performance effortlessly. That effortlessness might cause him a few problems in the next few days.

"Do I think it's possible? No. I mean the tech department is already in our trailer getting data, so I'm pretty sure they already know something,” Herrera said. “They were doing that after E1. I'm curious to see the email coming this week. But overall, I don't know if NHRA tech department wants bikes to go that fast or be that close to (Pro Stock cars), I should say. We're usually always about a tenth to tenth-and-a-half behind them. And, I mean, you might see a .50-something, but it's going to have to be mineshaft conditions for sure.”

Interestingly enough, Herrera makes everything look mineshaft.

5 – GATOR BITES – For Erica Enders, the only unfinished business is now Virginia Motorsports Park. It’s the only stop on the NHRA’s 21-race tour where she hasn’t won a national event. Sunday she beat Cristian Cuadra to scratch Gainesville Raceway off the cursed list. 

Enders, motorsports’ winningest female, raced to a 6.494 at 211.93 in her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance/SCAG Power Equipment car. The win was the 48th of her career.

The final round with Cuadra came at the expense of Kelley Murphy, Aaron Stanfield and longtime rival Greg Anderson to reach the final round

The No. 1 qualifier with a 6.549, Enders dipped into the 6.40s three times during eliminations, including a 6.483 at 211.96 to defeat Anderson in the semifinals.
“We’ve been chomping at the bit to get this done,” Enders said. “I’ve been to three final rounds here and we finally got it done. It’s pretty cool to win this one. There’s certain track that have special (trophies) and to get the Golden Gator and the 55th win, it’s awesome. It will sit proudly on our shelf and seeing a packed house at the Gators, it’s so special. Being able to check off these boxes and get a win like this, it’s really special and we’re just going to keep working.”

6 – KRISTA BALDWIN SET FOR RETURN - When you are a third-generation Top Fuel driver, nitromethane runs through your veins. Sometimes this is a good thing and other times it can be a challenge.

Krista Baldwin uses the nitro gene as inspiration for her family tradition.

Baldwin recently purchased a Top Fuel dragster from Pat Dakin. Unless her budget expands, she plans to run a three-race schedule in 2024. 

"Top Fuel runs deep in my veins, deep in my family, three generations at this and I know I needed to make the next step," Baldwin said. "I knew that I had to become a consistent 3.7-second car to be out here to actually be competitive, not just a spectator or participant."

The Dakin car comes with a performance record that can deliver what she is looking for. 

"Nothing is changing except for the driver and the owner," Baldwin said. "So I'm the only part that's changed in this operation. We're going to continue with Scott Graham as the crew chief, Dan Hemric as the car chief. And we're going to see how fast this cheetah can go."

Baldwin will debut the car in Pomona, with stops in Phoenix and Las Vegas. She's also planning to head to Route 66 outside of Chicago, though it's not currently on the schedule.

"They are bringing me out west," Baldwin explained. "And that's going to be the cool part is I get to go to my home track, first run Friday night. It's going to be the first time I've been in that car and hopefully we can rip it to a 370 something."

7 – YES WAY, JOSE – Jose Gonzalez emerged victorious in the season-opening event of the Congruity NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by LearnEV+ at Gainesville Raceway, defeating Kris Thorne in the final round. With this win, Gonzalez secured his ninth victory and showcased his prowess behind the wheel of his Q80 Camaro.

“It’s just hard work from the crew,” Gonzalez said. “We hadn’t made one run before we got to Gainesville and we really started behind the eight-ball. We got a break on the first run and then the car started to come around. It’s a team effort. I’m just the one driving the car and they’re doing the hard work.”

Gonzalez's performance throughout the weekend, including a standout run of 5.685-seconds at 253.23 mph, attributed the success to the collaborative effort of his crew, acknowledging their hard work in optimizing the car's performance.

Thorne, a former Gatornationals winner, advanced to the finals after defeating notable contenders such as Mike Castellana and Mason Wright. Despite his impressive run to the final round, Thorne faced challenges as he encountered tire traction issues, ultimately conceding the victory to Gonzalez.

Thorne, who won the Gatornationals in 2022, defeated reigning world champion Mike Castellana, Mason Wright and Mike Thielen to reach the finals for the ninth overall time.



8 - IN MEMORY OF DON - Veteran racer and team owner Mark Pawuk clinched victory in the Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown Series. 

Pawuk, who qualified as the No. 3 contender, secured his win by defeating Stephen Bell in the final round, also claiming the Flexjet $1,000 bounty. Notably, Pawuk honored the memory of NHRA Hall of Famer Don Schumacher with a special tribute on his traditional-looking Dodge Drag Pak.

 “Don and I were very close, and I reached out to his stepdaughter Megan and asked if I could do a car in his memory." Pawuk said, “We are going to celebrate him at a couple races. … It’s just so cool. I've always wanted to win the Gatornationals.”

Throughout the competition, Pawuk faced formidable Chevrolet COPO Camaro opponents, including a dramatic first-round match against Lee Hartman, where he overcame an early deficit to clinch victory with a 7.796-second run. In the quarterfinals, Anthony Troyer proved to be a tough competitor, but Pawuk's precise driving secured him a narrow victory with a 7.784-second run, advancing him to the semifinals.

Pawuk credited his team's hard work and collaboration for his success, particularly highlighting the contributions of Mike Valeria and David Barton. 

“I am driving better than I have in a few years... I'm very happy,” he remarked, expressing gratitude for the support of sponsors like Flexjet, Ohio CAT, and Summit.

The path to the final round saw a dramatic incident involving David Janac's Ford Cobra Jet, which made contact with the guard wall, leading to Janac's exit from the race. This turn of events granted Pawuk a bye to the final, where he faced off against Stephen Bell for the title. Pawuk's quick start and Bell's tire spin allowed him to secure a decisive lead and ultimately claim victory at the Gatornationals.


9 - FATHER VS. SON CALAMITY-FEST – If there’s one thing proven when it comes to the Torrence Family dragsters racing one another. Neither will give the other a win without them earning it.
In their Top Fuel semifinals, Steve Torrence left first only to strike the tires. And as Billy started to pull away, his car popped the supercharger and coasted through the finish line. Billy won with a 4.54, 165.

“We know each other well,” Torrence said. “There won’t be any dumping [hitting the brakes to avoid breakout] one another at the stripe. We gotta go all the way this time. Everybody has worked hard to make me look good.”



10 - TALKING – “Sounds like a Super Comp final.” Top Fuel racer Shawn Langdon on his final round match against Billy Torrence. 

“It’s a good team, and they have a mediocre driver in me.” – Billy Torrence ahead of the Top Fuel finals.

“Usually, a driver gets a lucky round and I’ve had three… hope it’s four.”  - J.R. Todd, following his semi-final win over Bob Tasca III. By this point, he hadn't run in the three-second zone or topped 300 entering the final round.

“There’s seven championships on the line between the two of them, and Matt Smith has six of them.” – Color commentator and Pro Stock Bike Legend Terry Vance regarding the match between Matt Smith and LE Tonglet.

“I’m cheering for him, but I’m still going to try.” — Erica Enders on her opponent Cristian Cuadra headed into their Pro Stock final round.

“They have guys who show up for work on Monday with bruised ribs, and they don’t care.” – NHRA Announcer Alan Reinhart following back-to-back starting line Kalitta Mosh Pits. 




1. CHA-CHING – Antron Brown picked up $80,000 for winning the race-within-a-race at the Pep Boys NHRA Callout Saturday at the NHRA Gatornationals. He beat Brittany Force in the final round of the specialty race as part of this weekend’s 55th Amalie Motor Oil NHRA

Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.

Brown’s 3.709, 332.43 mph was enough to take down Force’s 3.730 at 328.70. It gave Brown, who defeated Langdon and Steve Torrence earlier in the day, his first Pep Boys All-Star Callout victory.

“Our guys had a chance to keep picking at it, and keep picking at it, and we knew it was going to be a tough round against Brittany, another world champion,” Brown said. “Everyone we raced today was a world champion. We knew we had to step it up against her, but we had the added pressure of qualifying. So, to go out there and do what we did and run that 3.709 and move up to fourth on the ladder and get this Pep Boys All-Star Callout win is pretty special.

“It’s going to be tough competition tomorrow on race day. The field is tight, but hopefully we can parlay that and get better tomorrow. We’ve been getting better and better with each lap, and that’s when you get dangerous. I’m focused, and my boys are giving me a hot rod that

can do the job, and that’s what it takes. We have an incredible team and we’re looking forward to this 2024 season.”



2. REUNITED – Top Fuel racer Shawn Langdon showcased the alliance in his reunion with Brian Husen, a tuner he’d won a championship with back in 2013 when they raced together at Al-Anabi Racing.

He earned his first No. 1 spot since 2020, the same year he won his last race, running a 3.682 at 334.15. 2020.

“That just shows the changes we’ve made, with Brian coming in, the changes have shown great rewards so far,” Langdon said. “Brian has a really good control of the car right now. It’s really cool to see and I’m really proud of him. I’m excited that he has this opportunity and I’m really lucky to be his driver. We know what this team is capable, so we’re looking forward to a great year.”

But, really the Saturday results come as no surprise to Langdon, who believed back in January during testing that the Kalitta Air Carriers dragster was on the verge of greatness.

“The car’s been a dream to drive,” Langdon said in Bradenton. “Brian and the boys, they’ve put in a lot of hours in the offseason, changing a lot of things. And fortunately, the results are showing. The car’s been on a string for the last couple of days. We have not made a bad run. They came out swinging. We’ve been laying down some really good laps, big speeds, low ETs, parts been looking great. Everything’s kind of getting in sync, and it’s good.

“I’m happy for the guys and especially for Brian. This is his opportunity to spread his wings a little bit, and I’m just honored to be his driver. And I worked with Brian for a lot of years on the Al-Anabi car, and so it’s a neat opportunity for him, and I’m glad to be able to be his driver.”

From the moment Langdon heard he was going to be reunited with Husen, he knew this association would lead to one place.

“Winner circle,” Langdon responded. “That’s our mentality. I think that’s why even back in the Al-Anabi days, Brian and I, after the Al- Anabi stuff went away, still remained good friends, and we still communicated a lot throughout the years. With him and I going to different teams, I’ve always had a lot of respect for Brian. So when the opportunity presented itself to me, it was a no-brainer.

“I couldn’t ask for a better guy to lead the way on the car that I’m on. Brian’s just as hard of a worker as you’re going to find, and part of having a successful team is surrounding yourself with great people. And Brian has a really good way of bringing the best out in everybody.”

3. GAIGE DOING GAIGE STUFF – For much of last season it appeared the NHRA Pro Stock Bike field was racing for second place. If qualifying in Gainesville is a harbinger of things to come, 2024 could be more of the same.

Herrera improved on Friday’s two runs, taking his 10th straight No. 1 qualifier with a run of 6.746 at 200.50. He’s spotting the field .022 headed into raceday.

It continues a remarkable run for the defending event winner, who won his first race in the class a year ago in Gainesville.

“I’m very pleased and we were happy to improve a little bit,” Herrera said. “I’m feeling comfortable and confident going into tomorrow. It’s very cool to come back here and start off where we left off to end last year. I’ve got to give all the credit to my team. They haven’t missed a beat, so it feels good to come back here and basically start like we did last year.”

He’ll look to repeat that Sunday, opening eliminations against Joey Gladstone. But, as there appears to be no kryptonite for the Herrera-Man, he warns Gladstone concerns him.

“He's one of the people I do not want to race,” Herrera said. “I’ve raced Joey a lot in the heads-up category in Pro Street and stuff like that. So me and him have gone back and forth quite a bit, and he could always pull something out of his hat. He's been struggling. He had a little struggle in testing a couple of days ago and he struggled here but you can never count Joey out. So I'm going to go in there and basically do what I got to do.”



4. PROCK GETS HIS FIRST FUNNY CAR NO. 1 - Austin Prock continued his impressive debut weekend as an NHRA Funny Car driver, earning No. 1 qualifier honors heading into Sunday’s eliminations of the 55th Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.

“I'm very excited,” said Prock, whose Friday afternoon qualifying effort of 3.820 seconds at 334.65 mph in the Cornwell Tools Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car held up through Saturday’s qualifying to keep him No. 1. “I mean, I couldn't really have done much better this weekend so far.”

The 28-year-old Prock spent the previous three seasons driving a Top Fuel dragster for JFR. When three-time NHRA Funny Car champion Robert Hight stepped aside indefinitely in January due to personal medical reasons, team owner John Force didn’t have far to look for a replacement driver, as Prock has also held a Funny Car competitor’s license since 2018. 

Prock made two qualifying runs Friday. After earning and then having the No. 1 spot taken away from him by Bob Tasca III in the second qualifying run, Prock roared back almost immediately to regain the top position from Tasca moments later.

That same run by Prock was the 10th quickest in NHRA Funny Car history and also set a track record. He then held on to No. 1 when Saturday’s second Funny Car qualifying session of the day was cancelled due to rain.

“(A fourth and final qualifying run) would have helped,” Prock said. “It would have been nice to get another run. I only have a handful of runs down the racetrack in this car, so every time I can get in the seat, I will continue to improve. I would have liked to get another run, but I'm happy with this No. 1 qualifier for sure.”

Prock will face John Smith in Sunday’s first round of eliminations.



5. SPOILER ALERT - Erica Enders really doesn’t intend to be a spoiler weekend but doesn’t plan to apologize if she becomes one. A day after knocking Cristian Cuadra out of his first provisional pole position, her No. 1 qualifier status has earned her the opportunity to race a Pro Stock dreamer in the first round, rookie teammate Kelley Murphy, also an Elite Motorsports crewmember.

Murphy joked that he wanted to win this weekend so he could reinvest the money into getting to race another event. And while Enders wants the best for Murphy, it’s likely she won’t be in a sentimental mood considering what she went through with rookie team Jerry Tucker who was the benefactor of her car not starting last March at the season-opener.

Tucker didn’t let Enders forget the monumental win either.

“All season long, I got to hear about how he beat the world champ first round,” Enders said.

Enders, hot off her win at the SCAG PRO Superstar Shootout, is ready to get the gator off her back and finally get a win at the Gatornationals.

“We have a really great race car this weekend, on the heels of winning a pretty big race a few weeks ago, so it seems to be translating just fine, but there's a lot of really great cars out there and a lot of really good drivers,” Enders said. “So we just have to put our heads down and go to work and hope for no crazy parts failures or weird things happening and keep the gator in the pond and try to park the car in the winner circle tomorrow. But yes, we're running much better than last year.”

Only .043 of a second separates Enders’ No. 1 pass and No. 16.

6. IT’S GETTING REAL – Sources have told CompetitionPlus.com that members of the Professional Racers Organization and NHRA’s management met on Friday at Gainesville Raceway. Details of the private meeting were not divulged but it said this has been the first real meeting the parties have had since the successful completion of the PRO Superstar Shootout in Bradenton, Fla.

Whether coincidental or not, PRO released a statement on Saturday just ahead of the rain-delayed professional qualifying session announced the formation of a for-profit entity, PRO Promotions, LLC, a for-profit business entity. It has named Tasca as its spokesperson.

The entity is not the start of a new race series, Tasca said adamantly.

“It’s not a new race series at all,” Tasca responded when asked about the intentions of the new entity. “Just looking for ways to bring more excitement to the sport.”

The NHRA currently lists itself as a not-for-profit series where the racers compete yet racers are limited in their opportunities.

On the heels of the successful PRO Superstar Shootout last month in Bradenton, Fla., the decision was made to create PRO Promotions, LLC, an entity aimed to advance the interests of the group’s racers.

“We didn’t know if it would work or not,” Tasca said of the PRO Superstar Shootout, an independent event/test session comprised of its membership.

“Obviously, it was a huge success. We’re excited about what we’re doing, and basically, we’re just looking for opportunities that can help benefit the teams and the sport. What those are at this time, we’re not sure, but we’re keeping all of our options open looking at ways where we can bring more excitement to the sport of drag racing as a whole. And obviously, Bradenton was a huge success, and we’re just going to explore all our options at this time.”




7. HE’S OFFICIALLY A TOP FUEL DRIVER - It's not like Tony Stewart didn't know what to expect on Friday when he made his first runs in competition as a licensed Top Fuel driver. The former jack-of-all-trades, master of all of them driver, made his best run in Saturday's Q3 session with a 3.725, 310.34 elapsed time.

Stewart has drag raced long enough, for all his experience, that familiarity should be ingrained in him.

“I think the hardest part — and I think it's two-fold in all honesty — was I know what it's like to come here and be here as an owner,” Stewart said. “And then last year, when I started driving the alcohol car, I would have to come in early and be at the alcohol car and then come to the pit for both nitro rounds, and then go back to the alcohol pit. So you get in that rhythm and that cadence of the day. And this year and getting up this morning in particular, it was like, I really don't know. I don't know what the pattern, the routine's supposed to be like.”

He'll admit he's watched his wife, multi-time race winner Leah Pruett, pull off the routine with relative ease.

“I mean, had two autograph sessions,” Stewart said. “We've signed at the ropes three times a day, media session, pretty full day. But at the same time, every day that goes by and every run that we make, it's just going to get easier and better for us.”

Between Leah and Funny Car teammate Matt Hagan, Stewart knows he has plenty of good mentoring at his disposal.

"Between her and Matt, I mean, they're great teachers, and it's like going to high school” Stewart explained. “It's like when we had the CliffsNotes versions of every book that we were supposed to read, and that's what having both of these two as teammates. And it's a big advantage for me with Leah because at the end of the day, when we can go back to the hotel or the motorhome and there's no distractions and I can really break down

what I'm thinking and ask her, and we have a lot of private time that we can talk about it.”

For his efforts in qualifying No. 9, Stewart gets starting line phenom Justin Ashley, a driver against whom Leah has an 8-8 head-to-head record.

8. LOSING SLEEP? – On Saturday, teams were instructed to arrive at the track for an 11 a.m. start, an hour earlier than usual. Sunday’s race will start at 10:30 a.m., a half-hour earlier. Then Daylight Savings Time kicks forcing everyone to push their clocks forward by one hour.

“I love my sleep, so I'm not stoked about that,” said Enders, Pro Stock No. 1 qualifier. “And also I think leave time tomorrow morning from the hotel is 6:30 so we don't get stuck in traffic. So that means I have to get up at 5:30.”

9. QUITE THE FEAT – Pro Stock veteran Larry Morgan qualified No. 15 in the Pro Stock field, and while that might not be earth-shattering news considering he’s a multi-time national event winner who has numerous pole positions to his credit. The fact he did it this weekend with his first in-house engine since 2015 says a lot. 

Morgan drives former Stock Eliminator standout Mark Beaver’s Jerry Haas-built Camaro.

“I had a lot of good help,” Morgan said. “We got a good block and parts, so this means a lot. The biggest problem is this class got out of hand a long time ago, and people are no longer confident to do their own stuff. Its so expensive to do this. I knew we were capable of building our own engine. Thanks to Carl Folse and others who helped me to pull this off. We worked hard on this and expect to make gains as we go along. In today’s world if you don’t have six or seven crew chiefs these days, you really don’t have much of a chance.”

The first real test run for the Jamie Yates-tuned team was during Friday’s Q-1 session.

"We've done no testing, literally," Beaver said. "When we launched the car on Friday it was the first run it ever made. We made good power on the dyno, so we came straight to here."

Morgan races Cristian Cuadra in the first round. 

10. JUST LIKE OLD TIMES – A strange site was taking place in the pits at Gainesville Raceway that hasn’t happened in the modern era. Racers were selling t-shirts out of the back of their trailers. Maybe not at the exact back, but it was in the same spirit. 

In a collaboration between NHRA and its professional teams, drivers can now sell a limited amount of merch without having to be on the midway or surrendering a percentage of the sale to the race series.  

Three teams were talking advantage of the opportunity in Gainesville. Bob Tasca, Ron Capps and Antron Brown. 

“It's a great collaboration with NHRA,” said Bob Tasca III, credited for initiating the program. It's something that we started working with Evan and Glen middle of the summer last year when I got back from Monaco. And I'm out in Monaco, and I'm going by Red Bull, and I see this exact stand. And I'm like, "Man, that's the coolest thing in the world. You're out of the sun. One shirt, one hat, some hard parts. Keep it simple."

The teams are selling from a pod designed strikingly similar to those used in Formula 1.

“If I had a dollar for every time a fan said, ‘Where's a hat? How do I get your shirt?" 

“I’d respond, ‘Oh, it's up there. Take a left. Take a right." And it just doesn't happen.”

Tasca spent much of qualifying signing autographs and selling out merchandise from his pod.

“It’s great for me because I'm out of the sun. I can interact with fans, sign autographs, selling hats. It's old school,” Tasca said. “We call it the T-shirt pod, and we actually replicated the exact pod from Formula 1, and we can change out the logos on the sponsorship.”

To be eligible for the pod, teams must first purchase a hospitality program with NHRA.  

“We’ve been looking to offset some of that expense, and this is a great way to do it,” Tasca said. “So helps the fans, helps the racers, and NHRA wins as well.”



THE PROCKET’S RED GLARE - Well. that’s a way to announce you’re here. Austin Prock announced his participation in NHRA Funny Car by running the tenth quickest run in Funny Car history and establishing a Gainesville track record.

Prock ran a 3.820 elapsed time at 344 miles per hour to take the top spot in Funny Car qualifying. 

“It’s really exciting,” Prock said. “I get to race with my family. My father, Jim Prock, is tuning it along with my brother Thomas and Nate Hildal, and they are having a really good time with this Cornwell Tools team. They’re doing an outstanding job, man, and they’ve definitely made me push my learning curve, really accelerate it. We didn’t make very many good runs during testing and then didn’t get any here, and anytime it’s gone down the track, it’s just flew. So these cars are definitely tough to drive, and I’m just hanging on for dear life and doing a good enough job to get it down there.”

Working with family can almost be as tough as wrangling a Funny Car. But for Prock, the Funny Car has been much more challenging.

“It can be tough racing with family, but we’re all on the same page over there,” Prock explained. “We all care about and have the same passion for this sport, and I really think it’s going to benefit our team, all of us working together rather than be a negative thing. So there’s been a lot of smiling over there and a lot of cheering, and it’s been a lot of fun so far. So to be successful is one thing, but to be successful with your family, and for my dad to be racing with his kids, that’s got to be pretty cool on his end, too.”

What about when Dad isn’t smiling?

“I mean, I’ve been around him my whole life like that,” Prock said. “He’s all business. If you know anything about Jim Prock, he’s a man of very few words, but when he does speak, you listen. And I know when to leave him alone, and I know when to pat him on the butt, and I know when to have a good time with him too.”



2. TURN YOUR CLOCKS UP - NHRA officials announced a schedule change for Saturday qualifying at the NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway. They’re pushing the schedule up an hour in the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series.
The third round of qualifying will begin at 11 a.m. ET on Saturday, starting with Pro Stock and then Pro Stock Motorcycle, Top Fuel and Funny Car. The opening round of the Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout takes place at 12 p.m. The semifinals will move up to 1:45 p.m. and the final pro qualifying session begins at 2 p.m. ET (PS, PSM, TF and FC). The finals of the Callout are slated for 3:25 p.m.
The Callout selection will now take place at 9:30 a.m. ET in the Top Eliminator Club.

3. TORRENCE GETS THE TOP IN TOP FUEL - The four-time champion Steve Torrence is on the prowl for a fifth Top Fuel championship. He had the quickest run in both sessions on Friday.

Torrence’s 3.690, 330 mph run sets him up nicely for the Pep Boys All-Star Callout on Saturday. 

“As far as from a driver perspective, it doesn’t really change anything for me,” Torrence said. “It gives me more confidence going into tomorrow to know that car has been really, really good, performed well, and doing what they want it to do. I mean, you come here and the grains are high, the humidity’s high, the weather... It’s different than most places we go, so you need to be geared up and make a lot of power. 

“I think at the end of the day, that’s probably what was the culprit for a lot of these other cars was just thinking they were making more power than what they really were. And so I don’t know what they got going on, but it’s a good race car right now. At the Superstar Shootout, we didn’t have that good of a race car until the final day. And I think from that point moving in; we were able to build on that and make some good leaps and bounds.

“[Crewchief] Richard Hogan’s really good at making a run going home or going back to the hotel and completely tearing it apart and analyzing the data and figuring something out. And for me, I’m just looking at a screen with different colored lines and squiggles, and I think, “What the hell is all that?” But he does a really good job at that. And so I think that those two runs right there is a product of the last year and a half, two years come into fruition because that’s been one of the most difficult things of my career is to have a car that was as dominant and as strong as what it was and say, “Okay, we’re going to put that on the shelf and try something new.” But back to your question, it gives me confidence going into tomorrow. I think it probably gives them confidence as well to say, “Hey, we kind of got a handle on it, and let’s go into this shootout. See if we can’t win the thing.”



4. MEAN GIRL STUFF - Erica Enders isn’t mean at all, but her actions on Friday evening would make one think differently. We say this in jest. Enders sounded like the most reluctant No. 1 qualifier.  

“We joked around about, ‘Let him have number one,” said Enders, who had mentored Cuadra. “To have him make those two consistent runs, you again helping train him and all of that makes you proud. You’re the driver, sitting here, but I don’t think people understand your role in that team.

One could hardly blame the champ considering how many times the Gators have bit her here. Last year, she was provisional No. 1 at this event, only to have Troy Coughlin Jr., in a last-ditch, swipe the top spot away. Then, her car failed to fire on Sunday in the first round. 

From this point until late in the season, she answered the “what’s wrong?” question more times than Doug Kalitta’s “when are you going to win the championship?”

As some believe, Gainesville owes her big time. 

She ran a 6.550, 207 miles an hour for the top spot on Friday. If the run holds, it would be her 35th No. 1 qualifier of her career. 

“Going into the tracks that you do really well at. You’re like, yeah, I’m going back to Bristol. I’m going back to Vegas, we do well here,” Enders said. “And like, ‘You’re going to Gainesville, S***.”

“We’ve obviously not had “a lot of great luck here. We qualified number two. We were beat out by my teammate TJ Coughlin, for the number one spot last year, and went to hit the starter button before first round and she did not crank. So the gator bite continued, but we’re determined to change that this weekend obviously. 

“I think this is one of the last tracks on the tour that we have left to accomplish, so it’s high on our to-do list. It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, but it definitely means we’re going to give every bit of effort that we have.”




5. HE’S REALLY THE CHAMPION - The first time Top Fuel World Champion Doug Kalitta saw the No. 1 on his Mac Tools dragster, it took his breath away. The proverbial, calmest guy in the pits felt a bit emotional.

“It took a while to sink in for sure because it’s just one of those things that you work so hard at and hope you can pull off,” Kalitta admitted. “But it’s starting to sink in now. There are a lot of different opportunities to have some fun with it. But more than anything, it was a relief for everybody that’s helped me over the years and knew that we could eventually win one of these championships. So just all the people that have supported me was probably one of the biggest things. Just to say thanks.”

One thing about Kalitta is that he has a secret sauce of calmness that, if marketed, could make him a billionaire.

“Growing up with Connie and my dad, it probably has a lot to do with their personalities, really,” Kalitta said. “But yeah, Connie’s a fearless guy, and I’ve flown with him my whole life since I first started flying. And it’s our family, I guess. It’s the way we roll.

6. FORCE’S 50, 47, 45 STARTS TODAY - This is something that most race fans would never believe, and we are presenting sarcasm at its highest level. Seventeen-time Funny Car champion [yes, one in ADRA], John Force was in a tizzy trying to determine how long he should consider that he’s been running the NHRA.

Counting when he went to Australia, where he inevitably earned his nitro driving license, it is 50. When he ran his first NHRA national event, it’s 47. But, his first run at chasing the NHRA points championship was in 1979, and in the Wendy’s Corvette. That one is 45.

It started on Friday with a  3.966, putting him sixth after the first session.

“I always wanted to chase the points, but I had no money,” Force said. “I had to find sponsors, but I was out match racing, ran some stuff for other series, but wanted to be part of that dream. And to come this far, I don’t know how I got here. I also have to look at my age. I’m beat up. I’m tired, but I’m still loving it like I did 40 years ago, whatever. 

“And people get mad at me. They want to say things about what I represent or who I am. That ain’t why I came. I came to feed my children and take care of my wife. I came because of Orange County. I stood there and watched Don Prudhomme and McEwen doing side-by-side burnouts, which was back in ’69 or ’70. 

“I said, ‘That’s what I want to do someday.” 

“Just a burnout. I didn’t want to beat him. And so all of that lives with you your whole life.”

As Force sees it, the crowning achievement of his illustrious career was not in winning thousands of rounds of competition, numerous national event wins, or championships. It was validation from the Big Daddy of drag racing - Don Garlits.

The two were side-by-side at an autograph session at the Burnyzz Open House. Then they exchanged hero cards.

“Garlits said to me,”  ‘I heard you’re going to be 75.” 

“I said, ‘I will be in May.” 

“And he said, ‘But you’re still competitive. For 75, you’re competitive. You’re still in the battle. That’s amazing. You’re my hero.” 

“He signed me a card. I’ve got it. It’s right in there. He says, ‘John Force, you’re my hero.”

Don’t be surprised if he tries to win one in Garlits’ honor.



7. FATHER KNOWS BEST, CUADRA STYLE - All Fernando Quadra wanted to do was ensure his sons could experience drag racing as he did. The problem is he did the job so well he got pushed out of the seat. There were four cars for five drivers.

Father took a break and is spectating at the Gatornationals. Although he doesn’t consider it spectating, he’s adamant he’s getting to sit back and be a proud parent.

“I have to tell you and confess, I have a lot of fun by watching them out of the seat,” Fernando Cusdra said. “That’s the first time ever I saw them racing myself. So when I saw the number one qualified, Cristian, I was behind, and I got... Right now, you see the computers, and so I can see other things and the emotions comes in place. So yes, I have a lot of fun, but I’m missing driving. That’s one of those two things that it’s difficult to do.

Cristian Cuadra went to the No. 1 spot in the Q1 session with a 6.552 and repeated the same number to the thousandth in Q2.

Even though he didn’t get the No. 1 qualifying spot, Cuadra was counting his blessings. He appreciates the sacrifices his dad made for him and his brothers.

“It’s really special because I see how my dad works whole days,” Cristian said. “He wakes up at 5:00 in the morning to call Europe, to call Asia. So it’s really, really special for me and important.”

8. HADDOCK’S THREE - In the grand scheme, Terry Haddock’s 3.989-second run was only good enough for the tenth position in Friday’s qualifying. There has never been a more monumental three-second run since Matt Hagan ran the first three in the early days of the 1000-foot era.

Haddock, one of the longtime independents in nitro racing, got his first three and was more than excited.

“You know what, God is pretty awesome,” Haddock said. “He gives us these moments. He keeps testing me and makes sure I’m doing the right things. I’ve worked so hard on this car. My family, all my boys, all of our sponsors, everybody involved. There’s so many people that have helped make this go.

“Most days, I ain’t got the down payment on a cheeseburger, but I got the biggest love for the sport out of anything, and I want to be able to pass it along. So thank you guys.”



9. GAINESVILLE’S NEW KING OF SPEED - Bob Tasca III didn’t quite make a 340 mph run in Gainesville like he did in Bradenton, but he was still faster than anyone in the nitro classes. 

Tasca’s 337.75 in Friday’s second session tied Brittany Force’s 2022 run to the thousandth. His 3.829 elapsed time stood on top for exactly one pair of cars. He was relegated to second place on the list. 

“It doesn’t get any better than his,” Tasca said. “We are dropping 3.82s like crazy out here.”

It marked the second time that Tasca had stolen the spotlight with speed and and ended up second. 

Tasca went through the speed traps at the PRO Super Star Shootout to become drag racing’s king of speed. 

“We wanted to make sure we could get it, and the boys got it,” Tasca said. “We set the car up for speed, and the speed gods gave us speed. Amazing run, one for the ages. First ever over 340. Never forget that one.

Tasca’s 3.840 elapsed time placed him second in qualifying. 

The top spot was taken by Austin Prock, who was the epitome of frustration in testing. But as he learned a long time ago, it’s not how one starts but the finish that counts. 

“The speed’s cool and all, and everybody likes to go fast, but grabbing that number one qualifier definitely is special,” Prock said. “So if we can get ours to mile an hour it’s Tasca’s, they’ll really be in trouble.”

10. SMITH BY PROXY - Newly transitioned nitrous racer Mike Thielen jumped to the front of the qualifying list during the second session, running a 5.688  252.10  252.10. 

Thielen, a former supercharged racer, is running a nitrous combination and has hired Rickie Smith as his tuner. 

This weekend’s Pro Modified action includes the FTI Pro Mod Showdown, introduced last year at the historic event. The FTI Pro Mod Showdown will include the driver putting together the best E.T. average throughout the weekend’s four qualifying rounds. The winner will receive $7,500 from FTI Performance, adding another big incentive for the standout racers competing this weekend in Gainesville.
“FTI Performance and NHRA Pro Mod racing go hand-in-hand,” said Krista Baldwin, Director of Marketing of the Wharton Automotive Group. “What better way to celebrate that relationship than with the FTI Pro Mod Showdown. FTI Performance owner and Funny Car racer Paul Lee will present the winning check to the winner, and we are super excited to get to Gainesville “and get the 2024 NHRA season underway.”