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Editor & Publisher, CEO Jeff Burk
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Editor at Large, Bret Kepner
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NEWS & ANALYSIS
NHRA Pros at Gainesville, Florida
It’s the Gators, baby!
Tony Schumacher raced his way to the Top Fuel victory Sunday, March 19, at the 48th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway. John Force (Funny Car), Shane Gray (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also winners in their respective categories at the third of 24 events on the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
Larry Dixon had a fire on Friday.
Some of the most exciting action occurred before the racing, when NHRA refused to let Larry Dixon compete with a logo of the World Series of Drag Racing on his new Top Fuel dragster. Dixon had been named to an IHRA drivers’ advisory board (along with Melanie Troxel and Whit Bazemore) just days before the Gatornationals were to begin. Keeping with a long-standing precedent of not allowing the IHRA name to appear in advertising or editorial in National Dragster, the NHRA management team evidently found the logo for the race now put on by the IHRA to fall in the same category. And, by making a point of it, they turned it into a “big deal” that probably would not have been noticed by many had they just left it alone.
As it turned out, Dixon’s dragster lost power after the burnout in his first-round match with Brittany Force, who got the single.
Eight-time champion Tony Schumacher won the Gatornationals for the fifth time in his career.
The win is Schumacher's 83rd overall. His Don Schumacher Racing U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster defeated Antron Brown from the left lane in the final round with a pass of 3.703 seconds at 329.26 mph after a reaction time of .066. Brown turned in a lap of 3.764 seconds at 322.65 mph paired with a .034 reaction time to keep the race in doubt until Schumacher turned on the win light.
"Everything went right today,” Schumacher said. “That final round with Antron was an absolute battle. He has had my number here for a while. I know he's won more than I have and that pushes me to be better. Going against him makes me step up. Going against their team makes my U.S. Army guys step up. And to go out and win the Gatornationals for the fifth time is special.”
Schumacher started from the No. 1 position after setting an elapsed-time track record during round two of qualifying on Friday with a pass of 3.682 seconds at 328.22 mph.
Schumacher defeated Smax Smith in the first round and took down Clay Millican in the second to set up a showdown with Steve Torrence in the semifinals. Torrence overpowered the track and slowed, allowing Schumacher to reach the final round.
The driver of Don Schumacher Racing's Papa John's Pizza/FireAde dragster became the first Top Fuel driver to ever start a season by winning the first two titles from the No. 1 qualifying position and no driver ever has started the year by winning three straight in Top Fuel.
Even though her day ended in the second round, she was able to maintain her hold on the No. 1 spot in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series points standings.
Pritchett lost her first race in elimination rounds this year when Doug Kalitta used a quicker time at the starting line in the second round that dropped her record to 9-1 when his time of 3.754 seconds at 325.14 overcame her quicker time of 3.738 (323.97).
"We had a break in the first round when Scott Palmer had a problem at the starting line," Pritchett said. "He was running really, really well in qualifying.
"I would say that Doug is one of the most intimidating cars right now. That car is incredibly intimidating and we brought everything we had to that party and at the end of the day our streak ended because of me. I'll take the hit on that but it's not like I'm getting super, super down about it.
"I did the best job that I thought that I could do and the car is obviously there. So I'm personally taking on how to improve and become an even better racecar driver.
VOLUME XIX, NUMBER 3 - March 2017
Troy Coughlin Jr. hit the guardwall during his second-round match with Antron Brown.
Steve Torrence turned in his best performance of the young season Sunday driving the Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster into the semifinals before falling to eight-time series champion, number-one qualifier and eventual race winner Tony Schumacher. He defeated Brittany Force in the second round.
The legendary Chris “The Greek” Karamesines qualified 14th in the field, but met Antron Brown in the first round.
Ike Maier lost in the first round to Doug Kalitta, but we love his Top Fuel dragster having a name.
John Force and Robert Hight switched cars and crews for the Gators, but the 16-time champion proved it might be more than the car as he won the Gatornationals for the fourth time from the No. 1 qualifying spot.
Sweden’s Jonnie Lindberg had one heck of a weekend, making it to the finals in his first outing in Jim Head’s Funny Car. The TAFC champ was making his debut in a nitro car.
Force started the day with a convincing 3.881-second pass at 331.45 mph against Del Worsham in the opening round. Then, he squared off against Jack Beckman in the quarterfinals, whom he had only an 11-28 record against. That didn’t matter, as Force made another solid pass of 3.916 at 328.14 mph, while Beckman stuttered.
It was on to the semifinals and Tommy Johnson Jr., who slipped into round three despite problems with his car the previous round. Force drove straight down the track in 3.955 seconds at 324.05 seconds – while Johnson struggled again – and into the finals against Lindberg.
Force bested Lindberg’s reaction time – 0.071 seconds to 0.115 – and led the entire way, beating Lindberg’s time with a pass of 3.928 seconds at 328.14 mph to 3.971 at 314.83 mph.
Driving John Force’s previous car, Robert Hight set a career-best time and speed Sunday. Hight won his first-round matchup against Bob Tasca with his 3.828-second, 334.82-mph pass, both career bests and the fourth quickest elapsed time in series history. In the second round against Jonnie Lindberg, Hight smoked the tires and coasted to the finish line.
“(Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) thought that he had backed it off enough for second round, because it’s warm, and the motor was just too high and it blew the tires off,” Hight said.
The centerline dividing the lanes on a dragstrip has not been kind to Ron Capps and the NAPA AUTO PARTS 2017 Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car team this year. For the second time in the first three events of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, an out-of-bounds dividing line was a factor in a loss by Ron Capps and the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T team to his Don Schumacher Racing teammate and series points leader Matt Hagan.
In the opener at Pomona, Calif., Capps smoked the tires early and Hagan lost traction then came within a whisker of having his left rear tire touch the line that would have disqualified him. But NHRA officials ruled it didn't touch and Hagan went on to win the race against Capps and eventually the event trophy.
The centerline was back in play Sunday in the quarterfinals of the Gatornationals when Hagan quickly smoked the tires and while Capps was seemingly cruising to the win his Dodge darted sharply toward the dividing line and crossed it.
"It was a handful," said Capps, the reigning Funny Car world champion. "It just turned sideways on me, and thank God I was able to catch it and not go into Matt's lane any farther and run into him.
"I'm sick to my stomach because I should have caught it quicker. It's those moments that really make you enjoy the moments we've had in a winner's circle."
Shane Gray proved that his return to racing was a pretty good idea as he picked up the sixth victory of his career and first at Gainesville Raceway when he ran a 6.535 at 212.96 in his Gray Motorsports Chevy Camaro to defeat four-time champion Greg Anderson and his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro’s 6.560 at 213.43 in the final.
“I wasn’t supposed to win,” Gray said. “When you’re testing parts you’re just not supposed to win which is basically what we’re doing with my car. We had a lucky day today. There were some round wins when the car pulled me out of the whole and there were a couple rounds where I pulled the car out of the whole. It was a complete team effort today.”
Gray turned on win lights against Allen Johnson, Erica Enders and Chris McGaha while Anderson won against Matt Hartford, Jeg Coughlin Jr., and teammate and reigning world champion Jason Line before reaching the finals.
Son Tanner Gray got a first-round win 6.558/213.06 over Drew Skillman’s 6.539/212.93, but then turned on the red light against Line in the second.
Krawiec (far lane) got the final-round win over teammate Hines.
Three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Eddie Krawiec defeated teammate Andrew Hines for his 37th career victory, second consecutive and fifth total at Gainesville Raceway. Krawiec rode his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to a 6.763 pass at 199.76 bettering Hines’ 6.802 at 197.10 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.
The class is still looking for the 200-mph clocking.
This helps set the pace for the year,” Krawiec said. “Get that first win off your back, keep that momentum rolling, get the points. You know once you win one or two races you kind of solidify your spot. With the extra competitive class we have this year it definitely helps. There’s a lot of great motorcycles. My Harley-Davidson this weekend really has been really fast, we just haven’t been able to harness that power and get it sorted out. I think as the year goes on we’re going to get better.”
Krawiec rode past Mike Berry, Matt Smith and Joey Gladstone before racing Hines in the finals. Hines defeated Angelle Sampey, Scotty Pollacheck and Steve Johnson before being defeated himself.
One major upset in the bike ranks was Steve Johnson’s 6.863/195.08 defeat of champ Jerry Savoie (6.803/197.39) in the second round. Johnson had run 6.876/195.31 to get past Angie Smith’s 6.956/192.08 in the first.
Jerry Savoie and Eddie Krawiec during qualifying.
Joey Gladstone certainly held his own in his debut in the NHRA class, getting past Melissa Surber 6.881/195.65 to 6.965/186.30 and then LE Tonglet 6.839/195.96 to 6.839/196.04, before falling to Krawiec.
Hector Arana Jr., seen here during qualifying, was taken off the starting line in the first round by the starter, who said oil on the track was from Arana Jr.’s Buell. Arana Jr. vehemently protested, but to no avail.
We leave you with this terrific photo shot by Adam Cranmer.
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