race reports

NHRA Gatornationals pros at Gainesville, Florida

Racers get first wins of season; Arana Jr. cracks 200 mph

Results compiled by Kay Burk

Photos by Steve Gruenwald and Adam Cranmer

The view down track is reflected in Hector Arana Jr’s visor before his record-breaking 200.23 mph run. 


Richie Crampton grabbed the eighth Wally of his career, while Eddie Krawiec started his title defense with a win and Jack Beckman and Tanner Gray got their first wins of the year at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals on March 14-19.


With changing weather conditions and a tricky track, tuners were challenged with getting the combination “just right”. The event was punctuated by several boomers starting with John Force during Friday qualifying.

NHRA announced that Saturday’s qualifying was completely sold out. 




Richie Crampton became the 10th driver to win for NHRA icon Connie Kalitta as he picked up his first Gatornationals win.


The weekend did not go completely as planned as qualifying was not what Crampton or crew chiefs, Rob Flynn and Connie Kalitta, envisioned. The Kalitta Air/DHL dragster failed to make it down the track cleanly in any of the four qualifying attempts. Their best, a 3.942 second pass, was only at 305.49 mph.

That seeded Crampton in the 10th starting spot and gave him a draw of his teammate, Doug Kalitta, for the second time in three races to start the year. Crampton and Kalitta had a great race, and the Kalitta Air driver was able to nose ahead at the finish line via Crampton's stellar reaction time.


Crampton moved to the quarterfinals for the first time this year. His opponent was class newcomer Mike Salinas. Crampton got the jump at the line, recording the best reaction time in the class in the round, and was out ahead of Salinas, when he had issues. Salinas was suffering his own woes and crossed the centerline attempting to catch back up to Crampton, giving the Kalitta Air team the round win.


In the semi-finals, Crampton faced fellow Toyota Racing driver Antron Brown. Both drivers had problems soon after the race began. Crampton had his second and was able to use his momentum to beat Brown to the line. That allowed Crampton to reach his 10th career final round and second in 10 races since joining Kalitta Motorsports. It was his first Gatornationals final round appearance.

In the finals, Crampton drew first time finalist Shawn Reed driving Todd Paton’s dragster. However, when Shawn Reed was shutoff after the burnout due to a fuel leak, the first Gatornationals title for Crampton was secured. It was his eighth career win and first for Connie Kalitta; it was the 96th NHRA win overall for Kalitta Motorsports.


“This season is going to be tougher than it was last year, which was tougher than it was the year before. It’s just going to be a hard year, so we just have to dig it and try to win some more,” Crampton said. “I think we have all the tools we need. Connie, my crew chief Rob Flynn, and all the guys on the crew are great. We’re going to keep digging and try to bring home some more trophies.”

After resetting the Gainesville Raceway speed record earlier in the weekend and running low E.T. of the first qualifying session, defending event champion Tony Schumacher looked primed for a repeat. The U.S. Army dragster driver took down Brittany Force in round one with a 3.717/329.26 pass. In the quarterfinals, Schumacher’s starting line advantage quickly evaporated after he smoked the tires, preventing the “Sarge” from chasing down round winner Shawn Reed. 

The number two qualifier, Steve Torrence's Capco Contractors dragster lost traction in a first round match with new tour regular Mike Salinas, darted across the centerline and sent the Texan to a disqualification loss. Nevertheless, Torrence will move on to the Denso Spark Plug Nationals at Las Vegas, with the points lead, seven points ahead of Antron Brown. 

Audrey Worm from Grantville, PA, is a new name on the NHRA Top Fuel roster. She was driving in her second career race and qualified in the No. 14 spot. Antron Brown beat her in the first round after her parachute popped out just past the 330-foot mark. 




Jack Beckman capped off an amazing weekend for Mopar Dodge//SRT drivers by racing from the pole to defeat teammate Matt Hagan and take the victory in an all-Mopar Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car final round at the 49th Annual NHRA Gatornationals.


Entering the weekend, the drag racing veteran had 26 Funny Car event wins to his credit, but none of them were from historic Gainesville Raceway.


Beckman’s victory was the second for a Mopar Dodge//SRT driver this year, as well as the second from the No. 1 spot. Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) Mopar Dodge Funny Car pilots also claimed three of four spots in the semifinals, and own the top two spots in the Funny Car standings, as well as three of the top four positions.


Beckman kicked off eliminations by leaving first and leading all the way against fellow Dodge driver and No. 16 qualifier Jim Campbell. In round two, Beckman’s 3.973-second run at 318.54 mph helped him quickly overcome a slight starting line advantage by opponent Del Worsham. Beckman was slower in the semfiinals but his 4.478-second pass was enough to hold off Shawn Landon, who smoked the tires.

The all-DSR Mopar Dodge battle between Beckman and Hagan was a thriller, with Beckman off the line first but with Hagan closing the gap. In the end, Beckman was able to hold off the hard-charging Hagan, taking the holeshot win with a quicker .051 reaction time paired with a 4.035/323.58 pass to his teammate’s slower .062 reaction time and 4.034/322.04 mark. His performance this weekend also moved Beckman into the second spot in the point standings. 

Hagan’s run to the final round in his Mopar Express Lane Dodge included a first-round win over Tim Wilkerson and then a wild, fiery ride against Robert Hight in the quarterfinals. Hight’s engine exploded near the 660-ft mark, with his Funny Car body flying apart. As Hagan raced by in the right lane his engine did the same, sending the car body flying high in the air, but Hagan was able to cross the line at 4.027/291.26 to earn a hard-fought round win. 


The Mopar Express Lane Dodge team and crew chief Dickie Venables thrashed and dug deep to get a backup car ready for Hagan to face DSR teammate and Mopar-powered Dodge Charger R/T driver Ron Capps in the semifinals. The hard work paid off as Hagan, the Funny Car points leader, posted a solid 4.056/310.91 to advance to his 49th career final round and reach a remarkable milestone, his 500th career round of racing.




Tanner Gray added to the family’s Wally collection from Gainesville Raceway with a Pro Stock victory in the 49th Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.

Gray, competing in his 27th NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event, claimed his sixth win in the Valvoline Gray Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro SS. The 18-year-old from Mooresville, NC, defeated reigning NHRA Pro Stock champion Bo Butner in the final with a pass of 6.588 seconds at 210.18 mph to Gray’s 6.605/210.34.


Gray’s father, Shane, won the Gatornationals’ Pro Stock class in 2017 in his Chevrolet Camaro SS. His grandfather, Johnny, earned the Funny Car title in 2013.


Gray defeated Vincent Nobile (Mountain View Tire Chevrolet Camaro SS) in one semifinal, while Butner ousted Drew Skillman (Bill Skillman Auto Group Chevrolet Camaro SS) in the other.


Gray gave credit for the win to his crew. “I didn’t figure anything out; it was my crew. They did an awesome job with the car. We let it get away from us in the semifinals against Vincent and got a little lucky. We just regrouped for the final and had a good run. I’m just thankful to be up here.”


Gray’s team had tested in Bradenton, FL, under very different weather conditions before coming to Gainesville and was asked if any information from the Bradenton tests were able to be used at Gainesville.


“In my opinion, no. We run 6.49 out there at 213 and come here first round and blow the tires off. It was a waste of three days right there. That’s the frustrating part. Dave (Connolly) knows what it takes; he’s been in my seat. He gave me a good car today to get down the racetrack. It might not have been the fastest, but it was right there.”


Reigning world champion Bo Butner reclaimed the points lead with a final-round performance in Gainesville. It was his second final of the year after winning the season-opener in Pomona and the 19th Pro Stock final of his career.


Butner defeated Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the opening act with a 6.573-second pass at 210.54 over a 6.602, 207.34, and he scored the win light in the second stanza with a low-of-the-round 6.593, 210.14 to top Alan Prusiensky's 6.905, 169.38.

With lane choice over Drew Skillman in the semifinals, Floyds Knobs, Indiana-based Butner flew to a 6.623, 209.39 – again the quickest pass of the round – and knocked out his opponent's 6.642, 210.05.


For the fifth time in his career, Butner came up against young Tanner Gray in the final. The two left the starting line nearly together, but this time it was Gray's day.

Greg Anderson 


With lane choice in the quarterfinals over Drew Skillman, Mooresville, N.C.-based Greg Anderson should have had the upper hand. Instead, he fell into immediate tire shake. Skillman got to the finish line first with a 6.613, 210.28 to a 9.278, 106.32.


"I'm absolutely shocked. I did not expect that," said Anderson. "We aren't sure what happened yet, but it shook the tires violently. I had all the confidence in the world in my Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro. It's been as smooth as glass every run. I was more shocked than anybody, but somehow, we missed bad. We're definitely going to do some on-track testing before Las Vegas. We haven't had a chance to do any since Pomona, so we're going to do that. Obviously, we'll work on engine development too, but we have to do some on-track testing. It's time. There are things we need to work on and iron out, so that is what we're going to do."



Hector Arana Sr. (near lane) returned to PSM competition, seen here with his son during qualifying. On Sunday Senior got wins against JoeyGladstone and Karen Stoffer before falling to Krawiec in the semifinal. Junior went out against Cory Reed in the first round. 


Hector Arana Jr. made history Friday evening breaking the 200-mph barrier on his Pro Stock Motorcycle.


He became the first rider to enter the DENSO Spark Plugs 200 MPH Club and received a $10,000 prize. His 200.23 mph pass during the second qualifying session eclipsed his record of 199.88 set at Charlotte 1 in 2015.


“I would’ve never thought that was a run to go 200 (mph),” Arana Jr. stated. “At the beginning of today, we didn’t have our front fairings, front exhaust pipes and we weren’t ready at all. I don’t even know what the tune-up is on the bike. It’s honestly really incredible we did that.”

Eddie Krawiec (far lane) defeated teammate Andrew Hines in the final. 


Defending event and world champion Eddie Krawiec rode his bike to winner’s circle with a pass of 6.824 at 198.44 on his Screamin’ Eagles Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to take the Pro Stock Motorcycle win. This is his sixth event victory and third consecutive win at Gainesville.


“Right now, I’m riding with the confidence that no one can beat me,” Krawiec said. “I have a great motorcycle underneath me and a great team behind me. Anytime a rider or a driver has confidence it just makes them that much better.”


Krawiec was the No. 2 qualifier and was victorious against LE Tonglet, Steve Johnson, Hector Arana, the No. 1 qualifier, and teammate Andrew Hines in the final round.


Hines raced to the top of the two-wheeled category during the fourth qualifying round with his pass of 6.773 at 198.64 mph on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. His last victory at Gainesville was in 2004 and he was the runner-up in 2017.


“Last year we figured out how to get our Street Rods off the starting line a lot more consistently,” Hines stated. “Coming here it was just a progression of taking our notes from last year and just making sure we are making the proper calls at the right time.”  



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