Lucas, Hight, Edwards, Krawiec score Gator'Nat wins
Morgan Lucas raced to the Top Fuel victory Monday at the rain-delayed Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com. Robert Hight (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville.
Lucas powered his GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster to the second-quickest run in NHRA history with a 3.743-second time at 326.87 mph to hold off seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher, whose U.S. Army dragster lost traction early and finished in 5.289 at 139.63. Schumacher hasn’t won a race in his past nine final-round appearances, dating back to Oct. 2010 in Las Vegas.
It was the fifth career victory for Lucas, who was the event’s No. 1 qualifier and also defeated Brady Kalivoda, Spencer Massey, and Doug Kalitta in earlier rounds. After making some changes to his team during the off-season, Lucas seems poised to improve on disappointing back-to-back 10th-place points finishes the last two seasons.
“I’m just having so much fun right now I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else,” Lucas said. “This team has had its ups and downs over the past few years, but I honestly love where we are now. We have great chemistry with [crew chiefs] Aaron Brooks and Rob Centorbi. Aaron is not afraid to be aggressive, and I’m not sure I ever had that before. He thinks things over, and he is selectively aggressive. It also helps that he’s close to my age. I’ve always said you have to ride the wave when it’s up. Right now, we’re doing that.”
With his second final-round appearance of the season, Schumacher is now in the series lead, 14 ahead of Lucas.
Hight won a tire-smoking pedalfest over Johnny Gray to take the Funny Car title. Both cars lost traction early in the race and were on and off the throttle all the way down the dragstrip. Hight managed to guide his Auto Club Ford Mustang across the finish line first in 4.866 seconds at 236.05, while Gray trailed in his Service Central Dodge Charger at 6.074 at 116.09.
“I didn’t expect that at all,” Hight said of the thrilling side-by-side final round. “Jimmy Prock [crew chief] said he was going to back it off because the track was warming up, and from what I felt, we backed it off too much, and it was weak and shook. It shook, and I had to pedal it. Sometimes as a driver you want to be perfect and you want your car to be flawless, but sometimes as a driver it’s cool to win a race like that, a good old pedalfest. It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you get the win light.”
It was Hight’s second victory of the season, 25th of his career, and first ever at historic Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville.
“I’ve won Indy, and I’ve won races at home in Pomona, but next to Indy, our biggest event, this is where you want to win,” said Hight, who moved to second in the points standings and now trails series leader Mike Neff by seven. “You don’t want to retire and not have a Gatornationals win. That’s two in a row, that’s huge and a great way to start the season.”
In Pro Stock, Edwards used a holeshot start in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP to defeat Greg Anderson for his first win of the season and 33rd of his career. Edwards finished in 6.566 at 211.30 but his quicker reaction time allowed him to hold off the quicker but losing performance of Anderson’s Summit Racing Equipment GXP, which finished in 6.538 at 211.69.
“I won on a holeshot, but I really can’t explain it,” Edwards said. “Those guys [Summit teammates Anderson and Jason Line] have been to the final round in all three races, so I knew I had to do something. You can never be late against those guys. You’ve got to go on time. I was very concerned about not having lane choice in the final. I didn’t get down the track in that lane either time in qualifying, but I’m guessing maybe something about the rain helped us with our setup.”
It was the third consecutive final-round appearance for Anderson, who maintains the series lead with the runner-up finish. He sits 44 points in front of Edwards.
Krawiec completed a perfect weekend to open defense of his Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship, defeating teammate Andrew Hines in the final round. Krawiec became only the second racer to earn the maximum 150 points by winning the race, setting the national e.t. record (6.750 seconds), leading all four qualifying sessions, and earning the No. 1 qualifying position. In the final round, he powered his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to a 6.822 at 194.94 to cross the finish line five feet in front of Hines, whose identically prepared Harley-Davidson posted a 6.861 at 194.55. It was Krawiec’s third consecutive Gatornationals victory and 12th win of his career.
“I’d say this is a great way to start a championship defense,” Krawiec said. “I had a great bike from the time we rolled it off the truck. We had low e.t. of every round except one. It was also a great way to roll out our new redesigned bikes, which are based on the 2012 Harley Night Rods. We tested a little this off-season, and we worked hard, and the results showed. Unfortunately, there was no 200-mph run. If I had done that, I could have retired. I guess I was not meant to retire.”
Smith, a former multi-time winner in NHRA Pro Stock competition, held off event top qualifier Mike Castellana in the final round after defeating Adam Flamholc, Raymond Commisso, and Leah Pruett in the first three rounds. In his only other NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series final-round appearance, Smith lost to Khalid alBalooshi last spring in Las Vegas.
In the final round at historic Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, Smith powered his trademark red ’68 Camaro past Castellana’s ’68 Camaro with a performance of 5.913 seconds at 240.29 mph. Castellana left the starting line first with an amazing .006 reaction time, but his car got loose near mid-track and slowed to a run of 6.435 at 189.79.
The key round for Smith was his semifinal victory over Leah Pruett. Smith won that race on a holeshot, using a quicker reaction time at the starting line with his performance of 5.926 at 239.95 to cross the finish line about seven feet in front of Pruett, who had the quicker time and speed in her late-model Ford Mustang, posting a 5.919 at 251.34.
With the victory, Smith opens the season in the series lead, 19 points ahead of Castellana.
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