NHRA: Rain washes out Friday Gaternationals qualifying
Rain washed out qualifying Friday in the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
Qualifying and all three rounds of the Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout are set for Saturday at Gainesville Raceway.
Saturday’s forecast is greatly improved, hopefully allowing NHRA pro and sportsman competitors to begin qualifying and eliminations. The Gainesville event will feature the Pep Boys All Star Callout event for Top Fuel racers and its also the season debut of the Pro Stock Motorcycle, Pro Mod, and Factory Stock classes.
The first two Top Fuel races of the season afforded wins to Justin Ashley and Mike Salinas. Ashley’s Phillips Connect dragster, tuned by past world championship crew chiefs Mike green and Tommy DeLago, was solidly in the 3.6-second zone in Pomona. The same applies to Salinas, who won in Phoenix with the assistance of new crew chiefs Rob Flynn and Arron Cave. It will almost certainly that that sort of performance to win in Gainesville.
Austin Prock and Clay Millican kicked off the season with final round showings in Pomona and Phoenix, respectively and they figure to be in the mix in Gainesville. Two other drivers who should be part of any discussion involving potential winners include four-time and reigning champ Steve Torrence and Doug Kalitta, who now has Alan Johnson and Brian Husen calling the shots on his Mac Tools dragster.
Finally, the defending event champ is Josh Hart, who shocked the sport by winning in his nitro debut. Hart won’t sneak up on anyone this time, but his R+L Carriers dragster is among the class’ performance leaders.
On Friday, the opening round of the Pep Boys NHRA All Star Callout event was set. Steve Torrence had the first pick and called out Leah Pruett. Brittany Force followed with a challenge to Antron Brown. Mike Salinas then called out Shawn Langdon, leaving Justin Ashley paired against Doug Kalitta. Those eight drivers will compete for a $130,000 payday on Saturday in Gainesville.
So far this season, the Funny Car class has been dominated by Robert Hight, who brings an unblemished 8-0 record into Gainesville after back-to-back wins in Pomona and Phoenix. Hight, with the help of crew chief Jimmy Prock, has four Gainesville wins in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2019. Winning three-straight races to start a season seems like a tall order but High and the Auto Club team appear to be more than capable.
Defending world champ Ron Capps, who was the No. 1 qualifier, and finished runner-up in Pomona while three-time world champ Matt Hagan, who is now racing for Tony Stewart Racing, was a finalist in Phoenix.
The defending event champ is J.R. Todd. Ironically, that was the last victory for a Kalitta Motorsports entry.
Four-time champ Erica Enders kicked off the season with a solid win in Pomona, but the Pro Stock driver who is the hottest coming into Gainesville is her teammate, Aaron Stanfield, who has a win and a runner-up on his scorecard. Stanfield, who is also the reigning champ in the Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown, is once against pulling double duty and it would not be much of a surprise to see him leave Gainesville with a pair of trophies.
The Pro Stock field is stacked with 21 drivers, so it’s going to be an honor just to qualify for the field and Sunday’s final eliminations figure to be a survival of the fittest. In addition to Enders and Stanfield, the favorites should include reigning champ Greg Anderson, Dallas Glenn, and Phoenix runner-up Troy Coughlin Jr.
Should Anderson earn the victory, he will join John Force, Frank Manzo, Dan Fletcher, and David Rampy as the only NHRA drivers with 100 national event titles.
Last year, Matt Smith dominated the Pro Stock Motorcycle class en route to his fifth season championship. Smith has made a change this winter and will likely ride a Suzuki this weekend but that won’t prevent him from being among the favorites. Other riders to watch include Vance & Hines teammates Eddie Krawiec and Angelle Sampey along with past Gainesville winners Karen Stoffer and Steve Johnson.
One rider who will not win this weekend is six time champion Andrew Hines, who has moved to a new role as a crew chief on the Vance & Hines team. If you’re looking for a potential first-time NHRA pro winner, look no further than Joey Gladstone, who is once again riding Cory Reed’s Suzuki entry.
The Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals also marks the start of the season in the NHRA Pro Mod and Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown series. You can catch the action all weekend on FOX Sports 1 and NHRA.tv.