Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith led off 2019 with the provisional number 1 qualifying spot on Friday at the 50th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.
Matt drove to 6.753 at 200.95 on his Elite Performance/DENSO Auto Parts/Stockseth EBR during the first qualifying round—his first full pull of the year. “If you’re good at Pomona, you’re gonna be good at Gainesville,” said Mike Mullaney of the rival Vance & Hines team. Smith won the race and the championship at Pomona in November.
Matthew didn’t qualify for this event in 2018 when he started a quickly ill-fated pairing with Joe Riccardi on the San Marino Suzuki.
He qualified number 1 a few years ago in the first year of his Victory program, but broke in the waterbox for round 1 on raceday when a red towel was inadvertently left on the injectors and got sucked through the motor. “It looked like a bunch of red flowers floating through the air,” remembered Smith’s cousin Tyler Wilson.
So Matt is hoping for a change of fortunes that would lead to his first Gators win over a weekend of fairly dramatis expected weather changes, losing about 15 degrees per day from Friday’s 85 degree temps.
“I’m just glad (the success from last season) is carrying over,” said the three-time PSM champ. “Sometimes, you do stuff at the end of the year and it doesn’t carry over in to the following year, but we worked really hard.”
Eddie Krawiec sat second in the field with a 6.792 at 199.91 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Street Rod while his teammate Andrew Hines rounds out the top three.
By the end of day Saturday, though, Smith had not bettered his time but both Hines and Krawiec. Hines raced to the top of the category during the fourth qualifying session with a national ET record of 6.720 at 199.94.
Andrew’s last victory at Gainesville was in 2004(!), which means that even Matt Guidera has won the Gators since a member of the Hines family. Andrew is also on the hunt for his first win since Pomona 2 2017.
“I was really hoping to go 200,” said Hines. “That was really the point to strive for and it would’ve been nice to get that one out of the way. Tomorrow is a new day and we will try again then.
“The guys on our team are doing a great job making sure that we get motorcycles that are flawless and making sure that we go to the start line with no problems.”
Hector Arana Jr. is fourth with a 6.78, followed by the one-bike team of Ryan Oehler, Angelle Sampey in her first Harley outing, and Jimmy Underdahl on the first Suzuki with a 6.82 in 7th.
Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.720, 199.67 vs. 16. Cory Reed, EBR, 6.918, 195.03; 2. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.747, 200.59 vs. 15. Scotty Pollacheck, EBR, 6.893, 193.35; 3. Matt Smith, EBR, 6.753, 200.95 vs. 14. Angie Smith, EBR, 6.888, 197.28; 4. Hector Arana Jr, EBR, 6.784, 199.02 vs. 13. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 6.874, 193.07; 5. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.803, 199.91 vs. 12. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.869, 195.08; 6. Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.814, 195.90 vs. 11. Joey Gladstone, EBR, 6.855, 193.07; 7. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.821, 197.16 vs. 10. Melissa Surber, Buell, 6.850, 193.46; 8. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.844, 193.85 vs. 9. Hector Arana, EBR, 6.847, 198.20.
Second generation racer Jianna Salinas had some rough rides in her first attempt as a Pro Stock Motorcycle racer, but never let off the throttle for a second!
Did Not Qualify: 17. Steve Johnson, 6.938, 194.24; 18. John Hall, 6.949, 193.49; 19. Katie Sullivan, 6.959, 193.10; 20. Marc Ingwersen, 6.960, 192.47; 21. Jianna Salinas, 7.092, 191.46; 22. Lance Bonham, 7.101, 187.16; 23. Andie Rawlings, 7.256, 179.54.
Tak Shigematsu’s blistering 6.10/233 NHRA record lap on Don “DJ” Johnson’s blown hamster-cage Harley held up from Friday to stay number 1 in Top Fuel Harley. Doug Vancil’s 6.18 at a stout 237 puts him second, followed by champion Tii Tharpe on his Spevco/Samson Jay Turner Racing bike.
Turner failed to qualify after breaking his blower bike and switching to Randall Andras’ entered-but-unused bike. The last round Hail Mary pass went up in smoke at about 60 feet.
Tak faces Jay Stordeur in E1, Vancil has Rickey House, and Tharpe races Bob “Opie” Malloy. The other pair is Mike Scott and Phoenix winner Beau Layne.
Brittany Force set the Gainesville Raceway track record during the fourth qualifying session of Top Fuel to become the first woman to qualify No. 1 at the Gatornationals since Shirley Muldowney 40 years ago.
Brittany locked-in the top spot with her pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.32 mph in her Advance Auto Parts dragster to set claim the track record. The 2017 world champion is seeking her first win of the season at the facility where she secured her first career win in 2016.
“I’m very proud to put a number on the board like that,” Force stated. “We want to go out and win this race tomorrow. On that last run, (David) Grubnic pulled me aside and told me it was going to be a fast one and to hang on. This place is a special place to me, and I love racing here. I can’t wait to come back and win here again.”
Force will line up against 87(!) year oldChris Karamesines in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Mike Salinas secured the No. 2 spot with his run of 3.694 at 326.32 and will face rookie Jordan Vandergriff. Defending world champion Steve Torrence rounds out the top three.
Top Fuel — 1. Brittany Force, 3.680 seconds, 326.32 mph vs. 16. Chris Karamesines, 4.048, 251.63; 2. Mike Salinas, 3.694, 326.32 vs. 15. Jordan Vandergriff, 3.846, 293.09; 3. Steve Torrence, 3.709, 329.75 vs. 14. Dom Lagana, 3.822, 298.40; 4. Leah Pritchett, 3.724, 325.22 vs. 13. Pat Dakin, 3.803, 326.24; 5. Antron Brown, 3.726, 330.23 vs. 12. Richie Crampton, 3.777, 322.65; 6. Terry McMillen, 3.743, 327.74 vs. 11. Doug Kalitta, 3.760, 321.35; 7. Clay Millican, 3.744, 325.85 vs. 10. Austin Prock, 3.758, 330.15; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.750, 326.56 vs. 9. T.J. Zizzo, 3.753, 328.62.
Did Not Qualify: 17. Cameron Ferre, 4.084, 279.79; 18. Lex Joon, 5.001, 149.78.
Brittany’s teammate Robert Hight sits atop of the Funny Car class with his run of 3.868 at 331.12 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro. He has swept the No. 1 qualifying position for the 2019 season and third career No. 1 at the facility.
“It’s pretty amazing and a lot of hard work,” Hight said. “We had a chance to win a championship last year and didn’t get it done. It didn’t sit well with my team and they worked hard at getting this thing prepared and figuring out what our weaknesses were. Qualifying is over and now we’ve got a race to win.”
He will face-off against Terry Haddock Sunday morning in the first round. Tim Wilkerson sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.875 at 327.27 and Tommy Johnson Jr. is third.
Funny Car — 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.868, 331.12 vs. 16. Terry Haddock, Ford Mustang, 4.410, 232.67; 2. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.875, 327.27 vs. 15. Dave Richards, Mustang, 4.294, 243.94; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.896, 324.75 vs. 14. John Smith, Charger, 4.116, 275.28; 4. John Force, Camaro, 3.897, 331.94 vs. 13. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.017, 308.92; 5. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.900, 325.85 vs. 12. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 4.016, 319.14; 6. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.900, 323.74 vs. 11. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.012, 316.82; 7. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.910, 325.30 vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.959, 325.06; 8. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.933, 318.77 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.953, 316.67.
Roger Brogdon took the Pro Stock Car lead during the fourth round of qualifying with his run of 6.490 at 212.43 in his RBR Machine Chevrolet Camaro. He secured his second No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at the facility and is chasing his first win since 2015.
“I’ve always been able to drive a race car,” Brogdon stated. “The hardest part is having a lot of power and a good car. The Elite (Motorsports) team and (team owner) Richard Freeman are incredible. He puts me in a fast car every weekend. To win this race and with the toughest class, I’d probably cross everything else off my bucket list.”
Brogdon will race Wally Stroupe in the first round of eliminations. Veteran Greg Anderson powered his Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro to the No. 2 spot with his pass 6.494 at 213.40 and Matt Hartford is third overall.
Pro Stock Car — 1. Rodger Brogdon, Chevy Camaro, 6.490, 212.43 vs. 16. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 6.675, 206.67; 2. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.494, 213.40 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.644, 208.36; 3. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.508, 211.06 vs. 14. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.620, 206.04; 4. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.509, 212.36 vs. 13. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.571, 211.03; 5. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.511, 212.09 vs. 12. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.542, 212.13; 6. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.514, 211.89 vs. 11. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.538, 211.89; 7. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.515, 211.99 vs. 10. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.534, 211.79; 8. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.516, 211.96 vs. 9. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.518, 211.13.
Did Not Qualify: 17. Jeff Isbell, 6.683, 207.37.
story and photos by Tim Hailey, with help from NHRA and team reports