In a wild Funny Car final round that saw both cars break their tires loose in the first 60 feet and then repeatedly down track, J.R. Todd got it together more quickly and took the stripe ahead of opponent Robert Hight at the 52nd annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.
Todd earned his first win in nearly two years, 5.184 at 286.38 in his 11,000-horsepower DHL Toyota Camry. Both Todd and Hight smoked the tires early in the run, but Todd pedaled, recovered and went right down the track after that to win in Gainesville for the first time in his standout career and get his 19th career win.
“Today was tough. No offense to all the other drivers out there, but in my opinion, Robert Hight is the best driver out here,” said Todd. “That team sets the benchmark for the rest of us. Our DHL Toyota Camry went out there and blew the tires off and I thought, ‘Oh man, here we go.’ I just kind of rolled into the throttle, he never came by us and here we are holding another Wally.
“It’s amazing to be among the legends who have won this race. This is Don Garlits country down here in Gainesville. First off, I have to thank the legend Connie Kalitta for the opportunity to earn one of these trophies.”
Kalitta Motorsports driver Todd beat Blake Alexander, Tim Wilkerson and Cruz Pedregon to reach the final round. His victory also snapped the 14-race Funny Car win streak for Don Schumacher Racing, giving the Kalitta team a strong start to 2021.
Hight, making his first start in more than a year, ended up in his 81st career final round thanks to wins against Bob Bode, teammate John Force and Bob Tasca III.
“It’s a good weekend when you go to the final. When you watch the other guy smoke the tires, though, you look at it as one that got away, we beat ourselves,” said Hight, who sits second in the Camping World Series championship points standings. “We’ve got some gremlins; we had a lucky round in the semis dropping a cylinder and winning with a 4.09. We have to do some polishing, but we’ll be back. When we go to the final when we have this Auto Club Chevy running right, look out.”
ROUND ONE — Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.963, 326.08 def. Dave Richards, Mustang, 4.147, 288.58; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.921, 327.11 def. Bobby Bode, Mustang, 4.025, 309.91; Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.918, 324.12 def. John Smith, Dodge Charger, 5.457, 136.90; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.923, 323.74 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 12.844, 76.95; John Force, Camaro, 3.915, 326.56 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.977, 328.94; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.933, 327.35 def. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 4.032, 318.99; Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.973, 322.81 def. Chad Green, Mustang, 4.503, 180.09; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.920, 330.47 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.922, 329.67;
QUARTERFINALS — Todd, 3.940, 320.05 def. Wilkerson, 3.977, 325.53; Pedregon, 3.989, 319.90 def. DeJoria, 4.031, 320.20; Hight, 3.931, 330.39 def. Force, 4.994, 164.19; Tasca III, 3.958, 327.11 def. Capps, 4.946, 158.91;
SEMIFINALS — Todd, 3.970, 322.58 def. Pedregon, 4.781, 171.03; Hight, 4.093, 306.19 def. Tasca III, 4.115, 312.35;
FINAL — Todd, 5.184, 286.38 def. Hight, 6.591, 144.41.
story by NHRA and JFR, photos by Tim Hailey