Johnson & Suzuki win The Gators

NHRA Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida, March 14-16, 2014

story and photos by Tim Hailey

The first weekend out at an NHRA race, an sticker reaches the winners circle on Steve Johnson’s Suzuki….coincidence?

Johnson celebrates with Jesse James. MORE CANDID PHOTOS

Retired Gainesville track manager Don Robertson with the tower he built looming behind his shoulder. “I’m awfully proud of that tower,” said Robertson.

Matt Polito and Christie Myers, daughter of the late Star Racing champion John Myers

Polito and Myers’ wife Kerry. MORE CANDID PHOTOS

Scotty Pollacheck (far lane) takes his second holeshot win of the day, this time over teammate John Hall. That win put him in the final against Johnson, where his tranny failed him. Data showed Pollacheck hit the button three times before the bike shifted in the final.

Matt Smith’s -.005 redlight threw his 6.86 low ET of round 2 in the can and advanced Johnson.

Polesitter Michael Ray had the opposite problem, losing to Pollacheck on a holeshot

John Hall needed low ET of round 1 to erase Adam Arana’s .032 starting line advantage. So Michael Ray qualified #1, Hall with low ET of round 1, both with stickers on their front ender….coincidence?

Katie Sullivan redlit in round 1, booting the glammest bike at the track out early. MORE

Mike Castellana’s Qatar success carried over to Gainesville with the Pro Mod win. MORE

Who would have guessed that John Force’s car would shake the tires loose in this final round match-up with teammate Robert Hight and not the other way around?

Doug Kalitta and Mac took this Tool Rail Battle over Antron Brown and Matco. MORE

Allen Johnson (far lane) drove the new Dodge Dart to it’s maiden Pro Stock win over Erica Enders-Stevens

TV’s Rutledge Wood leaps towards a holeshot win over “Top Gear” rival Tanner Faust

Dale Brand (near lane) is ahead of Dan Pomponio in the Alcohol Funny Car final only by virtue of his redlight

Confident his homework is done, Byron Hines checks out the staging lanes. MORE

EARLIER: Ray leaps to #1 @ The Gators

Michael Ray’s Uncle Hal’s/Arrow M/Star Racing team nailed the tune-up in Q4 with a 6.793 for #1. Ray faces Fin Fredrick Fredlund in round 1 on raceday

Johnson, shown hanging with good luck charm Ade Casanola on Saturday night. MORE


H2 makes move, Smith still leads @ Gators

Hector Arana Jr bolted to second spot in Q3 at the Gators, .006 behind champ Matt Smith

Fin Fredrick Fredlund currently sits 15th between Jerry Savoie and Hector Arana. MORE

EARLIER: Matt Smith leads Day 1 @ The Gators

PSM champion Matt Smith led Q1 at the Gators with a clean 6.800, and maintained that position despite shutting off out of the waterbox for E2 with a broken rocker arm

Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Matt Smith set the pace Friday in Pro Stock Motorcycle at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals with a run of 6.800 at 196.96 on his Matt Smith Racing/Stockseth Racing Buell. Smith, twice a runner-up at Gainesville, was the top qualifier here last year. “That was a really good run but we got after it a little bit too hard in second gear and it spun the tire so we might have been able to run about a 6.87,” Smith said. “We spent the off-season building and testing a lot of new parts and we made progress. I’m excited about this season.”

Speeds in the 200-mph range were expected for Pro Stock Motorcycle, but the top speed reached was Smith’s 196.96. The King, N.C. resident attributed the lesser than anticipated speeds to a steady headwind that blew all day long. “I knew this morning that we weren’t going to see 200,” said Smith. “The wind was blowing the wrong way. I might have been able to go 197 or 198 if I had made a perfect run but we’re going to need to see the wind change directions in order to see someone go 200.”

Andrew Hines, Smith teammate John Hall, Michael Ray and Eddie Krawiec also qualified in the top five.


Testing leader Andrew Hines is in the hunt at #2 but hasn’t quite found his Valdosta swagger at Gainesville

Smith’s teammate John “Johnny Balls” Hall sits third with a 6.830. MORE BIKE PHOTOS

Michael Ray’s Arrow M/Star Racing Buell sprayed oil in the water box, ending his first qualifying round prematurely. But the team jumped all the way to 4th with a Q2 6.853. Teammate Chaz Kennedy is locked into the field at 8th with a 6.89

3X champ Kwick Eddie Krawiec clocked 4th with a 6.856 at only 190 mph in E1. He added 5 mph but dropped to an .86 in E2, dropping to 5th behind Michael Ray.

Riding high on good karma from transporting the Eatmyink Classic Schwinn into the Gators, Shawn Gann qualified 5th in Q1 with a 6.920, which dropped like a rock to 11th after Q2

Jerry Savoie’s Q1 6.92 locked him into the field. He backed it up with a steady .93 in Q2

After an aborted Q1 pass, Katie Sullivan nearly locked into the field with a 13th place Q2 6.92

‘Twas a rough day for Hector Arana Sr, who sits 22nd after two sessions. MORE PHOTOS

Smooth California rider Eddie Reed is in former champ LE Tonglet’s seat while LE completes a different kind of qualifying—for the Jefferson Parish Fire Department. Reed sits 17th after two sessions.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.800, 196.96; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.813, 195.68; 3. John Hall, Buell, 6.830, 195.05; 4. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.853, 196.16; 5. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.856, 195.96; 6. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.857, 194.38; 7. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.891, 195.45; 8. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.892, 194.46; 9. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.901, 196.02; 10. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.910, 196.10; 11. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.920, 193.82; 12. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.920, 193.27.

Not Qualified: 13. Katie Sullivan, 6.924, 192.85; 14. Fredrik Fredlund, 6.939, 193.99; 15. Mike Berry, 6.987, 188.91; 16. Scotty Pollacheck, 6.987, 187.73; 17. Eddie Reed, 6.989, 190.06; 18. Joe DeSantis, 7.009, 187.55; 19. Freddie Camarena, 7.055, 192.36; 20. James Surber, 7.095, 187.26; 21. Elvira Karlsson, 7.149, 185.92; 22. Hector Arana, 9.994, 81.91; 23. Odolph Daniels, 16.646, 43.73.

Danny Rowe led day 1 of Pro Mod qualifying in the blown Agave Underground Camaro

Danny Rowe raced to the qualifying lead Friday in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series. Rowe powered his Agave Underground Tequila ’68 Chevy to a leading performance of 5.862 seconds at 250.55 mph to top the 16-car field. Mike Janis tied Rowe’s elapsed time in his late-model Valvoline Camaro, but Rowe claimed the top spot by virtue of his faster speed.

Series newcomer Jason Hamstra qualified third with a 5.866 at 246.30 in his 2010 Ford Mustang. Defending NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series world champ Rickie Smith qualified fourth with a 5.889 at 245.09 in his ’12 Camaro. Steven Whiteley is fifth overall after posting a 5.900 at 247.34 in his Y-Not Racing ’68 Camaro.

Pro Modified — 1. Danny Rowe, Chevy Camaro, 5.862, 250.55; 2. Mike Janis, Camaro, 5.862, 247.93; 3. Jason Hamstra, Ford Mustang, 5.866, 246.30; 4. Rickie Smith, Camaro, 5.889, 245.09; 5. Steven Whiteley, Camaro, 5.900, 247.34; 6. Steve Matusek, Mustang, 5.904, 246.26; 7. Raymond Commisso, Camaro, 5.948, 237.42; 8. Craig Cawte, Camaro, 5.966, 227.19; 9. Mike Knowles, Camaro, 5.980, 246.80; 10. Kevin Fiscus, Mustang, 5.990, 245.40; 11. Mike Castellana, Camaro, 5.996, 240.81; 12. Kevin Rivenbark, Mustang, 6.013, 239.06; 13. Don Walsh, Mustang, 6.074, 247.34; 14. Dan Stevenson, Camaro, 6.165, 239.78; 15. Chris Juliano, Mustang, 6.225, 219.86; 16. Bill Glidden, Mustang, 6.279, 199.88.

Not Qualified: 17. Eric Latino, 8.257, 117.80; 18. Troy Coughlin, 8.766, 122.32; 19. Clint Satterfield, 9.823, 91.53; 20. Todd Tutterow, 10.123, 95.28; 21. Chip King, 10.539, 82.79; 22. Jim Laurita, 10.678, 82.03; 23. Pete Farber, 11.147, 83.03; 24. Doug Winters, 12.097, 69.24; 25. Jim Bell, 12.228, 70.22; 26. Kenny Lang, 12.381, 94.64; 27. Harold Martin, 14.638, 67.82.

Alcohol Funny Car driver Ulf Leanders is one of the many Swedes competing at the Gators

Top Alcohol Dragster pilot Dan Page burns out in the glow of a Gainesville sunset. MORE

Defending NHRA Mello Yello Series world champ Shawn Langdon raced to the Top Fuel qualifying lead Friday. Bob Tasca III (Funny Car), Dave Connolly (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were the leaders in their respective categories at the third of 24 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events.

Langdon, who struggled in the first two races of the season, rebounded at historic Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville by powering his Al-Anabi Racing dragster to a performance of 3.786 seconds at 320.58 mph to take the top spot in the qualifying order. “As long as the track allows it, you can really throw down some good runs,” said Langdon, who is looking for his first career Gatornationals victory. “We’re trying to make the best run we can on each session, and we thought a .78 was about all we could get away with. We’re trying to get as much information as we can in each lane to get ready for Sunday.”

Richie Crampton, who is in the running for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, sits second after posting a 3.816 at 320.58 in the GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster. Series points leader Doug Kalitta, Phoenix winner Antron Brown and Steve Torrence round out the top five.

In Funny Car, Tasca III got off to a good start by posting a leading run of 4.103 at 304.39 in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Shelby Ford Mustang. The Cranston, R.I. native won this event in 2009 and was runner-up a year later. “I don’t know what it is about Gainesville, but I love racing here,” Tasca said. “This place has been awfully good to me over the years. We set a record in my alcohol car and were on the pole that year. I got my first win here in Funny Car. It’s just a special place.”

Tasca feels like his race car has even more to show tomorrow. “We actually put a hole out near the finish line and the car got a little out of shape, but, man, it felt good through the middle,” Tasca said. “I knew that if it could feel like that going through the middle that it would put up a pretty good run. The guys told me before the run that it should run a .10, and that’s exactly what it did. The run should give us a little leeway tomorrow to take a swing at it.”

After leading the first qualifying session, Jack Beckman was second overall with a 4.108 at 275.96 in his Valvoline Dodge. Chad Head, Ron Capps and Tony Pedregon completed the top five. Series leader John Force qualified 11th and Phoenix winner Alexis DeJoria was 12th overall after day one.

Connolly led Pro Stock with a performance of 6.476 at 213.98 at the controls of his Charter Communications Chevy Camaro. Connolly, who held off Erica Enders-Stevens for the top spot, will be going for his first No. 1 qualifying spot since 2008.
“This is a good feeling,” said Connolly. “We’re off to a good start because we’ve put in a lot of hard work since Phoenix. We felt that it was important to have two Haas cars so we could share all the tune-up data. We worked hard to get these cars ready and then we had three good test days in Bradenton and a little bit of good luck in Q1.”

Enders-Stevens qualified second and set the Pro Stock national speed record with a 214.69 mph run in her Elite Motorsports Camaro. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Allen Johnson and Shane Gray will all look to hold on to their top five starting spots during Saturday’s two sessions.

Top Fuel — 1. Shawn Langdon, 3.786 seconds, 320.58 mph; 2. Richie Crampton, 3.816, 316.97; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.819, 319.37; 4. Antron Brown, 3.836, 315.78; 5. Steve Torrence, 3.839, 319.22; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.847, 316.97; 7. Tony Schumacher, 3.858, 320.28; 8. Clay Millican, 3.861, 308.71; 9. Leah Pritchett, 3.899, 306.67; 10. Morgan Lucas, 3.922, 303.50; 11. Brittany Force, 3.945, 308.92; 12. J.R. Todd, 3.974, 271.46.
Not Qualified: 13. Spencer Massey, 4.239, 208.52; 14. Bob Vandergriff, 4.264, 254.62; 15. Terry McMillen, 4.705, 163.39; 16. David Grubnic, 4.801, 149.70; 17. Pat Dakin, 5.152, 128.49; 18. Ike Maier, 5.872, 117.34; 19. Sidnei Frigo, 10.108, 69.25.

Funny Car — 1. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.103, 304.39; 2. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.108, 275.96; 3. Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 4.115, 300.46; 4. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.121, 302.14; 5. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.127, 285.41; 6. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.128, 307.23; 7. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.132, 303.78; 8. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.148, 305.08; 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.188, 299.60; 10. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.189, 288.95; 11. John Force, Mustang, 4.380, 246.98; 12. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.799, 167.76.
Not Qualified: 13. Tommy Johnson Jr., 5.075, 147.96; 14. Blake Alexander, 6.388, 98.77; 15. Dave Richards, 7.109, 92.05; 16. Jeff Arend, 7.669, 83.02; 17. Courtney Force, 8.184, 73.00.

Pro Stock —
1. Dave Connolly, Chevy Camaro, 6.476, 213.98; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.483, 214.69; 3. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.484, 214.62; 4. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.487, 213.98; 5. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.495, 213.60; 6. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.510, 212.56; 7. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.518, 213.30; 8. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.527, 212.90; 9. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.529, 212.66; 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.533, 214.04; 11. Steve Kent, Camaro, 6.536, 212.43; 12. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.541, 213.20.
Not Qualified: 13. Rodger Brogdon, 6.541, 212.53; 14. Jonathan Gray, 6.552, 212.16; 15. Matt Hartford, 6.581, 211.39; 16. Shane Tucker, 6.594, 211.53; 17. Kenny Delco, 6.613, 210.24; 18. Robert Patrick, 6.615, 210.28; 19. Lewis Worden, 6.652, 210.83; 20. Mark Hogan, 16.552, 45.53.