Gainsville Raceway, Gainsville, FL — March 12, 2023
The AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals from Gainsville Raceway is the traditional season opener for the National Hot Rod Association Camping World Drag Racing Series. The Lasco Press covers a number of motorsports events, but this was our first visit to an NHRA drag race.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have personally attended a few NHRA national events. This allows me the unique perspective of comparing attendance as a fan to that of a photographer/feature writing member of the media.
Every Ticket is a Pit Pass
So, you have never been to a professional drag race? Add it to your bucket list. Probably the most unique aspect of going to an NHRA event is that when you purchase a ticket, you are automatically granted access to the pits. Fans can walk through the area where crew members work on the race cars.
Crews have 75 minutes to complete a turnaround between runs. This involves a teardown of the engine, the inspection of all engine parts, re-assembly of the components, setup, and testing. Most crews can accomplish the tasks in under 60 minutes.
The sensation of speed and horsepower is far different than what you get from standing next to the fence of an oval or road course track. Sitting in the stands, you can feel the ground shake when the nitro cars fire off and thunder down the track.
What it is like standing trackside with a camera in your hands is almost impossible to describe. It is a total assault on every one of your senses. Even with top-quality hearing protection, the sound is deafening. You feel it throughout your whole body. The shock is similar to being slammed to the ground. If your feet are not well positioned, you could actually be blown over. The smell and, yes, even the taste of the 15 gallons of nitromethane fuel that are burned in a single pass down the track is acrid.
When you go. Bring ear protection, sunscreen, and good walking shoes. Don’t forget a handkerchief to cover your mouth and nose. When crews fire the engine in the pits after a rebuild, you will get that smell and taste experience.
Michigan drag racing fans will recognize the nickname “The Bounty Hunter.” In 1959 Connie Kalitta formed Kalitta Motorsports. As a young man, he raced wherever and whenever he could. Across five different sanctioning bodies, he grew a reputation as a ruthless competitor.
The Michigan native now houses his racing operation in Ypsilanti, adjacent to the I-94 corridor. He gained the nickname of the bounty hunter because he kept a most wanted list of competitors he intended to defeat on the track, crossing their names off when he accomplished the feat.
His NHRA career stretched from 1967 to 1994, earning ten national event wins during that period. At the same time, he started an airline freight business with the money earned from drag racing. Initially flying parts for automobile manufacturers, Kalitta Air has grown into one of the largest airline operations in the nation.
Today Kalitta Motorsports contends annually for NHRA Championships in Top Fuel and Nitro Funny Car classes. The team features Doug Kalitta (Connie’s nephew), who drives a Top Fuel Dragster, along with Shawn Langdon, also in a Top Fuel racer. Driver JR Todd pilots the Funny Car entry.
Doug Kalitta qualified 3rd fastest for the Gatornationals. He posted a career-best and track record run in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations with an elapsed time (ET) of 3.646 and a speed of 333.82 miles per hour (MPH).
Doug took out Antron Brown in the next round with a slower ET but a top speed of 334.32 MPH. In the semi-finals, Doug smoked the tires right out of the starting box and lost to Steve Torrence. Torrence was defeated in the finals by Mike Salinas by 54/1,000s of a second. ETs of 3.700 for Salinas versus Torrence’s time of 3.754 seconds.
Shawn Langdon went out in the first round of eliminations, losing a heartbreaker to Antron Brown by 2/1,000’s of a second. Brown’s ET of 3.706 and speed of 326.87 MPH was actually slower than Langdon’s, 3.704 and 333.49. Brown’s reaction time at the start was the difference, as he went out at .066 to Langdon’s .068. The difference at the end of the 1,000-foot run? One inch.
JR Todd strung together strong runs with ETs of 3.893, 3.913, and 3.903 to reach the finals. The engine of Todd’s Funny Car exploded during his final’s run against Matt Hagan, driving for Tony Stewart Racing.
Want to see and read more about the NHRA? Tell us what you think. Should The Lasco Press add drag racing to its coverage of motorsports events?
Here is a shoutout to my good friend, Rick Fischer, for sparking my interest in professional drag racing. A member of the McLeod Funny Car team with driver Paul Lee, he is my go-to guy for questions about the sport. Rick knows everyone at the track and can get me the answer to all the tech. Next time around, we could take a deeper dive into the process of competing at the highest level of professional drag racing.
Racing Down the Track
Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle are the premier classes that run at an NHRA Drag Race, and that is what you see during the television coverage on elimination day. However, Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car, Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Street, Pro Mod, and a few more classes run each day during the event.
Come early, stay late, enjoy the fair food vendors, shop for souvenirs in the Nitro Mall, spend time in the pits, and grab an autograph or picture of a race car star or legend. Soak up all the action the National Hot Rod Association has to offer.
For more pictures of the Gatornaitonals weekend, visit the author’s Facebook Page.
Results of the AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainsville Raceway
|Troy Coughlin Jr
|Pro Stock Motorcycle
|Top Alcohol Dragster
|Top Alcohol Funny Car
|Factory Stock Showdown