NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series teams are preparing to head to the Sunshine State for the traditional East Coast opener, the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, March 13-16, the third of 24 races in the 2014 season.
All of the biggest stars in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will be on hand to blast their way toward the finish line and keep the fans on the edge of their seats. A win at this event can mean great momentum as drivers pursue NHRA Mello Yello world championship glory during the season that crisscrosses the United States. Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock), and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will again be televised on ESPN2HD.
Celebrating its 45th edition, the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals has entertained spring-break-loving fans for four decades and brings lots of star power to the tradition-rich dragstrip, including many of the sport’s greatest legends, such as “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, and this year will be no different. Along with the brightest personalities in the track’s history, fans will be treated to an all-American nitro spring break, and with kids 12 and younger admitted free to the general-admission areas with a paid adult, the event is a perfect family getaway.
Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville has long been considered one of the fastest tracks on the NHRA circuit, and it was from this legendary point that drivers clocked the first 260-, 270-, and 300-mph Top Fuel runs. Perhaps the most memorable of those was Kenny Bernstein’s historic first 300-mph Top Fuel pass in 1992.
The Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals will also be the season’s first of 16 events for the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. Riders will be looking to knock defending series champion Matt Smith off his title perch. Last year, Smith and his Buell dominated the series by earning a solid four wins in eight final rounds and brought home his second world championship title.
The Smith family also made NHRA history last season when Matt clinched the Pro Stock Motorcycle Mello Yello Series crown at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after his father, Rickie, won the 2013 NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series world championship title a few weeks earlier in St. Louis. They became the first father and son in NHRA history to celebrate world championship titles in the same season.
Others to watch in the two-wheel category include three-time Gainesville winner Eddie Krawiec; Andrew Hines; Michael Ray; defending event champ Arana, who will be joined by his father, Hector Sr., and brother, Adam; and newcomer Chaz Kennedy, who will be a contender for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award.
In Top Fuel, defending world champ Shawn Langdon realized a lifelong dream in 2013 when he raced to his first world championship title, becoming the first driver in NHRA history to earn championships at the Jr., Sportsman, and Pro levels. The Al-Anabi Racing team is off to a good start in 2014 with Khalid alBalooshi claiming the team’s first season win in Pomona. Langdon, who fell to alBalooshi in round two in Pomona, will try to add a second championship title and seeks his first Gatornationals victory. Defending event winner Brown, recent winner of the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals in Phoenix, will look to score another win in Gainesville, and his Don Schumacher Racing teammates, Spencer Massey and Tony Schumacher, also will be among the top challengers. Joining them in the field will be 2013 rookie and Phoenix runner-up Brittany Force, Leah Pritchett, Amalie Motor Oil fan favorite Terry McMillen, and rookie Richie Crampton.
Sixteen-time Funny Car world champ John Force opened the 2014 season in signature Force fashion by setting national records and winning the Circle K NHRA Winternationals. "The Swamp" is no stranger to Force – the 64-year-old icon has claimed seven event wins there. Meanwhile, many of his fiercest competitors, including daughter Courtney; Alexis DeJoria, the first woman to join the three-second club and the tour’s most recent winner; 2011 Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan; and 2012 event winner and Phoenix runner-up Robert Hight, are ready to make some history of their own at the legendary track.
The reigning Pro Stock champ, Jeg Coughlin Jr., will look for more success with Mopar teammate and Phoenix winner Allen Johnson, and Winternationals winner and four-time Gatornationals winner Jason Line and his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro are seeking another early-season win. V. Gaines, runner-up at the season’s first two races, Erica Enders-Stevens, Shane Gray, Vincent Nobile, and Dave Connolly always provide tough competition in the parity-filled factory hot rod category.
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, which is making its 2014 season debut, also will thrill the crowds during the weekend with intense competition on the track.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful motorsports attraction on the planet. While visiting the pits, interactive NHRA Nitro Alley, and NHRA Manufacturers Midway, fans will also want to check out NHRA’s popular Hot Rod Junction presented by the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum that offers a spectacular display of many nostalgic dragsters, race cars, and hot rods, including vintage machines that were driven by Garlits, K.S. Pittman, “Big John” Mazmanian, and Bruce Larson, among others. There will also be several NHRA legends of drag racing autograph sessions, allowing fans the rare opportunity to meet drag racing stars of the past.
On Friday at the track, fans can attend a special Nitro Pit Party and Press Conference in the Pro pits prior to the first qualifying session. Many of the top stars in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will be featured during the red-carpet press-conference affair, which starts at 10:30 a.m.
On Sunday, fans also will want to take advantage of the popular Track Walk with Top Fuel legend and Florida resident Darrell Gwynn at 10 a.m. They can get up-close and personal with Gwynn and other NHRA stars on the famed track for a donation of $20 or more to the Darrell Gwynn Foundation. Money raised will help the foundation’s ongoing work to provide education about spinal-cord-injury prevention, offer support to those afflicted by spinal-cord injuries and debilitating disease, and raise funds to help find a cure.
Pro qualifying begins Friday, March 14, with sessions at noon and 2:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, March 15, also at noon and 2:15 p.m. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, March 16.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, log on to NHRATix.com or call the NHRA Ticket Sales Center, 800-884-NHRA (6472). General-admission tickets for children 12 and younger are free with any paid adult ticket.