NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Five things we learned in Gainesville

The 2024 Mission Foods NHRA Drag Racing season kicked off in Gainesville, and we were able to learn a lot as the event unfolded and raced to a successful finish on Sunday afternoon. Here are five things that stood out from the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
10 Mar 2024
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor
Five Things

There are usually a lot of unknowns in advance of each new season, and that certainly applies to the 2024 Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. With more than a half century of history at Gainesville Raceway, we already know about standing-room only crowds, record-setting performances, and thrilling side-by-side competition, but here’s a few things that stuck out as the Mission Foods NHRA Drag Racing Series season kicked off in Gainesville.


Okay, so there’s not really a curse in Gainesville, at least not one we are aware of, but for six-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders, the place has probably felt haunted. Enders has won almost everywhere, but a Gainesville win constantly eluded her. To make matters worse, some of Enders’ Gainesville losses have been among the most painful of her career. There was the time she set low elapsed time of the event and lost to Bo Butner via a big holeshot, and then there was 2023 where she lost to then-new teammate Jerry Tucker when her car wouldn’t start.

Those losses are now ancient history as Enders delivered a dominant performance to win her 49th NHRA national event title. After qualifying No. 1, Enders made four runs between 6.483 and 6.508 on race day, including a 6.494 in the final to stop teammate Cristian Cuadra, who shook the tires. For the record, Enders has now won at least one NHRA national event at 18 different facilities. The only track on the 2024 schedule where she has not won is Virginia Motorsports Park.


Actually, we learned this last year when he won 11 of 15 races, but a long off-season appears to have done little to slow Gaige Herrera, the reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle champion. Herrera dominated from start to finish in the Sunshine State by qualifying No. 1 and registering low elapsed time in each of the four elimination rounds on Sunday.

Herrera, now 54-8 in elimination rounds since his debut in  late 2022, finished the rout with a 6.636 to beat six-time champ Matt Smith, who left first by a few thousandths but trailed at the stripe with a 6.748.

In a little more than one full season in the class, Herrera is in the process of shredding the record books. He already owns nine of the 10 quickest elapsed times and six of the top 10 speeds in the history of the class aboard his RevZilla Vance & Hines Suzuki. At times, in Gainesville, it appeared that the pack had begun to catch Herrera, but in the end, that turned out to not be the case.


Years of sprint car racing have certainly helped, but there is something about Austin Prock’s performance in Gainesville that makes one think he was born to drive a nitro Funny Car. Prock’s results in Top Fuel weren’t bad, four wins in eight final rounds, but after his dominating win in Gainesville, it appears likely that he’ll far exceed those numbers.

Prock didn’t win his final-round battle against J.R. Todd, but he certainly made an impression with a nearly perfect performance in qualifying, where he scored eight of nine bonus points, and he was solid in eliminations, including a masterful pedal job in round one that saved the day against John Smith.

Prock didn’t know he’d be wheeling a Funny Car until mid-winter when Robert Hight announced that he’d be taking a leave of absence for medical reasons, but it’s obvious that he was well prepared to tackle the assignment.


With more than a half century of sustained success, it came as a shock to most NHRA fans to learn that the Kalitta Motorsports team had never doubled up at an NHRA national event. That not-so-minor detail was addressed in Gainesville, where J.R. Todd bagged the Funny Car win, while teammate Shawn Langdon scored in Top Fuel moments later. On the heels of a championship season by teammate Doug Kalitta, the Ypsilanti, Mich., team has once again re-established itself as a dominant force.

Langdon had been winless in Top Fuel for nearly four seasons, but to his credit, he’s remained one of the class’ best wheelmen with consistent reaction times and nearly impeccable car control. The addition of new crew chief Brian Husen paid immediate dividends as the former Top Fuel and Super Comp champ qualified No. 1 and cruised to the win by beating Cody Krohn, Justin Ashley, Antron Brown, and final-round opponent Billy Torrence.

By contrast, Todd and his DHL Toyota team admittedly struggled through the early rounds but somehow managed to make the final, where they made their best run of the weekend with a 3.88 to stop low qualifier Austin Prock.

A double win seemed a fitting conclusion to a weekend when the late Scott Kalitta was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame.


It took much longer than he wanted, but Terry Haddock finally got his first three-second Funny Car run in Gainesville when he posted a 3.98 during Friday’s opening qualifying session.

A times, it seemed the never-say-die independent was cursed as he continually delivered 4.0-second runs in his Mustang (including a career-best 4.000) but somehow couldn’t deliver a three-second run. Haddock finally crossed that threshold in Gainesville. When he was handed the time slip, Haddock’s emotion was raw and genuine.

For good measure, Haddock returned to run a second three later in the day, and even though he spun the tires in a round-one loss to semifinal magnet Chad Green, the weekend proved to be a big success.