Capacity Crowds at the NHRA Gatornationals Treated to a Firework Show of Attrition
After John Force blew the body off his Team Peak Camaro in practice, NHRA race fans flocked through the gates on Saturday at Gainesville Raceway Park. The hot, humid Florida air was almost certain to set off the fireworks at the 49th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. The sell-out event left no space unoccupied as crowds poured into the historic facility to get a glimpse of the world's fastest cars and drivers. But, for the 16-time NHRA champion, Saturday was a test day for his Funny Car team that had lost three cars in the first three events of 2018 season.
In the Funny Car quarterfinals on Sunday, former Funny Car champion Matt Hagan and defending Funny Car champion Robert Hight had a double-body blower with both chassis crossing the finish line without bodywork. Fortunately, Hagan and Hight crawled out of the wreckage and met at center track asking each other who won. Hagan would take the win in his MOPAR Dodge Charger with a 4.027 elapsed time to Hight's 4.067 second run. To his team's credit, Hagan returned in a backup car and defeated Ron Capps before losing to Jack Beckman in his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger. Matt Hagan posted a 4.034 ET at 322.04 mph to "Fast" Jack's 4.035-second run at 323.58 mph.
In Top Fuel dragster, attrition saw the biggest names in sport bitten by gremlins, as a loss of traction and blown engines took its toll. Richie Crampton, who had lost his ride last year, defeated favorite Antron Brown when the Matco Tools Toyota lost traction and got sideways in their semifinal run. Maybe the biggest upset of the weekend was Shawn Reed defeating Terry Millican in the second semifinal with a 4.030 pass in his Hughes Oilfield Transportation dragster. Reed, a four-time champion in the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Series, has turned his attention to land but a fuel leak before the start gave Crampton a free run. He didn't disappoint posting a 3.854, 314.90 mph trip to claim his first Wally at the Gainesville track.
Veteran Pro Stock driver Bo Butner fell to sophomore driver Tanner Gray in one of the closest final runs of the day. In Pro Mod, longtime racer Rickie Smith, in a nitrous oxide-injected 2017 Chevrolet Camaro, laid down a pass of 249.76 mph in 5.794 seconds, beating Mike Janis in his 1969 Camaro. Eddie Krawiec inched out Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle but Hector Arana Jr. owned the weekend as the first pro stock two-wheeler to break the 200 mph barrier with a speed of 201.01 during Friday qualifying. The Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Series has two weeks off before heading to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the first Four-Wide Nationals ever staged at The Strip on April 6-8.