Racers Out Run the Rain at 51st Annual Gatornationals
As the Hurricane Season always means there is a daily chance for rain in Florida, NHRA racing officials moved up the start time for Sunday’s final rounds of the 51st annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. Fortunately for racers and race fans alike, the elite classes of the NHRA Mello Yello drag racing championship finished before the rains came. At the end of the day, it was redemption for some drivers and business as usual for others as Steve Torrence, Ron Capps, Alex Laughlin, and Matt Smith took home a Wally in their respective classes from the historic Gainesville Raceway track. A limited number of race fans were allowed in the grandstands, as the NHRA had posted strict rules and requirements for safely attending event, which included a face covering over both the mouth and nose as well as social distancing. Oh well, so much for rules!
After laying down the quickest run of the weekend in Nitro Funny Car while defeating his DSR teammate Matt Hagan, Ron Capps felt the ends swap on his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat while exiting the track after the engine had let go and sprayed oil on the rear tires. It was a blessing and curse for crew chief Rohn Tobler (who wanted a win on his birthday), but the Don Schumacher Race Team worked feverishly to prep a backup car before the final round against Tim Wilkerson. With a ten-race win streak on the line for DSR, every team member responded to the call of duty. It’s not surprising that DSR drivers Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan, Tommy Johnson Jr, and Ron Capps occupy the top four spots in the Funny Car points standings. It was Capps second win in the streak of ten race wins for DSR in Funny Car.
In Top Fuel dragster, it was the father and son duo from Kilgore, Texas, that worked their way into the final round at Gatornationals. As the self-proclaimed number two driver for the Capco Contractors Racing Team, Billy Torrence has always relied on his even-keel personality when roaming the pits at any of the NHRA events he is able to attend. Nonetheless, don’t let the calm demeanor fool you, Billy Torrence is very fast behind the wheel and recently eliminated his son, the reigning 2019 Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence, at the E3 Spark Plugs Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. Billy then defeated points leader Doug Kalitta in the final round to claim his sixth career victory. Since neither member of the Torrence family likes to lose, and there could only be one winner at Gatornationals, Steve Torrence claimed a holeshot win with .051 reaction time and a nearly identical 3.809 ET to his father’s 3.810 ET.
Alex Laughlin earned his first Pro Stock victory of 2020, defeating his Elite Motorsports teammate Aaron Stanfield in the final round. The other Elite Motorsports Pro Stock driver, Erica Enders, came into the weekend with the points lead, but lost in the quarterfinals to Jason Line. Line leaves Gainesville with a narrow two-points lead over Enders. In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith made it a father & son weekend beating six-time world champion Andrew Hines. Smith padded his points lead and claimed his 25th career victory after qualifying Number One. Victory lane was a family affair for Smith, who celebrated with his father, Rickie Smith, who won in the E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod class at Gainesville Raceway. With only four races remaining in the NHRA Mello Yello season, racing will continue Oct. 2-4 at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Raceway in St. Louis.