Sellout Crowds Watched the NHRA's Best Claim Gold Wallys at the 50th Gatornationals
At the 50th annual Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals, sellout crowds lined the newly paved track at Gainesville Raceway on Sunday for a glimpse of the world's fastest cars and drivers. For the most part, the Florida weather cooperated and the combination of the cooler temperatures and a new racing surface ensured record-setting elapsed times. This year's event was not just the traditional season opener for E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod Racing series, but the 2019 Gatornationals was the 50th anniversary of the historic event at the NHRA-operated facility.
The race was the third of twenty-four NHRA National events scheduled for the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series for the Pro Stock, Top Fuel and Funny Car divisions. 2017 World Champion Bo Butner coasted his Jim Butner's Auto Chevrolet Camaro to an easy victory with a 6.505 ET at 212.29 mph after Alex Laughlin's Camaro broke leaving the start line. Butner earned his way to the final after Rodger Brogdon, the number one qualifier in Pro Stock, left early in the semi-final race. It was Butner's second win of the season. After going winless during the 2018 NHRA season, Andrew Hines grabbed the win in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category over his Vance & Hines teammate Eddie Krawiec.
If you ever need to show someone what raw speed looks like, almost any video of a Robert Hight pass in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car will do. A driving force behind the John Force Racing contingent, Hight earned his second Wally of the 2019 Mello Yello Drag Racing season and the 47th of his career with a 3.867 ET at 331.61 mph to take the win over veteran Tim Wilkerson. Hight eliminated Terry Haddock, Ron Capps and his boss (John Force) to earn his way to the second final round of the season. Wilkerson beat Dave Richards, Cruz Pedregon and defending event winner Jack Beckman on his way to Sunday's final round.
The fresh pavement at Gainesville Raceway made for some of the closest ever side-by-side racing at the historic event. In Top Fuel, last year's winner at the Gatornationals, Richie Crampton, earned his first final round appearance of the 2019 season and only the eleventh of his career. The DHL machine of Crampton left the tree first with a .042 RT to a .058 second reaction time for Millican. Crampton stayed ahead of Millican's Parts Plus Strutmaster's dragster to win by just .0032 seconds (about 18 inches on track). It was Crampton's ninth win in Top Fuel. The 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season continues next week with the DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway April 5-7 in Las Vegas.