After a strong start to the 2013 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season on the west coast, the four pro classes make their first appearance on the east coast for the 44th annual Amalie Oil Gatornationals at legendary Auto-Plus Raceway in Gainesville. The track has seen many historic events; with Kenny Bernstein completing the first 300 M.P.H. pass there in 1992 as a standout moment.
In Top Fuel, seven-time champion Tony Schumacher and his Army dragster are the favorites after winning the last race at Phoenix on the heels of four consecutive final round appearances dating back to the end of the 2012 season. Schumacher enters Gainesville as the point’s leader and is looking for his fifth win in the event.
The biggest challenge for “The Sarge” may be from his own camp: 2012 Top Fuel champion Antron Brown and former Road to the Future winner Spencer Massey both have stout Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) race cars and are looking to cut into Schumacher’s lead with a victory.
Massey put his Schumacher Electric car on top after the first session, running a 3.821 E.T. at 322.65 M.P.H. Outside of DSR, Al-Anabi Racing’s Shawn Langdon looks to take his second victory of the season after winning the Winternationals at Pomona.
In Funny Car, the field is wide open but the battle between DSR and John Force Racing (JFR) is the main focus. 2012 Road to the Future winner and recent recipient of the RACER magazine rookie of the year title Courtney Force won at Pomona for her father’s team while veteran Ron Capps won for DSR at Phoenix.
After one session of qualifying, only John Force is in for JFR at twelfth, after a tire-smoking run of 6.577 at 101.51, while three of the four Schumacher cars in the show. Defending Funny Car champion Jack Beckman sits third with a 4.122 at 302.55, while 2011 champion Matt Hagan is fifth with a 4.14 at 296.24. Capps sits ninth at a 4.589 at 176.01 after struggling with traction on his run.
The factory hot rods of Pro Stock come to Gainesville with two of the young guns: Vincent Nobile (Pomona) and Erica Enders-Stevens (Phoenix) coming away with Wally’s so far in 2013. Enders-Stevens debuts a Chevy Camaro for Cagnazzi Racing and is looking good with a 6.505 at 212.66. in seventh spot after one session.
Defending race champion Mike Edwards is looking for consecutive No.1 qualifying efforts and has laid down a new elapsed time and speed record for Gainesville: 6.473 at 214.31 in his Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Camaro.
Nobile, defending Pro Stock champion Allen Johnson and Jeg Coughlin, Jr. make up the Dodge Avenger contingent in the class and all are in the field: Johnson in second with a 6.481 at 213.64; Coughlin Jr. in fourth at 6.492 at 213.26 and Nobile in eighth at 6.513 at 212.86.
The other standout team is the Summit sponsored Ken Black Racing duo of Greg Anderson and Jason Line. Both drivers have gotten comfortable with their Camaro’s, after switching to them last summer. After being outrun last year by Johnson and Mopar, KBR has had to work on their engine program to catch up because handling has always been a positive for this team. Four-time Gainesville winner Line is third with a 6.483 at 213.10 while Anderson is fifth with a 6.493 at 212.03.
Coming to Gainesville means the Pro Stock Motorcycles make their 2013 debut. New regulations have seen the Vance & Hines/Screaming Eagle Harley-Davidson team have to incorporate a new two-valve engine after winning all but one race last year, between three-time and defending series champion Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines with a four-valve engine. While Hines is in at fifth after one session, with a 6.885 at 190.62, Krawiec is not with a 6.986 at 185.72 with three sessions remaining.
Most of the privateer efforts run Buell’s and the regulations have not really affected them as the H-D team. Lucas Oil Racing’s Hector Arana, Jr. and Sr. are at the top of the timesheets after one session in qualifying. The older of two racing Arana sons ran a 6.831 at 194.55 while his father ran a 6.832 at 192.25. Rookie Adam Arana makes his debut on a third bike and is eighth at a 6.917 at 193.77.
Stay here on Drafting the Circuits for previews and reviews of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series as the season goes along.