Dart Hits Bullseye at Eastern Tradition Event!
Pro Stock drag racing’s newest phenom class car was right on target during NHRA’s Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals held at historic Auto-Plus Raceway in Gainesville Florida. Allen Johnson, the 2012 NHRA World Champion, scored a highly impressive victory during the debut race for Dodge’s all new Dart Pro Stocker……
Meanwhile Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta raced to his first victory in Top Fuel while Robert Hight (Funny Car), Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Bike) and Mike Castellana (Pro Mod) also earned Professional class titles.
Going into the event, Allen Johnson had boldly predicted that the new Mopar Dodge Dart NHRA Pro Stock car will ultimately rank among the greatest to compete in the class — and it looks like the Team Mopar veteran might have a bright future as a prognosticator. In the vehicle’s competition debut Johnson wasted no time in igniting a winning legacy for the Dodge Dart, powering to a history-making event win at the 45th Annual NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.
Johnson also captured his second consecutive NHRA Gatornationals crown and his 22nd career win in 47 final-round appearances en route to become the first Pro Stocker to drive a Dodge Dart into Victory Lane. The win is also the Greeneville, Tenn., native’s second in a row this this season —Johnson raced his Dodge Avenger to a farewell victory at the recent NHRA Phoenix event before christening the Dodge Dart in triumphant style.
“Congratulations to Allen Johnson for taking the new Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar Dodge Dart straight to the winner’s circle in its debut to earn the prestigious Gatornationals title,” said Pietro Gorlier, President and CEO of Mopar, Chrysler Group’s service, parts and customer-care brand. “What a fantastic way to demonstrate the quality of Mopar products and team work. To defend his title, earn consecutive wins and take the early lead in the championship points makes us very excited about the future of the Dodge Dart and Allen’s bid for another NHRA Championship amid some strong competition.”
In the maiden race for his Dodge Dart, and the first with “Magneti Marelli Quality Auto Parts Offered by Mopar” as his primary sponsor, Johnson qualified No. 4 and recorded his fastest career run with a speed of 214.04 mph. He navigated a nail-biting route to the semifinals, tracking down rookie Jonathan Gray in the first session of eliminations after Gray recorded a near-perfect reaction time. Johnson used a 6.559 second /211.83 mph run to catch Gray (6.593/209.98) just past the 1,000 ft. mark.
Johnson’s Dodge Dart veered sharply left in the quarterfinals as he fought the machine down the strip, however, opponent Shane Gray encountered even more trouble on his way down the quarter-mile, and Johnson was able to reel in his ride for a winning 7.414/149.88 pass. Johnson showed that the new Dodge Dart is ready for prime time in the semis, unleashing a 6.569/211.79 to knock off top qualifier Dave Connolly (6.583/211.20). In the money round Johnson demonstrated that the driver is just as important as the car, leaving first with a quicker .017-second reaction time to score a holeshot win over Erica Ender-Stevens, despite a 6.566/211.73 pass to her quicker and faster 6.551/211.96.
“What a great job the Mopar engineers, everybody at Chrysler Group, Dodge and SRT did,” said Johnson, the 2012 NHRA Pro Stock champ and 2013 series runner-up. “I just can’t say enough. For the last two weeks since the Phoenix win, it’s been nonstop. My guys haven’t had a day off. It says a tremendous amount about our crew, and the engineering efforts behind it (the Dart).
“Everything to do with the design of the Dart, the engineers took our input and really came up with a great car. To be able to do that (win in its first race) is a huge accomplishment.”
After posting his fastest speed ever (214.62) mile per hour during qualifying in the debut of the Mopar/JEGS.com Dodge Dart, defending NHRA Pro Stock series champ and No. 3 starter Jeg Coughlin Jr. bested Rodger Brogdon in the opening round, reaching the finish line first with a 6.550/211.89 paired with a .019 reaction time. Coughlin’s reflexes were even quicker in the quarterfinals, leaving on Vincent Nobile with a .015 reaction time compared to his opponents slower .021. Unfortunately, the 6.591/211.69 pass by Coughlin wasn’t enough to overcome Nobile’s quicker 6.580/210.60 at the stripe.
The Pro Stock points leader entering the NHRA Gatornationals following two runner-up finishes to start the season, V. Gaines slipped to No. 2 after Gainesville. His 6.571/211.79 in his Dodge Avenger (Gaines will take delivery a new Dodge Dart body shortly) couldn’t match the 6.535/212.59 laid down by Enders-Stevens in the quarterfinals. Mopar-powered Dodge driver Matt Hartford drew Connolly in the first-round, where his day ended
In Top Fuel, Kalitta gained revenge from Phoenix, defeating Antron Brown in the final with a performance of 3.830 seconds at 323.74 mph in his Mac Tools dragster. Brown’s Matco Tools dragster lost traction early in the run and finished in 5.106 at 147.50.
Kalitta was happy to finally break into the winner’s circle. He posted a runner-up finish at the season-opener in Pomona and fell to Brown in the semifinals in the season’s second race two weeks ago in Arizona.
“We’ve been trying to get a win all year, and we’ve been right on the cusp,” said Kalitta of his 34th career victory and third at Gainesville. “We have great support amongst all four of our teams. It’s great that they can all get in there and celebrate on the starting line.”
Kalitta, who was the No. 1 qualifier at the first two events, started as the No. 4 seed here and outran Brittany Force, Kalitta Motorsports teammate David Grubnic and Steve Torrence before racing past Brown in the final. The Ypsilanti, Mich. native was pleased to get his longtime sponsor a victory over the rival company that sponsors Brown’s machine.
“The ‘tool car’ rounds are important,” said Kalitta, who increased his series points lead with the victory. “We knew there are a lot of distributors out there who are watching and paying attention. I feel very fortunate to get by those guys any time that we can. It seems like it goes back and forth. We’d like to get it a little more on the Mac Tools side than the Matco side, so we’ll see how it goes this year.”
Top Fuel No. 1 qualifier and defending world champ Shawn Langdon was upset in the first round by No. 16 qualifier J.R. Todd, while his Al-Anabi Racing teammate and Winternationals winner Khalid alBalooshi also exited in the opening round.
In Funny Car, Hight defeated father-in-law and 16-time world champ John Force with a winning performance of 4.074 at 314.46 in his Auto Club Ford Mustang. Force’s Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang lost traction early in the run as Hight pulled away.
It was the second career win at Gainesville for Hight and the 30th Funny Car win of his career. Hight was quick to give crew chief Mike Neff credit for keeping his Mustang competitive.
“Mike is a smart racer,” said Hight, who defeated Tony Pedregon, Bob Tasca III and Ron Capps to advance to the final round. “In the first round, we lifted the body up after the burnout, and – he never does this – Mike got into the box and changed a clutch flow. It’s something he must have thought of during the burnout, and he wanted to play it safe. He’s a savvy racer. I have a lot of confidence driving for Mike Neff. He always comes up and says, ‘No pressure. Let’s have some fun.’ I can’t wait to run a full season with him and this team. I think we’re going to hurt some feelings.”
Hight’s win capped a good day for John Force Racing in Funny Car. John Force struggled in qualifying en route to the No. 16 seed, but made his first solid run of the weekend in his win over No. 1 seed Cruz Pedregon. Courtney Force began to turn her season around as well, piloting the Traxxas Ford Mustang to a semifinal loss to her father.
“If you’d have told me this morning that John and I would be in the final, I don’t know if I’d have taken that bet,” said Hight. “Our teams have worked really hard and work well together, but we were struggling. Fortunately for me, the Auto Club team did a good job. I wasn’t on my game in the first round or the semis. Luckily, I had a great race car.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Steve Johnson catapulted from the No. 7 qualifying position and ran through the field to secure his second career Gatornationals victory and first since 2005. Johnson powered his Steve Johnson Racing Suzuki to a 6.912 at 191.32, defeating Scotty Pollacheck, who covered the distance in 7.093 at 191.32 on his Quality Tire Buell in his first Gatornationals final.
Before outrunning Pollacheck in the final, Johnson took out a tough trio in earlier rounds including Katie Sullivan, defending world champ Matt Smith and defending Gatornationals winner Hector Arana Jr.
“The fact that this is the first Suzuki win since 2011 shows that we’ve had a Buell epidemic, actually a V-Twin epidemic,” said Johnson of his sixth career victory. “Last year, I got to the final here and lost to Hector Arana Jr., and I felt like I should have won it. We’ve been close a few times, but we finally broke through. This time, Scotty was next to me, and then I saw him disappear.”
Pro Mod Kickoff!
Mike Castellana outran defending series champ Rickie Smith in the final round to win the Pro Mod Drag Racing Series portion of the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals Sunday. That was the first of 10-events scheduled for the highly popular door slammer class within NHRA this season.
Castellana’s Al-Anabi Racing Camaro powered to a performance of 5.865 seconds at 244.52 mph to hold off Smith’s nitrous-injected IDG Camaro, which trailed with a 5.890 at 245.72. It was the Muttontown N.Y. native’s fifth career victory and first at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville.
Castellana was consistent in his four runs, taking out Todd Tutterow, Steven Whiteley and Raymond Commisso before facing off against Smith.
Smith, the No. 5 qualifier in his IDG ‘12 Chevy Camaro, was looking for his second victory at Gainesville, having defeated Castellana in the final here two years prior. The father of two-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Matt Smith, Smith took out Kevin Fiscus, Troy Coughlin and No. 1 qualifier Danny Rowe on the way to the final.
Event Essentials: 45th Amalie Oil Gatornationals – March 14-17th, 2013 Gainesville FL
|TOP FUEL||Name||ET||MPH||Career Win|
|Low ET:||Shawn Langdon||3.776|
|Top Speed:||Steve Torrence||325.69|
|FUNNY CAR||Name||ET||MPH||Career Win|
|Low ET:||Robert Hight||4.061|
|Top Speed:||John Force||317.12|
|PRO STOCK||Name||ET||MPH||Career Win|
|Low ET:||Dave Connolly||6.476|
|Top Speed:||Erica Enders-Stevens||214.69|
|PRO STOCK BIKE||Name||ET||MPH||Career Win|
|Low ET:||Michael Ray||6.793|
|Top Speed:||Michael Ray||197.74|
|PRO MODIFIED||Name||ET||MPH||Career Win|
|Low ET:||Danny Rowe||5.858|
|Top Speed:||Don Walsh||251.16|
|LUCAS Sportsman Winners:||Name||ET||MPH|
|TA Dragster||Duane Shields||5.335||266.74|
|TA Funny Car||Dan Pomponio||5.662||258.52|
|Top Dragster||Steve Cohen||6.723||192.08|
|Super Stock||Brad Zaskowski||10.13||124.19|
|Super Comp||Gary Williams||8.898||154.76|
|Super Gas||John Taylor||9.910||161.19|
The Lucas Oil Lowdown!
Duane Shields and Dan Pomponio took home wins in Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car for the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville and the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
Shields, Boulder City, Nev., faced off with defending event champion Rich McPhillips, Phoenixville, Pa., who was first off the line before losing cylinders as Shields raced by with a 5.335 second, 266.74 winning pass. Shields scored not once, but twice this weekend as he beat Mike Strasburg in the rain delayed NHRA South Central Division alcohol dragster final that was ran on Friday during national event qualifying.
Pomponio, Berlin, N.J., defended his title from a year ago beating Dale Brand in his final round match up with a run of 5.662, 258.52 as Brand, Sully, Iowa, left early with a foul start. Pomponio ran consistent 5.6’s throughout eliminations taking out Andy Bohl, No. 1 qualifier Ulf Leanders, and Steve Harker on his way to the final.
Three Florida racers visited the winner’s circle as Gary Williams, Jacksonville Beach, Fla., and John Taylor, Naples, Fla., each grabbed their first NHRA national event win while Steve Cohen, Trilby, Fla., bagged his 19th. Williams won on a double breakout with Raymond Miller, Spring Hill, Fla., in Super Comp as both drivers had great reaction times but Williams was better at the finish line. Taylor was better at both ends of the track in Super Gas over John Labbous Jr., White House, Tenn., and Cohen outran Larry Strickland, Oxford, Fla., in Top Dragster posting a run of 6.723 seconds at 192.08 mph in his ’11 dragster.
Steve Ambrose had to run down Pat Ross who got the holeshot in Comp Eliminator. The Woodhaven, Mich., racer Ambrose went 7.718 seconds in his ’23 roadster.
Rounding out the winners were Brad Zaskowski and Gene Jordan in Super Stock and Stock respectively. Zaskowski, Belding, Mich., won over Joe Tysinger, Wrightsville, Beach, N.C., for his 5th national event win and Jordan, Reidsville, N.C., won against Mickey Whaley, in his ’69 Camaro.
Posted with files from NHRA Communications, Pat Caporali, Bruce Biegler & Eric Lotz
Photos by: Bruce Biegler & Tracy Waters
Visit DragRaceCanada’s extensive Gatornationals event photo gallery : HERE