NHRA’s 2018 Drag Racing season entered a higher phase with it’s tradition rich Eastern opener at fabled Gainesville Raceway last weekend….

Australian-native Richie Crampton emerged as the event’s Top Fuel champion, while “Fast Jack” Beckman (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also winners in their respective categories during the incident filled Amalie Oil Gatornationals — the 3rd of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Crampton got the uncontested win when he piloted his Kalitta Air/DHL dragster, which is tuned by Canadian Rob Flynn, to the winning run of 3.854 seconds at 314.90 mph after Shawn Reed had to shut off his dragster (due to fuel leak) on the starting line. This is Crampton’s first Wally since Dallas 2015, first event victory at Gainesville Raceway, and eighth overall.

Australia’s Richie Crampton won his 8th career NHRA Top Fuel event

“This is probably one of my most rewarding wins, ever,” Crampton said. “All I ever wanted to do was stand in the winner’s circle with (team owner) Connie Kalitta. Not a lot of people have had that luxury and I’m not taking this one lightly.”

Reed, who raced to his first career final round, started from the No. 12 position and defeated Pat Dakin, Tony Schumacher, and No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican before the final.

Shawn Reed’s runner-up was a truly inspiring finish for his Canadian-based race team which is owned by Barry and Todd Paton and based from Paris Ontario.

Skilled Drag Boat cross over racer Shawn Reed took the Canadian-based Paton Racing dragster to the Top Fuel final round!

(Editors NoteDragRaceCanada will post additional details on that great independent effort – coming soon to the “Lucas Oil Hotzone” subsection).

Beckman claimed his first Funny Car victory at Gainesville with a hole-shot win of 4.035 at 323.58 in his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T against teammate Matt Hagan. After earning the No. 1 qualifier on Saturday, Beckman secured his first victory since St. Louis 2017.

“Winning this race was such a bucket-list thing,” Beckman said, “The Gatornationals came on the schedule in 1970, that year was a big year for our sport and it has been at this track ever since and I’ve never gotten close.”

“Fast Jack” Beckman was a popular winner in fuel FC racing – winning from the pole.

Beckman raced against Jim Campbell, Del Worsham, and Shawn Langdon before entering his first final round of the season.

Hagan and Robert Hight experienced side-by-side explosions during the quarterfinals destroying the Funny Car bodies of both competitors. Hagan brought out a back-up car to defeat teammate Ron Capps in the semi-finals to advance to his second final round of the season.  (*Check out the video link to that : HERE)

In Pro Stock, Gray powered his Gray Motorsports Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro to victory with a run of 6.588 at 210.18 to defeat defending category world champion Bo Butner in the final round. This is his first career win at Gainesville and is a third-generation event winner.

“We’ve been struggling since the beginning of the season,” Gray said. “Today was our first-round win of the season. It has definitely been a struggle, but I think it is starting to come around.”

Third generation racer Tanner Gray scored his 3rd career win in Pro Stock at Gainesville.

Gray was the first driver since 2015 to win from the No. 11 qualifier position and defeated Deric Kramer, Chris McGaha, and Vincent Nobile. Butner qualified in the fifth position and bested Jeg Coughlin Jr., Alan Prusiensky, and Drew Skillman before facing Gray.

Defending event and world champion Eddie Krawiec rode his bike to winner’s circle with a pass of 6.824 at 198.44 on his Screamin’ Eagles Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. This is his sixth event victory and third consecutive win at Gainesville.

Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines battled it out in the all Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson brand Pro Stock Motorcycle final.

“Right now, I’m riding with the confidence that no one can beat me,” Krawiec stated. “I have a great motorcycle underneath me and a great team behind me. Anytime a rider or a driver has confidence it just makes them that much better.”

Krawiec was the No. 2 qualifier and was victorious against LE Tonglet, Steve Johnson, Hector Arana, the No. 1 qualifier, and teammate Andrew Hines in the final round.

Hector Arana Jr., made history during qualifying for the PSM category when he recorded that classes first ever and much tried for 200 mph run.

Riding his Lucas Oil sponsored Buell – Arana Jr., clocked a historic 200.23 mph during the 3rd session and with that collected a cool $10G performance bounty from sponsor Denso Spark Plugs for his efforts. Later Arana Jr., went even faster — with a 201.01 mph terminal top end speed.

Hector Arana Jr., made history – recording the first ever 200+ mph runs in Pro Stock Motorcycle class history – riding his Lucas Oil Buell!

Pro Mod Program Powerplay

The Amalie Oil Gatornationals included the largest ever assembly of Pro Modified class cars with no less then 35 machines being entered for the E3 Spark Plugs 16-car field.

Wily veteran class racer Rickie Smith drove to victory during the event which was presented by J&A Service and by Jerry Bickel Race Cars which was the first of 12 events schedule for this season.

Smith ran a 5.794-second pass at 249.76 mph in his nitrous Chevrolet Camaro to take down the supercharged Camaro raced by Mike Janis in the final round. It was Smith’s first victory since Englishtown in 2017 and the 12th of his career. Smith defeated Bob Rahaim, Jim Whiteley and Mike Castellana on his way to the win.

Rickie Smith notched his 12th career NHRA Pro Mod class victory.

“To be able to come out here after not having a sponsor all winter and not knowing what we were going to do this season and then end up getting a win in the first race is really special,” Smith said. “I started winning championships in 1976, and to keep winning races at this age is just unreal.”

Janis secured the fifth runner-up finish of his Pro Mod career, as he chases his first victory since the 2015 season.

Smith finished the 2017 season ninth in the standings and leaves the season-opening event as the points leader in pursuit of his fifth championship.

Mike Castellana was credited with low ET of the event (5.746 secs) and Jose Gonzalez set top speed at 256.45 mph. All the cars entered produced super quick bump of 5.832 secs.

(Editor’s Note:  More details on the Pro Mod class racing event at Gainesville can be viewed within DragRaceCanada’s VP Racing Fuels Pro Mod Portal : HERE)

The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service continues at the NHRA SpringNationals in Houston, Tex. on April 20-22.

An FS/XX Fantasy!

NHRA’s Factory Stock Showdown Series presented by Sam-Tech continued it’s amazing momentum and solid gains in popularity with it’s season-opening event.

That 16-car field, which attracted a record entry list of 30 cars (!), was won by Louisiana’s Steven Bell. Bell, who is a very successful owner of car dealership franchises, raced his Chevy Camaro past Aaron Stanfield in the all COPO final round — winning with a 8.176 secs ET at 167.47 mph.

Bell had defeated the Mopar of Joseph Welch in round one, the Mustang of Charles Watson in round two and then the COPO raced by Leonard Libersher in the semi final round.

Stephen Bell won a very feisty Factory Stock Showdown title with his COPO Camaro

The event featured a stunning 8.188 secs bump spot and no less then three drivers cracked the much sought after 170 mph barrier — defending series champion David Barton (171.36 mph), Pete Gasko Jr (170.23 mph) and Randy Taylor (170.66 mph)!

David Barton was also credited with low ET of the race — hitting a 8.020 secs to pace the field during qualifying.

Leah Pritchett’s Dodge Challenger was just one of 30 cars entered for the Sam-Tech Factory Stock Showdown event!

M/T Motorcycle Masterpiece

NHRA’s Mickey Thompson present Top Fuel Harley program was run for the first time at Gainesville Raceway and that also drew in a record number of entries with 20 riders vying for only the 8 qualified slots.

North Carolina’s Tii Tharpe emerged the winner when he beat class veteran Bob Malloy to the stripe in the final – winning a 6.313 secs 230.29 mph to 6.546 secs 172.89 mph decision.

North Carolina’s Tii Tharpe won over the largest assembly of Top Fuel Harley racers in NHRA history.

Tharpe had outrun Dennis Fisher and Bill Jackson earlier rounds after qualifying #2 (6.326 secs).

Tharpe’s win moved him into a tie with Doug Vancil at the top of the points (183 each) after the 3rd event of the scheduled 8-race TFH season series.

Bob Malloy’s had a 6.238 secs which was low ET of the event and Doug Vancil’s 233.80 mph ride was top MPH for the breed.

The Lucas Oil Lowdown 


The Gatornationals TA winners were Sean Bellemeur (TAFC) and Chris Demke (TAD).

NHRA’s exciting and backbone Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series racer action was ferocious at Gainesville and that included significant wins for California invading racers Chris Demke, Valencia, CA., and Sean Bellemeur, Placentia, CA., who  took home the wins in Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car respectively.

Demke, worked his way through the field and ran 5.305 seconds at 273.33 mph in his final round victory over Josh Hart, Ocala, Fla., who clocked in at 5.313 seconds at 270.70 mph.

Bellemeur faced off against Annie Whiteley, Grand Junction, Colo., and posted a winning run of 5.460 seconds at 268.28 mph in his Chevy Camaro. Whiteley drove to a 5.483 second, 270.43 mph lap for her runner-up finish.

Frank Aragona, Freehold, N.J., and Kevin Riner, Autryville, N.C., took home trophies in Comp and Super Stock respectively. Aragona beat out Greg Kamplain, Brownsburg, Ind., with a lap of 7.332 seconds at 181.52 mph, while Riner drove his Chevy Camaro to the win over Pat Clifford, Apoka, Fla.

In the division’s Top Sportsman class presented by Racing RV’s, Ronnie Proctor Sr., Harpers Ferry, W.Va., registered a time of 8.583 seconds, at 126.64 mph. for a victory pass.

In the division’s Top Dragster class presented by Racing RV’s, it was Canada’s Al Kenny (Kingston, On)., taking the win dialing in at 6.291 seconds at 180.75 mph in the final round.  (Editor’s Note:  More details on Al’s win coming soon to DragRaceCanada’s Lucas Oil Hotzone)

Canadian Al Kenny won in Top Dragster category racing

Other racers visiting the winner’s circle this weekend were Jeff Taylor, in Stock; Greg Slack, in Super Comp and Jim Perry Jr., in Super Gas.

Frank Aragona (near lane), defeated Greg Kamplain in the Competition eliminator final round.

Jim Perry won in Super Gas with his new look Chevy S-10


Jeff Taylor won in Stock eliminator with his COPO Camaro.

Posted with files by NHRA Communications and Bruce Biegler

Photos by Bruce Biegler – Phil Hutchison – Tracy Waters

To view additional images from the Amalie Oil Gatornationals event — check out our event media gallery : HERE