Gainesville event coverage
Top Fuel: Brown Comeback Complete in Milestone WinWritten by Candida Benson
Antron Brown had about as rough of a start to the 2013 season as you can having, crashing and destroying his dragster in the second round at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries. His team did a masterful job of getting a new car together in one week so he could compete the following weekend in Phoenix, and Brown had a solid first outing in the new car’s debut, advancing to the semi’s. But now the comeback is officially complete for Brown, who had a very strong race day at the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals to pick up his 38th career victory and move up to the top of the Top Fuel points standings. Adding to the excitement, the win was No. 200 for Don Schumacher Racing.
“This is a totally brand-new car that we had upstairs that they pulled out for Phoenix. We came back out there, and everybody said, ‘You haven’t skipped a beat,’ because that’s what we do. Hopefully, we get to put Pomona behind us and keep moving forward,” said Brown. “The Top Fuel class right now is by far the toughest it’s ever been, and different people are setting low e.t.s, so you don’t know what to expect. You’ve got all these guys that can throw up a run at any time. You can’t take any of these guys lightly or else you’ll be going home. To win now, you have to have every piece of the pie. You can’t have three quarters of it and expect to win anymore; you can’t do it.”
Brown’s Matco Tools dragster lived in the 3.7-second zone throughout eliminations, capped by a 3.761 that was low e.t. of the weekend in the final against Clay Millican. Brown’s previous runs were 3.78, 3.77, and 3.77 in respective wins against Larry Dixon, Steve Torrence, and Spencer Massey.
Millican had a solid outing as well but was just a tick behind Brown and the other top-running cars with all low 3.8s. He opened with a 3.80 against Brittany Force and followed it with a 3.83 against Khalid alBalooshi, a 3.81 against Doug Kalitta, and a 3.81 losing effort in the final.
Funny Car: After Runner-up Last Year, Gray Gets it DoneWritten by Candida Benson
At last year’s Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals, Johnny Gray got to the final but couldn’t seal the deal against Robert Hight. Today, he took care of that unfinished business, putting together a strong four-round performance that included three 4.0s and a 4.1 en route to victory, his fourth win. In the process, Gray tied Ron Capps for the points lead.
“It was nice [to win] being as this is my last year,” said Gray, who announced during the off-season that the 2013 would be his final full-time season in drag racing. “As Antron [Brown] said, the Gatornationals is just such a prestigious race, and to win it, it’s just a great feeling. I was pretty disappointed last year. We had a great race car, and we should have won it, and it just wasn’t our day.
“This is my last season to run the points chase. I’m done. It’s very grueling just to come do all the races and all the traveling involved. Right now, I’m in pretty decent health, and I love to bass fish, and there’s a lot of other things I’d like to do. Will I ever come out and play with something or something? Who knows. I’m not saying I won’t come do something like that, but to come run all the races, I’m done.”
Gray opened eliminations with a 4.038, low e.t. of eliminations, to defeat Jeff Arend. Gray continued to march from there, posting a 4.08 against Alexis DeJoria, a 4.14 against Jack Beckman, and, in the final, a 4.05 to stop Del Worsham. On that 4.05 pass in the final, Gray also went 315.49 mph, top speed of the weekend.
Worsham, who had lane choice for the title round after clocking a 4.07 against Hight in the semi’s, stayed right with Gray all the way down the dragstrip, finishing with a 4.10. Worsham also defeated Tim Wilkerson and Courtney Force en route to the final.
Pro Stock: Johnson Turns the Tables on CoughlinWritten by Kevin McKenna
As Pro Stock’s all-time leader in holeshot wins, Jeg Coughlin Jr. doesn’t often surrender a starting-line advantage. Even more infrequent are the times when Coughlin gets beat on holeshots, but teammate Allen Johnson gave the four-time champion a taste of his own medicine in the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals final. Johnson grabbed the lead against Coughlin by .026-second in the all-Dodge final round and held on for the win, 6.535 to 6.514. The difference at the finish line was just .005-second.
"When we brought Jeggie on as a teammate along with Vincent [Nobile], a lot of people asked me why I'd hire my own assasin and have the two best drivers in the class racing against me. The truth is they both make me a better driver. Last year, I had to race Vincent all six races in the Countdown, and I beat him all six times. That was because he made me a better driver," said Johnson.
The win over Coughlin capped a stellar day for the reigning NHRA Pro Stock champ; Johnson, who qualified No. 2 in the quick field, also defeated semifinal opponent Jason Line on a holeshot, 6.532 to 6.501. In that round, Johnson grabbed a four-hundredths starting-line lead against Line’s Summit Camaro.
"It's early in the season so we're not thinking about the championship," said Johnson. "Our goal at every race is to qualify No. 1 and win the race. We didnt' qualify No. 1 here but we ran well and got the win and I ran a teammate in the final so it was a good day.
"Our goal at the end of the season is to put all three of these Dodges in the top five," Johnson continued. "We came here with ten engines and used seven of them so we've got some work to do when we get home but I'm happy with what we've done here."
While his driving was outstanding, Johnson also benefited from a little good fortune, especially during his quarterfinal win against Erica Enders-Stevens and her new Camaro. Both drivers shook the tires just off the starting line, but Johnson was able to recover to take the win with an off-pace 7.20 in what he later described as a “good old pedalfest”.
Johnson’s path to the final also included a round-one win over fellow Dodge driver Matt Hartford. The win was the 17th of Johnson’s career in 37 final-round appearances.
Coughlin, who earlier watched his nephew, Troy Jr., claim the Super Gas title in the family’s JEGS.com Corvette roadster, reached his second final round of the season following wins against Greg Stanfield, Greg Anderson, and low qualifier Mike Edwards, who shut off early. Prior to his loss against Coughlin, Edwards had made six straight runs in the 6.4-second zone and established a new elapsed time record with a pair of 6.473-second runs. Despite the loss, Edwards was able to pass Pomona winner Vincent Nobile for the lead in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series standings.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: Arana Returns to Winning FormWritten by Kevin McKenna
To suggest that the 2013 season was disappointing for almost any rider not on a Harley-Davidson would be a big understatement. The dominant Vance & Hines team of Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines combined to win 15 of 16 events and finish 1-2 in the points standings. No team was more frustrated in 2012 than the father-son duo of Hector Arana Sr. and Jr. who went winless after a solid 2011 campaign. Hector Jr. made sure that the Arana’s will not go winless again in 2013 by riding to a 6.88 to 6.90 win over Steve Johnson’s Suzuki in the final round.
"For us to come here and qualify all three of our bikes and then go out and get the win is a big accomplishment," said Hector Jr. "I'm really happy for my brother [Adam]. He only had five passes on the bike and then came here and qualified for his first race. I didn't do that."
Hector Jr. qualified No. 2 in the field behind Matt Smith and rode to the final round with wins over Michael Phillips, reigning champ Krawiec, and his father, Hector Sr. In the quarterfinals against Krawiec, Hector Jr. left the starting line with a nearly perfect .006 reaction time and held one for the win, 6.87 to 6.89.
The semifinal battle between father and son was also memorable because Hector Jr. posted a 6.849 to take the holeshot win over his father’s 6.844, earning a spot in his ninth career final round.
"When we ran we knew going in there would be an Arana bike in the final, so we too a stab at it and ran a 6.84. My dad is very competitive, so I don't think he liked getting beat on a holeshot. When I saw the win light, I had to tell myself 'No fist pumps' because I didn't want to show him up.
"This is the first race, but I think we've taken a big step in the right direction," Hector Jr. said. "I like where the class is going. We had some real parity this weekend. The Harleys still ran well, but its not the same as last year. It's going to make for some great racing."
Johnson, the 2005 Gatornationals champion, was one of the biggest surprises in qualifying when he rode his Vance & Hines-powered entry to a 6.825, tying LE Tonglet and Karen Stoffer for the sport’s quickest Suzuki pass. Johnson continued to shine in eliminations as he rode past Tonglet, Andrew Hines, and Sovereign/Star rider Scotty Pollacheck. Johnson has now appeared in 17 final rounds during his career, which now spans nearly 30 years.
Pro Mod, Lucas Oil Champs CrownedWritten by Phil Burgess
In addition to the NHRA Mello Yello event champions, eight other Gatornationals winners were crowned.
In Top Alcohol Dragster, Rich McPhllips defeated Ken Perry, 5.33 to 5.42. In Top Alcohol Funny Car, Dan Pomponio bested Todd Veney in a drama-filled final after Veney and Jay Blake’s team barely made it to the starting line on time after a thrash between rounds.
Frank Aragona Jr. defeated Steve Ambrose for the Comp title, and in Super Stock, Anthony Bertozzi took the win over Herbie Null. Bo Butner grabbed the Stock Wally with a conquest of Charley Downing, and Super Comp went to Greg Kamplain over Mia Tedesco; Tedesco also lost the Super Gas final to troy Coughlin Jr.
The first NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series win and the points lead went to Von Smith on Chip King’s final-round red-light.
Tedesco on the Verge of HistoryWritten by Kevin McKenna
3:57 p.m.: Up-and-coming Sportsman star Mia Tedesco will have an opportunity to make history at the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals as she prepares to race in both the Super Comp and Super Gas final rounds. If she can win both finals, she will become the first woman to accomplish the rare feat. Two other female racers, Michelle Furr and Brina Splingaire, have raced in two finals, and on both occasions, they earned a win and a runner-up finish. Furr raced in two finals at the 2011 fall Charlotte event, and Splingaire drove to a win in Super Gas and a runner-up finish in Super Comp at the 2008 Brainerd race.
Tedesco, who has won numerous big money E.T. bracket events, will race her CARS Chevy Cavalier in the Super Gas final against another young gun, Troy Coughlin Jr., who just happens to be her boyfriend. Earlier this weekend, Coughlin crashed his JEGS Mail Order Super Comp dragster but rallied to make the final in his Super Gas Corvette.
In Super Comp, there are currently three cars remaining, but Tedesco has the bye into the final round where she will face either former world champion Ed Richardson or Division 3 hitter Greg Kamplain.
Update: Unfortunately for Tedesco, she lost both finals, falling first to Coughlin, 9.93 to her breakout 9.88, then lost the Super Comp final to Greg Kamplain, 8.919 to 8.903.
Brown, Millican Advance to Top Fuel Title RoundWritten by Candida Benson
3:50 p.m.: Will the fifth time be the charm for Clay Millican? The likeable Tennessee native will get another shot at his first NHRA victory after he bested Doug Kalitta in the semi’s to advance to his fifth career final. Millican’s Parts Plus Top Fuel entry (pictured) went right downtrack, posting a 3.81 to get by No. 1 qualifier Kalitta, who smoked the tires. Millican's run was his third straight 3.8 in eliminations. He posted a 3.80 against Brittany Force in round one and a 3.83 in his second-round victory over Khalid alBalooshi.
Millican will face a very tough task in the final, taking on Antron Brown, whose Matco Tools entry has lived in the 3.7s. In the semifinals, Brown clocked a 3.77 to edge out teammate Spencer Massey, who finished with a 3.79. This is Brown's 75th final, and he is seeking his first Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals victory.
Worsham, Gray to Battle in Funny Car FinalWritten by Candida Benson
3:40 p.m.: Two drivers who have had a fairly slow start to the season, combining for two round-wins in the first two events, are having a rebound weekend in Gainesville, advancing to the final round. Del Worsham (pictured), who was 0-2 this season, and Johnny Gray, who went to the semi’s in Pomona but lost in round one last outing in Phoenix, will square off in the Funny Car final at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville.
Worsham, who has two Gainesville wins, one in Top Fuel and one in Funny Car, earned a spot in the title round with a semifinal win against Robert Hight. Worsham posted a 4.07 to handily stop Hight’s tire-smoking effort.
Gray was the runner-up at this event last year, and he will get a second chance at Gators glory after he stopped teammate Jack Beckman in the semi’s. After a pair of 4.0s to open eliminations, Gray slowed to a 4.14, but it was more than enough to cover Beckman, who hazed the hides.
All-Mopar Final to Feature Johnson, CoughlinWritten by Kevin McKenna
3:34 p.m.: Jeg Coughlin Jr., who has made a career out of winning races as an underdog, reached his second Pro Stock final round of the young 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season after stopping Mike Edwards in the semifinals. Edwards, who had run nothing but 6.4s in qualifying and eliminations, shook the tires and shut off allowing Coughlin to take the win with a 6.525.
Coughlin’s opponent will be his teammate, reigning NHRA Pro Stock champion Allen Johnson. Johnson used to a .020 to .063 starting-line advantage to take his Mopar Dodge to a holeshot win over Jason Line’s Summit Pontiac, 6.532 to 6.501. Coughlin, who last won the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals in 2008, will enjoy lane choice.
Johnson to Face Arana in Pro Stock Motorcycle FinalWritten by Kevin McKenna
3:24 p.m: Steve Johnson will take on Hector Arana Jr. in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final. Johnson, whose five career wins includes the 2005 Gatornationals title, earned a spot in the final after beating Scotty Pollacheck in the semi’s, 6.840 to 6.885.
Johnson will take on the Lucas Oil Buell of Hector Arana Jr., who reached the final round after a holeshot win over his father, Hector Sr. The younger Arana left first by .012-second and held on for a 6.849 to 6.844 win. Johnson, who is appearing in his 17th career final, will enjoy lane choice.