Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – GAINESVILLE, FL – The most successful driver in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series history will look to hit a historic number at one of the biggest races of the 2019 season. Sixteen-time Funny Car champ John Force is after his 150th career win at the 50th annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway on March 14-17, a weekend that will include some of NHRA’s biggest legends.
J. Force is one of them, an iconic driver still competing in the Funny Car ranks, while the 50th anniversary of one of the NHRA’s most legendary races celebrates the pinnacle of the NHRA Legends Tour as well as the “Unfinished Business” event featuring eight legendary NHRA figures facing off in a head-to-head competition. Combined, it’s a weekend that has the legendary Force extremely excited, especially on the cusp of his 150th win in his 10,000-horsepower PEAK Chevrolet Camaro SS.
“It’s exciting to go back again (to Gainesville), especially knowing that the legends will be there: Joe Amato, Ed McCulloch, Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney and so many more,” J. Force said. “Those are my heroes. To be able to go back and be able to race in front of them, it’s going to be exciting and I really want to do well. I’m going after 150 in my career wins and I hope I can do it in front of those who really matter to me: the fans, the sponsors, and those legends.”
Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the must-see event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including finals coverage on Sunday, March 17 at 7:30 p.m. (ET). It is the third of 24 events during the 2019 campaign and will surely be one of the can’t-miss races of the season. More than 20 NHRA Legends will gather for special meet-and-greets and autograph sessions, while Garlits, Prudhomme, Muldowney, McCulloch, Warren Johnson, Amato, Bernstein and Terry Vance will compete in the “Unfinished Business” race to make the race a colossal event.
J. Force could add to the festivities with his own historic win, furthering his status as NHRA’s winningest driver. He has eight victories at Gainesville Raceway, with the most recent coming in 2017. It’s also second all-time in NHRA history behind Johnson’s nine, adding another possible incredible nugget if Force can come through this weekend.
“Gainesville has been very good to me over the years,” said J. Force, who is currently sixth in Funny Car points. “I’ve won eight races there, I’ve crashed on their premises, been on fire, been in the burn center, but the crowds, the locals and all those fans that come out of the north to come to the warm weather, it’s just unbelievable.”
J. Force has been solid to open 2019, advancing to the semifinals in Pomona before falling to John Force Racing teammate and eventual winner and points leader Robert Hight. With Courtney Force stepping away from the sport, J. Force and Hight have been a strong duo this year, but they’ll have to keep it up against the likes of Phoenix winner Matt Hagan, defending world champ J.R. Todd, Beckman and Bob Tasca.
“My car is coming around, it’s fast and it’s showing the numbers,” J. Force said. “It was a good car for my daughter Courtney last year. She won four races and had 11 No. 1 qualifiers. Her team really loved her, but I’m finally getting to know them all and it’s been going well. I’m really looking forward to going to the Gatornationals with PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil, and rockin’ and rollin’.”
Top Fuel’s Richie Crampton won at Gainesville for the first time in 2018, but will have to get past teammate Doug Kalitta, defending champ Steve Torrence and Brittany Force.
Bo Butner started his Pro Stock year on a strong note with a win in Pomona and the points leader will face off with Phoenix winner Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Jason Line.
Pro Stock Motorcycle makes its annual debut at Gainesville, as defending world champ Matt Smith will look to keep Eddie Krawiec from his fourth straight win at the event. Others to watch include Hector Arana Jr., Scotty Pollacheck and Andrew Hines.
The event is also the season-opening race for the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service and features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where future stars of the sport hone their skills, as well as the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers with an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:15 and 5:00 p.m. on Friday, March 15 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, March 16 at 12:00 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 17.