Story By: NHRA – GAINESVILLE, FL – It was important for Terry McMillen to start the 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season on a good note. The Top Fuel veteran responded with his quickest career run at the most recent race, giving McMillen plenty of momentum heading into perhaps his favorite race of the year, the 51st annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, which takes place March 12-15 at Gainesville Raceway.
As the driver of the 11,000-horsepower AMALIE Motor Oil XTERMIGATOR dragster, racing at his sponsor’s race at one of the most iconic tracks on the circuit means a great deal to the popular McMillen. Knowing his dragster is capable of running well, McMillen hopes it leads to what would be one of the biggest wins of his career.
“For me, it’s great to see the smiles on all the faces of the AMALIE employees when we get to showcase everything,” McMillen said. “The fans there are certainly great and there’s just something about racing the Gator car at the Gatornationals in Gainesville. The people love it and I’ve met a lot of great folks. It’s been very cool and exciting to see it all come together.”
Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are defending winners of an event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including finals coverage on Sunday, March 15 at 9:30 p.m. (ET). It is the third of 24 races during the 2020 season and the action will start early with the thrilling NHRA Prime Time during the second qualifying session on Friday.
McMillen had a strong showing in Phoenix, running a career-best 3.691-seconds, which was precisely the type of progress the team hoped to see early in 2020. Things didn’t go as planned during the middle portion of the season in 2019, but a solid finish had McMillen thinking they weren’t far off from a big turnaround. That turned out to be true and now McMillen and his team, led by crew chief Rob Wendland, are ready for more.
“We learned some things at the end of last season and finished well, and that gave us a stepping-stone to where we’re at now,” McMillen said. “All of this is a confidence-builder. I can go up to the starting line and stay focused on what I need to do. It takes a lot of pressure off. Now it’s a matter of taking advantage of everything. We have to keep the car 100 percent and ready to go, maintained properly and we can’t make mistakes.”
McMillen, who has two career Top Fuel wins, knows he will need to be flawless in Gainesville to get a victory. That’s the nature of the Top Fuel class, which is loaded with top-tier talent like back-to-back world champ Steve Torrence, who won in Phoenix, Pomona winner Doug Kalitta, Shawn Langdon, 2017 world champ Brittany Force, Austin Prock and Clay Millican. But McMillen believes his team is heading in the right direction, which could lead to a strong showing in Gainesville.
“I think we’re in a really good place,” McMillen said. “The car is running so good. It’s been a process to get here, and Rob is doing a tremendous job. He’s got the car in a good place and it’s exciting. We’re proving that this car can run with anybody. We had a great off-season and the new guys have really gelled. It’s like a family right now. Those things set the tone and I believe our future is good.”
Hight used his fourth win at the legendary facility as momentum for his third world title in Funny Car. He’ll face off in the loaded class against Pomona winner Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr., who won in Phoenix, John Force, J.R. Todd and Ron Capps.
Butner claimed his first Gatornationals win in Pro Stock a year ago, but 2020 has belonged to rival team Elite Motorsports thus far. Jeg Coughlin Jr. won the opener, while reigning world champ Erica Enders grabbed the victory in Phoenix. The NHRA is also celebrating the 50th anniversary of Pro Stock in 2020. Class legends Larry Morgan and Tony Christian will be honored during the race.
Pro Stock Motorcycle makes its annual debut at the race, and Hines is the defending race winner. He won his sixth world title, but will be challenged by Eddie Krawiec, Matt Smith, Hector Arana Jr., Jerry Savoie and Angelle Sampey.
The event is also the season-opening race for the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series. The race is presented by FuelTech, and the defending winner is Todd Tutterow, who knocked off reigning world champ Stevie “Fast” Jackson in the final round. The races also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where future stars of the sport hone their skills, as well as the first race of the 2020 SAMTech.edu Factory Stock Showdown Drag Racing Series season.
After Nitro qualifying on Friday, fans can watch “The Quartermaster” Mustang Jet Funny Car driven by David Douthit. Jet cars are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
For the first time, Tom Bailey and Rod Tschiggfrie will participate in an NHRA Street Car Showdown, making several passes throughout the weekend. Fans won’t want to miss the fastest street car versus the quickest street car showdown.
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.
NHRA fans can take part in the NHRA 101 walking tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Gainesville Raceway will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by Darrell Gwynn. The track walk will serve as a fundraiser for the Darrell Gwynn Quality of Life foundation, which is a chapter of the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. New for 2020, the winner’s circle will be moved to the track surface, allowing fans a more intimate and up-close experience to help celebrate the event winners.
While enjoying the Gatornationals, fans who renew their tickets on-site will receive a FREE NHRA Legend mini replica helmet, commemorating NHRA’s historic 70th anniversary in 2021.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, March 13 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, March 14 at 12:45 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 15.