Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – GAINESVILLE, FL – Gainesville Raceway was home to Brittany Force’s first great moment in her own racing career. But her memories at the iconic track stretch back much further and those moments will come flooding back as the Top Fuel star prepares for this weekend’s 51st annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
From being at the track as a baby to winning her first career race in Top Fuel, Gainesville has been home to so many enjoyable occasions in her career. She’ll look to add another in her 11,000-horsepower Monster Energy dragster, but there’s no denying the impact the track has had on her career, whether it was going there as a youngster to watch her dad, legendary 16-time Funny Car world champ John Force, or collecting her first career NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series win in 2016.
“That first win is something you’ll never forget,” Force said. “It was a big one for me. I had been chasing that for a long time and that it happened at such a historic track, that’s something else that makes it so memorable. It’s a track I grew up at. I remember going there as kids, flying clear across the country. It was a big event for my whole family, sitting in the stands and cheering on my dad. It was always on the circuit when we were kids, and the Gatornationals was always on the list of races we got to go to.”
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.
Force’s first career Top Fuel win also included the first John Force Racing double-up, as reigning Funny Car world champion Hight also won that weekend in 2016. It added to the magnitude of that special moment for Force, who has lauded Hight for his role in her standout career. Since then, Force has impressed at every turn, winning the 2017 championship and finishing third last year. She’s second through two events in 2020, qualifying in the top spot at the first two races. Force also had high praise for her team, led by David Grubnic and Mac Savage, as they start their second year together.
“One of the things coming into this season is my confidence level is at a different place than last season at this time,” said Force, who has 10 career wins. “We brought in a whole group last year from top to bottom. It wasn’t easy for anyone and it was a lot of adjustments. But David Grubnic and Mac Savage made a point for everyone to get to know each other, and we all got along so well. It’s been really great.”
A cohesive team is a must in a Top Fuel class loaded with quality contenders, including back-to-back world champ Steve Torrence, who won in Phoenix, Pomona winner Doug Kalitta, Austin Prock, Force’s teammate in Top Fuel, Clay Millican, Terry McMillen, Antron Brown, Leah Pruett and Shawn Langdon. After a close loss in Phoenix, where Force trailed Kalitta on the starting line, the standout is more than ready to get back to racing in Gainesville.
“I’m anxious to get there,” Force said. “In the second round at Phoenix, I screwed up. I’m ready to put it behind us and I’m ready to get in the swing of things. I love Grubnic’s style and the way he incorporates the whole team. He gets everyone involved, he asks for our advice, and I love learning from him and working with him. We’ve got a whole new level of confidence and we’re going to attack and be aggressive out there.”
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, J. 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 NHRA announcer Joe Castello. 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.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.