Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – GAINESVILLE, FL – The way Shawn Langdon sees it, he has a chance to make NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series history at the upcoming 51st annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, which takes place Sept. 25-27 at historic Gainesville Raceway.
Coming off a win at the prestigious U.S. Nationals, the former Top Fuel world champ can follow it with another massive victory at one of the biggest stops on the NHRA tour. After being postponed six months from its traditional March date, the Gatornationals will take place in September for the first time, presenting a unique opportunity for the stars in the NHRA who are eager to do something special in front of the always-passionate fanbase in Gainesville.
“I definitely think winning the U.S. Nationals gives us momentum going to the Gatornationals,” Langdon said. “(Kalitta Motorsports team owner) Connie (Kalitta) has won there the last two years and we have a lot of good data. This DHL Toyota dragster has been so close to winning, it was great to win the biggest race of the year. The Gatornationals is another ‘major’ for our sport. That track has a lot of history and to be able to go back-to-back with a U.S. Nationals win and then a Gatornationals win would be something no one has ever done before.”
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 live finals coverage starting at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 27.
Langdon now pilots the 11,000-horsepower DHL dragster that Crampton took to the Gatornationals winner’s circle the past two years, giving him an added boost of confidence as he tries to track down teammate and points leader Doug Kalitta.
Jack Beckman leads the way in Funny Car following his U.S. Nationals victory, furthering Don Schumacher Racing’s run of dominance in the class. The DSR stable of Beckman, Ron Capps, Matt Hagan and Tommy Johnson Jr. have combined to win the last nine Funny Car races in the class, with Beckman slipping past J.R. Todd in Indy. Well aware of the vast history of the Gatornationals, the veteran knows how significant it would be to pick up a second Gatornationals victory in his 11,000-horsepower Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. With the NHRA’s traditional East Coast opener pushed back several months, he’s also excited to venture somewhere outside of Indianapolis to race for the first time since February.
“I love Indy, but it’s going to be fun to go to a different venue and I fully expect to see fans foaming at the mouth for drag racing,” Beckman said. “The fans in this area have been clamoring for this since March, so it’s going to be a lot of fun. You want to win every race you go to and it would be great to give Don a 10th straight victory. We lost the points lead for a race, so it felt good to come back and vindicate ourselves, and we’ll try to extend it in Gainesville.”
Reigning Pro Stock world champ Erica Enders has a similar mindset after she jumped back into the points lead with her U.S. Nationals victory. It’s just a slim seven-point advantage over Elite Motorsports teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Jason Line is lurking just 11 points back, but Enders is feeling strong after a standout Indy performance in her Melling Performance Chevrolet Camaro. The best way to keep it going in her eyes would be picking up her first Gatornationals victory.
“Racing at Gainesville in the fall will definitely pose some different track conditions, but I’m excited about it,” Enders said. “With only five events left, every single round is going to count, and I think we’re all looking forward to racing there and being at a different venue. It’s a way different way to finish the year, and we’re excited. We have to continue to do our best to execute on Sundays, but my money is on us.”
Speaking of momentum, Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Scotty Pollacheck may have more than anyone entering the Gatornationals. The veteran earned his first career victory, qualified No. 1 and made his first 200 mph run, all at the U.S. Nationals. Things came together perfectly for a storybook weekend, but after tasing success on his Strustmasters.com EBR, Pollacheck doesn’t want it to end. He’ll head to Gainesville with the points lead and eager to race in the category’s first race outside of Indy during a wild and unprecedented 2020 season.
“There’s definitely a lot of excitement and Gainesville has always been one of the majors to me,” Pollacheck said. “ It’s just a great place and it’s truly exciting to go there coming off our first win. The bike has just been super consistent and working everywhere it needs to on the track. It’s just phenomenal to have a fast motorcycle like that. It gives you so much confidence. The competition in this class is so good, but Matt (Smith) is making great power with our engines, and we’re just in a really good spot heading to a premier place with great fans.”
The event will also feature the fourth race of the 2020 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series season. 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 race also includes thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where future stars of the sport hone their skills, as well as the SAMTech.edu Factory Stock Showdown Drag Racing Series and the Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley Series.
On Friday, after the conclusion of Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series qualifying, and Saturday after the final professional qualifier, the two-car jet dragster team from Larsen Motorsports will light up the night sky over Gainesville Raceway with a thrilling high-speed exhibition.
Additionally, the Southeast Nostalgia Pro Stock Group will bring six vintage cars to Gainesville, highlighted by a match race between veteran Frank Teague, who currently pilots the Chevy Camaro that is a tribute to Jerry Eckman, and C.J. Curtis, who drives a 1994 Dodge Avenger that pays tribute to the car driven by two-time world champion Darrell Alderman. Also on display will be faithful recreations of Billy “the Kidd” Stepp’s Plymouth Duster, Don Campanello’s Camaro, and Hubert Platt’s Georgia Shaker Ford Maverick.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 11:45 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 27. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26 and live eliminations beginning at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 27 on FS1.