GAINESVILLE, Fla. – After winning the season opener at Pomona, sophomore sensation Courtney Force heads to Florida for the 44th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals, March 14-17, looking to redeem herself from last year’s finish.
The tradition-rich Gatornationals is the annual East Coast opener and is among many drivers’ favorite events. Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s event champions. The third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals will be televised on ESPN2HD.
After a first round loss to Don Schumacher Racing’s Ron Capps last season at historic Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, the 24-year old has grown as a driver and feels confident in her team that they will be able to finish strong.
“I feel that our Traxxas Ford Mustang team has come a long way from when we were racing in Gainesville just a year ago,” Force said. “When I was competing at the race track last year, it had only been my third race as a rookie driver. This track was new and unfamiliar to me, and I struggled. I hope that I can take everything I learned from throughout last season and really improve with my performance going into Gainesville. I've got a great crew chief, Ron Douglas and Dan Hood, tuning my race car and a strong, motivated, group of guys on my team which gives me that extra push of confidence.”
Force does not only have that coveted Winternationals Wally under her belt, but it was announced last week that she was named Rookie of the Year by RACER Magazine, earning 60 percent of the global vote. Force was up against IndyCar’s Simon Pagenaud and Daniel Ricciardo of Formula 1 and is the very first NHRA driver to ever win the award.
“To be considered with top NASCAR, Indy Car and F1 rookies is an honor just in itself and to be voted as Rookie of the Year is unbelievable,” the 2012 Automobile Club Road to the Future Award winner said. “It’s awesome to know that I’m the first NHRA driver to win this award and I have to thank all my fans and especially RACER magazine for this honor.”
Force will have some stiff competition in Funny Car with two-time Gatornationals winner Ron Capps coming fresh of his win in Phoenix in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger. Defending event winner Hight, along with defending world champ Jack Beckman will try to grab their first victories of the season. Others to watch in the 8,000-horsepower category include track record holder Cruz Pedregon, 15-time world champ John Force who has seven Gatornationals victories on his resume, Matt Hagan and Del Worsham who returns to the driver’s seat following a year long retirement.
In Top Fuel, defending event winner Morgan Lucas will be challenged by seven-time world champion and Mello Yello points leader Tony Schumacher, a four-time winner of the Gatornationals. Others seeking wins include defending world champ Antron Brown, Shawn Langdon and Doug Kalitta. Rookie of the Year candidate Brittany Force will make her first pro start at Gainesville in her Castrol Edge dragster.
The Pro Stock class is loaded with championship contenders including defending event winner Mike Edwards in his Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevy Camaro and four-time Gatornationals winner Jason Line. Also looking strong is Phoenix winner Erica Enders-Stevens, points leader Vincent Nobile, world champion Allen Johnson and his teammate Jeg Coughlin, who is a two-time Gatornationals winner.
The competition in the two-wheel class is just as tough as 2012 Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Eddie Krawiec is chasing after his fourth consecutive victory at the historic track on his Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. Hot on the trail is Krawiec’s teammate, Andrew Hines, who won this event in 2004. The trio of Lucas Oil Buell riders, Hector Arana Sr., Hector Arana Jr. and Adam Arana are looking to start off the season on a high note, while other drivers to watch for are power-couple Matt and Angie Smith, Suzuki rider Jimmy Underdahl, Scotty Pollacheck and new Sovereign/Star Buell rider Michael Ray.
The NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, which will compete in 10 events during 2013, also will take to the track for the first time this year as Troy Coughlin looks to defend his world championship title.
NHRA fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers in the pits, NHRA Nitro Alley and the NHRA Manufacturers Midway. Fans will also want to check out Hot Rod Junction presented by the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, which offers a spectacular display of nostalgic dragsters, race cars and hot rods, including vintage machines that were driven by legendary drivers. There will also be several NHRA Legends of Drag Racing autograph sessions scheduled throughout the weekend, allowing fans the rare opportunity to meet many of NHRA Drag Racing's biggest stars from the past.
On Friday, fans will have the exciting opportunity to attend a special Nitro Pit Party and Press Conference in the pro pits. Many of the superstars in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will be featured during the Press Conference, which is set to begin at 10:45 a.m prior to the first qualifying session.
As NHRA continues its Nitro Generation celebration, NHRA is offering free general admission for children 12 and under with a paying adult. Free to all Sunday ticket holders, fans will have the opportunity to participate in the popular Championship Sunday Track Walk with Top Fuel legend and Florida resident Darrell Gwynn. This event gives fans the opportunity to walk down the historic drag strip alongside some of the NHRA’s biggest stars.