Gainesville: Drivers anxiously await Gatornationals

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - When you ask an NHRA racer what he or she thinks about Gainesville Raceway, they usually come up with similar answers: Smooth track, orange groves and sunshine. While they are answering, you might want to sneak a peak at their...

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - When you ask an NHRA racer what he or she thinks about Gainesville Raceway, they usually come up with similar answers: Smooth track, orange groves and sunshine. While they are answering, you might want to sneak a peak at their hands. See those fingers crossed? Gainesville has the potential to be one of the best performance tracks on the circuit.

If the weather is good, the racing can be great. If...

"The track is one of the finest on the circuit," two-time Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin said. "Given the close to sea level conditions we have and the amount of power the Pro Stock cars can make, we can see some outstanding performances if the weather cooperates and it doesn't get too hot. Both lanes are typically in real good shape and the fans are great. It's one of the best events on the schedule."

Coughlin will be aiming to improve on his 2002 runner-up finish at the historic drag strip when the NHRA makes its way back to Gainesville Raceway for the 34th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 13-16. The race is the third of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Coughlin won the race in 2001 and is looking forward to repeating the Sunshine State victory.

"We definitely enjoy racing in Gainesville," Coughlin said. "Over the years we have seen some real good performance numbers there which just makes it more exciting. The weather can be crisp and cool and there is always a lot of good energy at Gainesville."

The Pro Stock Bike category will make the first of 15 appearances on the national event racing schedule in Gainesville. Veteran racers know what the Gainesville track can produce, but that doesn't mean rookies can't get equally as excited.

Pro Stock Bike rider Andrew Hines made his professional racing debut at the Mopar Mile-High Nationals in Denver last year. He qualified for the last seven events of the season, earning him a Rookie of the Year nomination. He isn't a rookie anymore, but he still hasn't gone down the Gainesville Raceway track. And he certainly hasn't done it on a Harley-Davidson, the bike he is slated to ride come March.

"I've only been there three times, so I don't know too much about the track," said Hines, the younger brother of three-time Pro Stock Bike champ Matt Hines. "But I do know that Gainesville could be one of the fastest tracks we race on. I made my career-best runs in Sonoma last year and I think if I had been more experienced in Sonoma, I would have gone even faster. It would be nice to reset those performance numbers in Gainesville on a Harley. From what I hear about that track, it can be done."

Pro Stock's Kurt Johnson has 10 years of racing experience and 23 national event victories, but has yet to drive his ACDelco Chevy Cavalier to a victory at Gainesville.

"Gainesville has always been a great place for us to race," Johnson said. "Coming from Minnesota back in 1976 I remember crossing that state line and seeing all of the sunshine and orange trees and it has since been one of my favorite places to race. It is a nice, flat race track with a great capacity crowd. It is such a great place to race and it is one that I have never won before so I am going to be putting my best efforts toward winning it this year."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Andrew Hines