BUSCH JOINS PETTY, PEARSON, ROUSH, ANDRETTI AND OTHER DRIVERS FROM MAJOR RACING SERIES WHO HAVE MOONLIGHTED IN NHRA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – NASCAR star Kurt Busch will make his NHRA debut this weekend in the 200-mph Pro Stock category at one of NHRA’s biggest events, the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals at historic Gainesville Raceway.
Busch, who won the NASCAR Cup title in 2004 and has claimed 22 victories and 12 pole positions during his 12-year career behind the wheel of a stock car, isn’t the first NASCAR champion or even the first high-profile driver from another major motorsports series to give the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series a try.
In 1965, the king of stock car racing, Richard Petty, competed in two NHRA national events as well as countless match races at dragstrips around the country in his famed Carolina blue No. 43 Plymouth. Petty’s foray into the straightline sport was brief, as at the time he was protesting a NASCAR ruling that outlawed his preferred Chrysler 426 Hemi engine. Once NASCAR allowed the 426 back into competition, Petty, who had earned his first NASCAR series championship in 1964, returned to the stock car scene and went on to claim six more Cup titles.
Another legendary NASCAR driver, David Pearson, also ventured into the NHRA world at the same time as Petty. Pearson drove a Dodge Dart station wagon in several exhibition match races on the dragstrip for legendary NASCAR racer and team owner Cotton Owens. The car, which was fueled by a combination of nitro and alcohol and powered by a Hemi that sat in the back of the wagon, was nicknamed “The Cotton Picker” and set top speed in the Experimental Class at Bristol Dragway in ‘65.
Two successful NASCAR team owners, Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs, had success in NHRA competition before they moved over to the NASCAR world. Roush was a competitor in NHRA Pro Stock and later partnered with Wayne Gapp. The Gapp and Roush team raced to multiple NHRA national event victories in the 1970s in their famed Ford Mavericks and Pintos.
Later, in the mid-1990s, Gibbs owned a trio of McDonald’s sponsored NHRA cars, including a Top Fuel dragster driven by Cory McClenathan, a Funny Car piloted by Cruz Pedregon and a Pro Stock car driven by Jim Yates. The team was extremely competitive. They earned many national event victories and No. 1 qualifying efforts, and were constantly in championship contention, ultimately winning two Pro Stock titles in 1996 and 1997.
Five other versatile drivers – Art Malone, Danny Ongais, John Andretti, Paul Gentilozzi and Mickey Thompson – also had success in other racing series as well as NHRA.
Malone was a well-known sidekick of NHRA legend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and also drove some of the fastest cars in the early days of NHRA racing, setting multiple speed records. Malone also competed in the Indy 500 two times, including a career-best finish of 11th, and drove in a variety of different racing venues, from stock cars at Daytona to USAC competition.
Another Indy 500 veteran, Ongais, who posted four top 10 finishes in the open-wheel spectacle at the Brickyard, also was a natural in NHRA competition. He claimed NHRA national event victories in both Top Gas and Funny Car. After driving Roland Leong’s Hawaiian dragster to his first NHRA victory in Top Gas at the 1964 Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., Ongais earned two victories in NHRA Funny Car competition, including the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis in 1969.
Andretti, nephew of Mario, got his start in Indy Car competition, but gave Top Fuel a try in 1993 behind the wheel of Jack Clark’s Taco Bell dragster before he ultimately made the move to NASCAR. Andretti advanced to the semis at Atlanta in his first start behind the wheel of a 7,000-horsepower dragster.
Gentilozzi was a drag racer well before his Rocketsports Racing team was renowned for its road-racing championships, standout Trans Am and IMSA efforts and winning the 24 Hours of Daytona. During his days at the strip, Gentilozzi campaigned a D/Gas Arrow in the late 1970s and drove an ex-Bob Glidden Plymouth Arrow in the early 1980s in Pro Stock competition.
Thompson blazed a trail for motorsports in off-road racing as well as land speed competition, but his roots are firmly planted in NHRA competition, as he is widely credited with designing and building the very first slingshot dragster back in 1954. His Funny Car designs revolutionized the category and his team of drivers, including Ongais, were always among the toughest to beat at the strip.
- SCHEDULE: Full Throttle Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for noon and 2:45 p.m. on Friday, March 11 and 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 12. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 13.
- TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 42nd annual Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals. Call NHRA at (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit nhratix.com.
- ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise 90 minutes of qualifying highlights at midnight (ET) on Sunday, March 13. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage beginning at 6 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, March 13.
- LUCAS OIL SERIES: The 42nd annual Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals also will feature competition in seven categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series gain experience. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 9 a.m. on March 10. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8 a.m. on March 11.
- GET SCREENED AMERICA PRO MOD SERIES: NHRA’s popular Pro Mod touring series will make its first start of the 10-race 2011 season at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals. The series features some of the world’s fastest and most unique doorslammer cars, with an eclectic mix of vintage and late-model body styles, in quarter-mile competition. Two of three scheduled rounds of qualifying will be held on Friday, March 11 at 1:45 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. The final round of qualifying is set for 12:45 p.m. on Saturday, March 12. The first round of eliminations is scheduled for Saturday, March 12 at 3:15 p.m. Eliminations will continue on Sunday, March 13.
- ON THE WEB: Get live timing, scoring, multimedia and the latest news updates from every NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event on the Internet at www.nhra.com. Visit the official NHRA pages on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.