Gainesville Expanded Gatornationals story

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- John Force capped a record-breaking weekend at the 30th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway by scoring his 72nd career NHRA Funny Car win. It was the eight-time NHRA Winston Funny Car champ's sixth...

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- John Force capped a record-breaking weekend at the 30th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway by scoring his 72nd career NHRA Funny Car win. It was the eight-time NHRA Winston Funny Car champ's sixth victory at the historic event. Force, from Yorba Linda, Calif., set national records for elapsed time and speed (4.799 seconds at 324.05 mph) before defeating upstart Cory Lee in Sunday's final round. The victory, worth $75,000 thanks to a $25,000 bonus from the MBNA World Record Club, was Force's second straight of the season. "We weren't pushing the numbers this weekend, the conditions were so good that the 324 just sort of happened," Force said. "It's been a real good weekend for us. I'm glad we could set some records out here for the fans." Team Mopar's Mike Dunn scored an emotional Top Fuel win for Florida-based owner Darrell Gwynn, while Warren Johnson, Angelle Seeling and Mark Osborne were also winners and record-setters in their respective pro categories at the $2.1 million race, the third of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. Force drove his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to a final round 4.819 at 311.92 to defeat Lee, when his Tom Hoover-owned Pioneer Electronics Dodge Avenger lost traction and ran 8.613 at 101.88. "We got after Cory in the final because we knew the kid could push it," said Force, who defeated archrival Al Hofmann, Tim Wilkerson and Frank Pedregon to advance to the final. "We weren't taking him lightly in the final. A young team like that with the experience of Hoover -- they've got a lot going for them. It was exciting to race them in the final." It was Lee's first career final round. For his efforts during the weekend, particularly a brilliant driving save in a semifinal round win over Jerry Toliver, Lee earned a $2,500 bonus for being named the Auto Ventshade 'Cool Stuff' Move of the Race winner. "I'm really happy for the kid," said a reflective Force. "I can remember when he was just a young guy working out here and came up to me and said, 'One day I'm going to be racing with you out here.' Well, what can you say? The kid's hungry. You've got to admire that. He's going to have plenty of chances to win out here." With the victory, Force increased his Winston points lead to 98 over teammate Tony Pedregon. Dunn, from Wrightsville, Pa., earned $50,000 for his second Top Fuel victory of the season and in the process denied Winston No Bull Challenge candidate Doug Herbert a $100,000 bonus. Dunn ran 4.550 at 319.98 in his Team Mopar dragster in the final round, just inching past Herbert's Snap-on Tools dragster at the finish in the quickest side-by-side Top Fuel race in NHRA history. "We had a real fast car today and that's a tribute to our crew, they've given me a fast car all year," Dunn said. "We had a tough day out there because (Bob) Vandergriff and Herbert gave us good runs in those last two rounds. We knew it wasn't going to be a gimme." Herbert, who was selected through a random pre-race drawing as the candidate for the $100,000 Winston No Bull Challenge bonus for Top Fuel, was a tick slower at 4.563 at 318.62. "We had a good weekend but just came up 15-thousandths (of a second) short of a great weekend," said Herbert, the first driver to have a shot at winning the lucrative Winston No Bull Challenge bonus. "We're very happy with the way things went. We learned a lot and ran the best times of my career. It would have been nice to win the $100 grand, but hopefully we'll have another chance before the season's over." Dunn extended his Winston points lead to 88 over Kenny Bernstein. Johnson, from Buford, Ga., defeated son Kurt for family bragging rights in the Pro Stock final. The elder Johnson ran 6.971 at 199.37 in his GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird, while Kurt's AC Delco Chevrolet Camaro slowed to a 7.250 at 167.07. It was Johnson's eighth Gatornationals victory, and 73rd overall. The win was worth $30,000. "It's always a win-win situation for Johnson Enterprises whenever Kurt and I race in the final," said Johnson, who set both ends of the national Pro Stock record (6.866 at 201.37) in a second round victory. "I enjoy racing Kurt, it brings out the best in me. I actually left on the kid at the starting line. That was a big win for us. Maybe we should hold every race at Gainesville. I won't say that I'm in the groove here, but at least I can find it." Johnson, a four-time Winston champion, climbed to third in the Winston standings with the victory, 57 behind his points-leading son. Seeling, from New Orleans, opened the Pro Stock Motorcycle season with a victory and a national elapsed time record (7.212 seconds), defeating John Smith in the final. Seeling ran 7.224 at 185.79 on the Team Winston Suzuki, outrunning Smith, who set a national speed record (192.22 mph) during the weekend, but came up short in the final with a 7.269 at 189.18. "Gainesville is my favorite track so I felt really comfortable out there this weekend," said Seeling, who holds the Winston points lead for the first time in her career. "It feels great to start out with a win. We really worked hard during the off-season and it's good to see it pay off." That hard work paid off in more ways than one. For her national record, Seeling added $1,000 from the MBNA World Record Club to bring her weekend payday to over $11,000. Former Pro Stock racer Osborne, from Abingdon, Va., claimed his first career Pro Stock Truck victory, defeating Team Mopar's Todd Patterson. Osborne, who lowered the national elapsed time mark for pickups to 7.529 seconds, ran 7.535 at 177.60 in his RCL Components Chevrolet S-10, defeating Patterson's slower Team Mopar Dodge Dakota, which ran 7.594 at 175.50. Osborne took advantage of the supreme atmospheric conditions and defeated Brian Self, Mike Coughlin and Brad Jeter to advance to the final. "The conditions were awesome today and the track really showed how fast is can be," said Osborne, who drives one of two trucks for Kessinger Motorsports. "I had some real competition today and knew the final was going to be a tough one. Fortunately I've got a great bunch of guys working on this Chevy S-10 and they had it running great today." Osborne's victory moved him atop the Pro Stock Truck point standings, 25 ahead of Jeter. The four-day estimated attendance was 132,500, an event record. The next NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series event is the 11th annual O'Reilly Nationals presented by Pennzoil, April 8-11 at Houston Raceway Park.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Frank Pedregon , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Brad Jeter , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Al Hofmann , John Force , Mike Coughlin , Tim Wilkerson , Darrell Gwynn , Cory Lee , Brian Self , Jerry Toliver