2019 Gatornationals Preview
GAINESVILLE, Fla.—Gainesville Raceway will host the 50th Annual National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Gatornationals on March 14-17. The event is the third on the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the first east coast stop.
There’s been a year-long buildup to this event that included resurfacing the track. Entries are coming from around the globe to be able to say they were there, whether qualified to run eliminations on Sunday or not.
The event will mark the first Pro Stock Motorcycle event of the season with 23 bikes entered.
Last year’s Wally winner’s trophies were earned by Kalitta Motorsports’ Richie Crampton in Top Fuel, Don Schumacher Racing’s Jack Beckman’s Infinite Hero Funny Car, Tanner Gray in Pro Stock and Eddie Krawiec’s Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson for Pro Stock Motorcycle. Of that quartet, only Tanner Gray won’t be back to defend, having left this type of racing.
In the top fuel class, there are 18 cars fighting to make it to past qualifying. Steve Torrence will look to return to his 2018 championship form after bowing out in the first round at each of the first two events of the season. Rookies Austin Prock and Jordan Vandergriff will both look to continue their early successes. Prock has advanced to the second round at both 2019 events while Vandergriff reached the semifinals in Phoenix. Chris Karamasines and T.J. Zizzio both return for the 50th Gatornationals.
In a field of 16 Funny Cars, John Force will continue looking for his 150th career victory. He will have to get past fellow JFR driver Robert Hight who won the season opener in Pomona. The four-car Don Schumacher Racing team and reigning Gatornationals champion Jack Beckman look to continue a strong start to 2019 after Matt Hagan recorded a victory in Phoenix this year.
Last season’s Pro Stock runner-up, Jeg Coughlin Jr., will have a new car on display at the event. He took the top spot in Phoenix earlier this season but teammates Erica Enders and Alex Laughlin also look to compete. The lone non-Chevrolet racers in the 17 car field will be Alan Prisiensky (Dodge) and Jeffrey Isbell (Ford).
The event will mark the first Pro Stock Motorcycle event of the season with 23 bikes entered. All three Harley-Davidson racers will be in the field with the team of Angelle Sampey, Eddie Krawiec, and Andrew Hines owning a combined 10 titles. Hector Arana Jr. completed the class’ first 200-MPH run at the Gatornationals a year ago and will look to build on that success this year. There are eight women in the field this season including newcomer Jianna Salinas, daughter of Top Fuel Racer Mike Salinas.
Sportsman action begins on Thursday, while Mello Yello qualifying starts Friday. High temperatures are in the forecast for Thursday and Friday, but cooler temperatures are expected on Saturday and Sunday. There is also the possibility of rain in the forecast as the week goes on.