The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Camping World Drag Racing Series’ traditional east coast season opener takes place this weekend at the historic Gainesville Raceway with Dodge//SRT® and Mopar® racers excited to get staged for the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals. Tony Stewart Racing’s Matt Hagan and Leah Pruett will seek a first win for their new team aboard their Dodge Power Brokers machines in their respective nitro categories, while both drivers are also looking to collect their first coveted Gatornationals Wally trophies.
Hagan, a three-time NHRA Funny Car World Champion, arrives in Gainesville, Florida, revving to go after powering his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car from the team’s first No. 1 qualifier position to their first final round appearance at the Arizona Nationals.
“After spending three weeks on the west coast, we compiled a lot of data out there between one week of testing and two races,” said Hagan. “There is a fair amount of altitude in Phoenix, so we’ll have to transition to sea level in Florida. It looks like it may be a bit of a rainy weekend, so it will be fast and cool. I’m looking forward to it. Crew chiefs will have some big changes to make as far as compression and other things they do to make our cars run better at sea level.”
Hagan’s drive for success at one of the fastest tracks on the NHRA circuit is further amplified by the fact that it remains one of the few venues at which he has not yet turned on four consecutive win lights.
“Gainesville is a track that has always eluded me,” added Hagan. “I would like to be able to check it off. We are able to set track records if the temperatures and conditions are there, so I feel like we’re going into a racetrack where we can really lay down the performance that TSR is making with my Dodge Power Brokers Charger SRT Hellcat.”
Also ready to launch her Dodge Power Brokers Top Fuel dragster and the weekend on a positive note is Pruett, who puts an unfortunate pair of first round losses in the rearview mirror. Before setting her sights on going rounds in eliminations on Sunday, she’ll stage her 11,000-horsepower dragster for the Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout, a thrilling specialty race among eight competitors with a unique format.
“I am probably more excited about the Callout for various reasons than all of my other competitors,” said Pruett. “I personally have been having trouble on the tree when it comes to Sunday eliminations. Therefore, us having ‘eliminations’ on Saturday will give me the opportunity for redemption I’ve been chewing on for weeks. That will subsequently make for the most extreme competition this team has yet to offer.
“Gainesville Raceway is one of the most historic tracks in the country,” Pruett added. “It’s relatively low sea level and high barometer make for recipes of fast passes but the humidity factor really tries to smother that extra horsepower. Given our unique weather forecast ahead, this weekend is definitely shaping up to be the ultimate horsepower war.”
Pruett is seeded sixth for the first of three shootout rounds set to take place as part of Saturday qualifying. The initial “callouts” will take place prior to the first round of Friday qualifying on March 11 at 5 p.m. Eastern. The quickest first-round winner will have their pick of the remaining semifinal opponents, automatically locking in the other pairing as well. FOX will provide TV coverage of the NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout, including live action of the final round, beginning at 2 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, March 12.
In addition to Hagan and Pruett competing in the nitro ranks, aboard the Snap-on Tools Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat is two-time Funny Car world champion and 1998 Gatornationals winner Cruz Pedregon. With two drives to the winner’s circle last year, the Cruz Pedregon Racing team is continuing to perform well with two top-five qualifying efforts and five round wins in the first two of 22 NHRA events this season.
The 53rd edition of the legendary Gatornationals event also kicks off the Constant Aviation NHRA Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) eight-event series season which showcases Detroit’s finest drag-racing ready, factory-built vehicles. The Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag Paks competing in FSS this year will have even more incentive to go for a Wally as a new Direct Connection Contingency Program will award them with a $10,000 purse, the largest available contingency award from any manufacturer, for earning a win in the exciting fan-favorite race. There are seven Mopar Drag Paks on the entry list looking to qualify for this weekend’s race.
Fans attending the Gatornationals are invited to visit Dodge//SRT and Mopar’s massive 4,800-square-foot display, one of the largest exhibits in the NHRA’s Manufacturers Midway, to check out a selection of performance parts and vehicles and meet their favorite Dodge//SRT drivers for autographs. Enthusiasts even get a chance to test their virtual race skills aboard the dueling pair of Dodge Challenger SRT Demon simulators or take to the driver’s seat in the Dodge Power Brokers Funny Car simulator to experience the thrill of a nitro run.
This weekend the display will also host the Mopar Career Automotive Program (CAP), which launches its fourth season of activation at NHRA national events. The program offers immersive service technician courses through 100 certified training institutions, such as universities, colleges, community colleges and technical centers, with a curriculum designed to immediately place students in Stellantis dealerships upon graduation to meet the demand for new service technicians.
“We’re looking forward to activating with Dodge//SRT and Mopar at the races. It’s a perfect fit for Mopar CAP,” said Keith Yancy, Director of Stellantis Performance Institute, which manages the program. “Students can turn their passion for automotive technology into a lucrative career working on the hottest cars in the industry.”
Mopar CAP information booths at the Dodge//SRT and Mopar display trailers will feature a subject matter expert, program information, games and giveaways. For information on the program and activation is available at Moparcap.com.
Fans who can’t make it to the race track this weekend can stream all the Gatornationals action on their digital devices via NHRA.TV and tune in to FS1 for qualifying highlights on Saturday at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Eastern and broadcast elimination round coverage on Sunday, March 13, beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern.
Stay tuned to DodgeGarage for all the exciting action!