Wet weather canceled Friday qualifying and delayed Saturday’s sessions at the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Camping World Drag Racing Series’ 53rd edition of the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals and then unseasonably cool conditions at Gainesville Raceway further hampered qualifying resulting in just one run to make the famed race event.
In Funny Car action, Cruz Pedregon powered his Snap-On Tools Dodge Charger SRT® Hellcat down the track with a 3.891-second run at 327.35 mph in the sole qualifying session of the weekend to put himself No. 3 on the eliminations ladder and qualifying in the top-five for a third consecutive event. The Cruz Pedregon Racing owner and driver will have No. 14 seed JIm Campbell in the lane next to him for the opening round of eliminations.
Tony Stewart Racing’s Matt Hagan followed up his No. 1 qualifier position and runner-up finish at the Arizona Nationals two weekends ago by taking his Dodge Power Brokers Charger SRT Hellcat for a solid 3.898-second elapsed timed pass at 320.13 mph in the late afternoon session to secure the No. 4 position on the eliminations ladder. He’ll have lane choice over No. 13 seed Dave Richards to begin his quest for the TSR team’s first win and his first Gatornationals Wally trophy.
Top Fuel qualifying featured the opening round of the Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout in which TSR pilot Leah Pruett and the Dodge Power Brokers dragster were competing. Pruett, who had been “called out” by defending NHRA world champion Steve Torrence, staged her 11,000-horsepower machine for the specialty race ready to battle for the prize money and also set her place on the eliminations ladder.
Pruett and her Dodge Power Brokers dragster had the slight advance at the hit of the throttle, but she soon found herself peddling it after losing traction. She skillfully regained control and continued down the track to record a lap time, not knowing if she would have another session to qualify for Sunday’s main event. Unfortunately, the unseasonably cold weather shortened the day’s activities and another qualifying run was no longer possible, which meant that the 5.125 sec./ 227.34 mph recorded pass wasn’t going to be enough to give her a chance to race on Sunday. This will be the first time since 2013 (Indianapolis) that Pruett won’t get to stage her race car for eliminations.
While the Gatornationals have had a history of record-breaking performances with one of the fastest tracks on the NHRA circuit, Saturday’s cooler weather provided some extra excitement for the 22 Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) entries vying for the 16 spots on the eliminations ladder as the top half of the ladder posted runs that were quicker and faster than the previous national records of 7.718 seconds and 183.10 mph.
Among the seven Dodge Challenger Mopar® Drag Paks making their first qualifying runs of the season was Mark Pawuk who powered his 2021 Empaco Equipment Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag Pak to an impressive and record setting 7.608-second elapsed time run at 183.15 mph to earn his third career No. 1 qualifier position and reset both ends of the nationals record.
To further solidify the 2021 Mopar Drag Pak’s reputation as the quickest, fastest, and most powerful Challenger Drag Pak ever offered by Stellantis, Pawuk’s Don Schumacher Racing teammate, Warren Walcher, recorded his own impressive 7.669-second pass at 180.79 mph to earn the No. 3 position in just his second FSS competition. The two will not only vie for a Gatornationals win but also for the new $10,000-to-win Direct Connection Contingency purse. The Gatornationals eliminations are set to air on FS1 on Sunday, March 13, beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern.