Getting Down at the Gatornats

The Florida heat and humidity rolled into Gainesville like a St. Patrick’s Day morning after hangover. Gone were the cool temps that had all the classes setting records during the qualifying sessions on Friday and Saturday. When Sunday came around, the race fans grabbed the sun block and earplugs and found their spot on the grandstands to watch some of the best drag racing on the east coast – the 49th annual NHRA Gatornationals.

This iconic race has been both a fan and participant favorite since the moon landings and when the Woodstock music festival was a fresh memory. The NHRA season may officially kick off a month earlier in Pomona, California, but the Gatornationals is the first race for many Sportsman racers living in the east and Midwest. For the touring pros, the Gatornats is a favorite stop because of its historical significance. Most NHRA drivers will tell you that the biggest events they want to win are the Winternationals, Gatornationals and Pomona.

During Funny Car qualifying, Jack Beckman’s Charger R/T led the field with a 3.911 ET at 332 mph. During Sunday’s eliminations, the Charger R/T Funny Cars had almost run everyone out of town as three of the DSR supercharged HEMI® Dodge vehicles advanced to the semi-final rounds at the NHRA Gatornationals.

The march to the finals did have its fair share of carnage as Matt Hagan’s Dodge//SRT®/Mopar®-sponsored machine blew the body off in the lights during round two. Within a matter of milliseconds, Hagan’s Funny Car suffered engine failure and the concussion sent the lightweight carbon fiber shell catapulting off the chassis and sailing 70 feet in the air before floating back to earth like a wayward kite.

By the semi-finals, the lone Brand X competitor was eliminated and it was a pair of Dodge Charger R/T Funny Cars pulling to the line: two-time NHRA World Champ Matt Hagan in the Dodge//SRT/Mopar-sponsored machine, and Jack Beckman, 2012 NHRA World Champ, in the Infinite Hero Foundation racecar. They might be teammates, but when they’re racing each other, the gloves come off and it’s winner take all.

As the Christmas tree blinked green, both drivers had nearly identical reaction times and blasted down the quarter-mile. With eight-foot flames coming out of the headers, the Charger R/T Funny Cars where side-by-side as both Hagan and Beckman had their foot firmly planted on the accelerator with neither one of them giving an inch. When the tire smoke and clutch dust cleared, the scoreboards on the top-end of the track told the tale. Beckman got the win with a 4.035 to Hagan’s 4.034. Even though Hagan ran quicker, Beckman had a better reaction time (.051 to .062). Both cars also ran nearly identical speeds (323 to 322).

It’s a long NHRA season and the Gatornationals is only the third race in a 24-event schedule that’s grueling on the team and the equipment. The next stop for our DSR Funny Car and Top Fuel teams will be the DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway April 6-8.

 

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