Final field at Gatornationals features big names

John Force performs a burnout during the last round of qualifying at the 44th annual NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway in Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday, March 16, 2013.

Brett Le Blanc/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 7:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 7:43 p.m.

All of the big names are in the final field in what figures to be a scintillating Sunday of racing at Gatornationals.

Leading the way is THE biggest name in NHRA: Force. All three Forces advanced to Sunday's eliminations -- John and daughter Courtney in Funny Car and daughter Brittany in Top Fuel, where she is a rookie.

John and Courtney face off in Sunday's first round.

Led by the Forces, Sunday's eliminations will feature kind of a Who's Who of NHRA drag racing.

Tony Schumacher, Antron Brown, Larry Dixon, Doug Kalitta, Morgan Lucas and others in Top Fuel.

Ron Capps, Robert Hight, Jack Beckman and Johnny Gray in Funny Car.

Mike Edwards, Allen Johnson, Greg Anderson, Jason Line and Warren Johnson in Pro Stock.

Eddie Krawiec, Matt Smith and Hector Arana and Hector Arana in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

The biggest name in doubt Saturday was Krawiec, the three-time national champion who is seeking his fourth consecutive Gatornationals title. He didn't get in the field until the final qualifying round in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

For drag racing fans, it should be a great day for star gazing at Auto Plus Raceway at Gainesville.

In Top Fuel, No. 1 qualifier Doug Kalitta, a two-time Gatornationals winner, heads a strong and balanced field.

He won qualifying on his final pass of the day Saturday, edging out defending NHRA season champion Antron Brown with an elapsed time of 3.779 seconds and a top speed of 326.32 mph.

Brown had taken the lead just moments earlier with a run of 3.787 seconds and a top speed of 324.32 mph.

“He was down there high-fiving (his team),” Kalitta said. “Fortunately, he didn't have too much time down there.”

Brown went from No. 1 to No. 2 just a few minutes later with Kalitta's strong, fast run.

“I was kind of surprised when Antron went out there and had that 3.78 run because everyone was bunched up closer than that,” Kalitta said. “When (crew chief) Jim (Oberhofer) comes back and he's adjusting on my car, I figured, ‘Well, it's either going to make it or it's not.'

“Hats off to Jim and all my guys with the decisions they made at the end to make that thing run like it did. It was nice and straight. Usually when they're running good, you line it to the middle and run it.”

Kalitta will have plenty of impressive competition in today's eliminations. Perhaps the two considered to beat today are Brown and seven-time Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher, who qualified in the fifth spot (3.819 and 323.89 mph).

Morgan Lucas, the man who beat Schumacher in last year's Gatornationals final, qualified in the seventh spot.

Funny Car should be equally intriguing today, starting in the first round with the side-by-side race between John Force, the winningest driver in NHRA history, against his daughter Courtney, who picked up her second career victory earlier this season in Pomona.

John Force has won Gatornationals seven times (the last time in 2001) and has 134 victories in his legendary career. He qualified in the fourth spot (4.080 seconds and 312.06 mph), while Courtney was 13th.

The No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car was Cruz Pedregon, whose winning ET was 4.047 seconds with a top speed of 305.49 mph.

“Great effort by the team,” said Pedregon, who won Gatornationals in 1998. “The car has been strong, really strong (Friday).

“We're the No. 1 qualifier, but these guys are going to be gunning for us (today). We're going to come out and read the track and just keep going for as long as we can.

“We're going to attack the track like we always do. That's how we race. That's what works for us.”

In Pro Stock, Edwards won qualifying with a record-setting run in the first round Friday. The defending Gatornationals champion set a national record with an elapsed time of 6.473 seconds. At the same time, he set the track record for speed, topping out at 214.31 miles per hour.

Edwards has won qualifying in all three NHRA events this young season. He ended up losing in the first round in Pomona, then lost in the final two weeks ago in Phoenix. He's hoping to go one step further today in his GM Camaro.

“That's our goal,” Edwards said. “That's what we're shooting for, but tomorrow is another day.

“We feel we've got a good shot at it and we're going to do our very best to try and pull that off tomorrow. I like our chances.”

Edwards did not match his opening performance in the final three rounds of qualifying. But he put together four consecutive strong runs and was the best performer in qualifying.

“That helps your confidence, and that's important in our class,” Edwards said.

Edwards outdueled Greg Anderson in last year's Gatornationals final.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith won the qualifying with a pass of 6.804 seconds and a top speed of 197.28 mph. But the real drama was produced by Krawiec, who was out of the field coming to the final round Saturday afternoon.

Under the pressure of elimination, Krawiec came through with his first good run of the weekend (6.822 and 194.04) to finish in the 10 spot and qualify for eliminations.

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