Gatornationals returns

Top Fuel champ Antron Brown may get some competition


Top Fuel champ Antron Brown of the 2013 Gatornationals is back again this year. (Special to the Guardian)

Published: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 1:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 1:10 p.m.

Motor racing enthusiasts will converge on Gainesville and Alachua County by the thousands next weekend for the 45th annual Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals.

Facts

GATORNATIONALS

* What: The 45th annual Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals

* When: March 13-16

* Where: Auto Plus Raceway, 11211 N. County Road 225

* Cost: $36-$360; free for children 12 and under

* Information: Call 352-377-0046 or visit www.nhra.com

Considered one of the top three stops on the National Hot Rod Association's schedule, Gatornationals will be held March 13-16 at Auto Plus Raceway, formerly the Gainesville Raceway, at 11211 N. County Road 225 in Gainesville. Tickets range from $36-360 and can be purchased at the gate or online at www.nhratix.com. General admission is free for children 12 and under.

The schedule will be: March 13, sportsman qualifying; March 14-15, pro qualifying, and March 16, final eliminations.

Mike Yurick, track manager at Auto Plus Raceway, said Gatornationals will again attract a diverse group of drivers to Gainesville, including Antron Brown of Pittsburg, Ind., last year's Top Fuel champion at Gatornationals.

Yurick, who has been the track manager at the raceway for a year, said Brittany Force of Yorba Linda, Calif., also will be on hand to challenge Brown this year for the top fuel championship. Force, daughter of NHRA legend John Force, was the "Rookie of the Year" last year in top fuel racing.

Another popular woman driver, Alexis Dejoria of Ypsilanti, Mich., will compete in the Funny Car division. Dejoria became the first woman driver in Funny Car history to record a sub-four second race at the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. On Feb. 23, she earned her first NHRA Funny Car victory behind the wheel of her Patron XO Café Toyota Camry in final eliminations at the 30th CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz. She defeated Robert Hight by racing down the dragstrip in 4.043 seconds at a speed of 309.63 mph.

"We have a very diverse sport and we have a diverse following in NHRA racing," Yurick said.

He said nearly 80,000 fans, mostly from out of town, will attend the four-day event. He said all of the parking spaces reserved for mobile homes to stay overnight are sold out.

Yurick said Gatornationals, which is very popular in NHRA circles, is one of the most prized trophies a driver in the sport can win.

"This is one of the races guys like to say they have won," Yurick said. "The guys like having this trophy."

Yurick said before working at the raceway, he often came to Gatornationals as a spectator, beginning with the first six times Gatornationals were held. He said the event has grown tremendously throughout the years, but there were a few lean years that coincided with the economic downturn several years ago.

He said things have been slowly getting back to normal, saying fans appreciate the new grandstands and other improvements made at the raceway over the years. He estimated about $25 million has been spent on renovations at the raceway since it first opened.

Joleen Cacciatore, executive director of the Gainesville Sports Commission, said it is estimated that Gatornationals has a $60 million impact on the Gainesville community.

"That $60 million means a great deal to the Gainesville community because those are dollars mostly being spent by people from out of town who are visiting our city," she said. "There is a multiplier effect that extends from the hotels and restaurants to gas stations and other stores."

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