Jacksonville Sports Day

NHRA: The Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals is Circuit’s East Coast Opener

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season is in full force and arrives in Florida for one of the most tradition-rich drag races in the world, the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, March 12-15, the third of 24 races in the 2015 season.
               
The Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, the traditional East Coast opener on the Mello Yello Series circuit, will feature the biggest stars in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series as they set out to conquer “The Swamp.” A win at this event can mean great momentum as drivers pursue NHRA Mello Yello world championship glory during the season that crisscrosses the United States. Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN2.

Celebrating its 46th running, the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals has entertained spring-break-loving fans for parts of five decades and brings lots of star power to the historic dragstrip including many of the sport’s greatest legends, like “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, and this year will be no different. Along with the brightest personalities in the track’s history, fans will be treated to an All-American nitro spring break and with kids 12 and younger admitted free to the general admission areas with a paid adult, the event is a perfect family getaway.

Long considered one of the fastest tracks on the NHRA circuit, it was from this legendary point that drivers clocked the first 260-, 270- and 300-mph Top Fuel runs. Perhaps the most memorable of those was Kenny Bernstein’s historic first 300 mph Top Fuel pass in 1992.
               
The Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals will also be the season’s first of 16 events for the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. Riders will be looking to knock reigning series champion Andrew Hines off his title perch. Last year, Hines and his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammate Eddie Krawiec dominated the series by combining to win 11 of the 16 events. Hines won his fourth world championship and first of the Countdown to the Championship era and sits two titles behind Dave Schultz.

Others to watch in the two-wheel category include three-time Gainesville winner Krawiec, defending race winner Steve Johnson, father and son duo Hector Arana Jr. and Hector Arana, three-time world champ Angelle Sampey, and husband and wife duo Matt and Angie Smith.
               
In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta defeated Antron Brown in a thrilling final last season to claim his second Gatornationals victory. The win propelled Kalitta and his Mac Tools dragster to the top of the leaderboard in points and he would enter the Countdown as the No. 1 seed. Kalitta, the winningest Top Fuel driver to have not won a world championship, is looking for a repeat performance in Gainesville and is always a threat in the East Coast opener.
Brown, driver of the Matco Tools dragster, won Gainesville in 2013 and came close again in 2014. Fresh off a runner-up finish at the season-opening Circle K NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., Brown and his Don Schumacher Racing teammates, Spencer Massey and reigning world champ Tony Schumacher, will be among the top challengers. Joining them in the field will be 2014 rookie of the year Richie Crampton, three-time world champ Larry Dixon, Amalie Motor Oil fan-favorite Terry McMillen and Brittany Force.

Robert Hight was the hero of Funny Car at Gainesville in 2014 defeating team owner John Force in the final. The John Force Racing Funny Cars come to Gainesville with an all new look. With longtime supporters Ford and Castrol departing at the end of 2014, Chevrolet and PEAK Antifreeze stepped in for 2015. Hight will bring his new look Auto Club Chevy Camaro SS to Gainesville looking to repeat. Courtney Force, who unveiled a wildly colorful paint scheme on her Traxxas Chevy Camaro SS at Pomona, is looking to become the first female Funny Car winner at the Gatornationals. John Force will display his new look PEAK Chevy Camaro SS to all the East Coast fans for the first time.
Reigning world champ Matt Hagan figures to be a major factor at Gainesville but has yet to record a win at the historic facility. He opened 2015 on a high note with his season-opening victory at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. DSR teammates Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr., three-time national event winner Alexis DeJoria and two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon will all be competitive in Gainesville.
               
Allen Johnson, the 2012 Pro Stock world champ, got the best of eventual world champ Erica Enders-Stevens in the final at Gainesville last season. Johnson struggled at the end of 2014 and comes to Gainesville looking for progress in his Magneti-Marelli Dodge Dart. Enders-Stevens shined during the Countdown, claiming her first world championship in a final round winner-take-all showdown with two-time world champ Jason Line. Enders-Stevens is looking for her first Gainesville victory and the East Coast fans will get their first glimpse at the third pro female world champion in NHRA history. Winternationals winner and four-time Gatornationals winner Line, Shane Gray, Greg Anderson, Vincent Nobile and Jonathan Gray always provide tough competition in the parity-filled factory hot rod category.

As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful motorsports attraction on the planet. While visiting the pits, interactive NHRA Nitro Alley and the NHRA Manufacturers Midway, fans will also want to check out NHRA’s popular Hot Rod Junction presented by the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum that offers a spectacular display of many nostalgic dragsters, race cars and hot rods on display, including vintage machines that were driven by ‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits, K.S. Pittman, Big John Mazmanian and Bruce Larson, among others. There will also be several NHRA Legends of Drag Racing autograph sessions, allowing fans the rare opportunity to meet drag racing stars of the past.

Fans of the numerous legends of NHRA drag racing will have the chance to meet their favorite drivers of NHRA history during the legends autograph sessions on both Friday and Saturday at 11 a.m. Members of the Top Eliminator Club will have their own special autograph session on Saturday.

On Sunday, fans also will want to take advantage of the popular Darrell Gwynn Track Walk with Top Fuel legend and Florida resident Darrell Gwynn at 9:45 a.m. Fans will be able to get “up-close and personal” with Gwynn and other NHRA stars by walking with them on the famed track for a donation of $20 or more to the Foundation. Money raised will support the Darrell Gwynn Foundation’s ongoing work to provide education about spinal cord injury prevention, offer support to those afflicted by spinal cord injuries and debilitating disease, and raise funds to help find a cure. The Darrell Gwynn Wheelchair Give Away will provide a wheelchair to a child with disabilities during pre-race ceremonies as well.


Fans are also urged to be in their seats for pre-race activities that include driver introductions, the singing of the national anthem by upcoming country singer Natalie Nicole Green and that will culminate with the exciting visual of Jason Peters skydiving into the facility to deliver the American flag in spectacular fashion.

NHRA’s new campaign, “Baptism by Nitro” will be making its first appearance at Gainesville in 2015. Inspired by the popular phrase “Baptism by Fire”, a commonly used phrase to describe when an individual is thrust into a new situation, experience or environment, “Baptism by Nitro” is NHRA’s call to encourage long-time fans to bring a family member or friend who hasn’t yet experienced the heart-pounding atmosphere of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

Throughout the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, NHRA fans are encouraged to share first-time fan “Baptism by Nitro” experiences on social media. Prizes will be given away all year to the best nitro rookie reactions captured in the pits or in the grandstands and posted to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. All posts should include the hashtag #BaptismbyNitro and tag @NHRA.

Prior to the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, fans are encouraged to go online and nominate a nitro rookie and explain why their designated candidate deserves a VIP “Baptism by Nitro” experience. The winning entry will receive four tickets to the 2015 Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, VIP “Inside the Ropes” access for a nitro warm-up and starting line access where each new fan will be truly baptized by nitro. Fans can log on to www.NHRA.com or visit NHRA’s Facebook page for their chance to win this VIP experience starting February 24. An exciting visual preview of the campaign can be seen and shared at http://bit.ly/BBNitroVid.

Pro qualifying begins on Friday, March 13, with sessions at noon and 3 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, March 14, also at noon and 3 p.m. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 15.

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