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Gainesville Pre-Race Report

Gainesville Pre-Race Report


NHRA Gatornationals
Event No. 1 of 22
Gainesville Raceway
Gainesville, Fla. 
March 12-14, 2021

Noteworthy:

  • Matt Hagan enters the season-opener as the defending Funny Car world champion and begins his campaign for a fourth world title
  • As the 2020 Gatornationals Funny Car event champ, Ron Capps seeks to pick up his fifth Gainesville triumph as he attempts to go back-to-back
  • The Gatornationals marks Capps’ competition debut with his new co-crew chiefs, champion tuners Dean ‘Guido’ Antonelli and John Medlen
  • Capps and Hagan are vying to keep DSR’s undefeated Funny Car streak of 14 consecutive victories alive
  • Antron Brown kicks off the 2021 season as the most recent Top Fuel winner, having raced to victory at the 2020 season finale in Las Vegas
  • Gainesville marks the first of eight events in 2021 where Leah Pruett will pull double-duty, competing in both the Top Fuel and Factory Stock Showdown categories
  • Mark Pawuk returns to the seat of his Dodge Drag Pak following an FSS career-best finish (third) in 2020

DSR Driver Information:

Top Fuel:

 
ANTRON BROWN
Driver of the Matco Tools Toyota Top Fuel Dragster


Gainesville Event Highlights: 

  • 2013 event champion  
  • Four-time runner-up:
    • Top Fuel: 2010, 2014, 2017  
    • Pro Stock Motorcycle: 2006  
  • Two-time No. 1 qualifier:
    • Top Fuel: 2010  
    • Pro Stock Motorcycle: 2001
2020 Gainesville Recap:
Qualified third; Quarterfinal finish (defeated Cameron Ferre in E1; defeated by Terry McMillen in E2)

Last Event (Las Vegas II):
Qualified fourth; Event champion (defeated Tony Schumacher in E1, Clay Millican in E2, Billy Torrence in E3, Steve Torrence in E4)

Career Statistics:
441 races; 67 wins (16 Pro Stock Motorcycle); 49 No. 1 Qualifiers (11 PSM)

Noteworthy:
  • Kicks off the 2021 season as the most recent Top Fuel winner, having raced to victory at the 2020 season finale in Las Vegas
  • Made his NHRA debut at the 1998 Gainesville event, competing in Pro Stock Motorcycle
Quotable:
“Gainesville is always one of our elite races. I consider Gainesville to be our Daytona of drag racing. Florida fans are like no other. They come out of the woodwork. Florida has so much drag racing history - 'Big Daddy' Don Garlits is based right there in Ocala. Personally, I’ll always remember Kenny Bernstein running the first-ever 300 mph run there.

"It’s going to feel pretty cool to start out the year with the Gatornationals and we’re just going to go out and give it our all. It will be different to start on the East Coast when we normally start out west, but we’ll be able to kick things off with one of our biggest races of the year. We’re focused on just going out there and executing, and starting off the year where we finished off last year. We want to be very competitive and try to qualify in the top three each race. We’re just looking forward to pushing into 2021 and bringing home a championship for everybody – for Matco Tools, Toyota, SiriusXM, Global Electronic Technology, for Hangsterfers and all of our great sponsors that we have with us.”
 
LEAH PRUETT
Driver of the Mopar Dodge//SRT Top Fuel Dragster


2020 Gainesville Recap:
Qualified eighth; Semifinal finish (defeated Joe Morrison in E1, Clay Millican in E2; defeated by Steve Torrence in E3)

Last Event (Las Vegas II):
Qualified sixth; Quarterfinal finish (defeated Chris Karamesines in E1; defeated by Justin Ashley in E2)

Career Statistics:
152 races; eight wins; 12 No. 1 qualifiers

Noteworthy:

  • Pulling double-duty at the first race of the season, competing in both the Top Fuel and Factory Stock Showdown categories 
    • Pruett, the 2018 FSS series champ, is scheduled to compete in the full eight-event FSS schedule in addition to her responsibilities with the Top Fuel car
Quotable:
“I couldn’t be more thrilled about entering my sixth season with crew chief Todd Okuhara, and a third season with Neal Strausbaugh. This duo is one that has been magic in the making, and one that makes me proud to drive their dragster. The majority of our team has remained intact with a few new faces coming in on the crew, one of which was an intern we had a couple of years ago. For us to remain intact and continue to build with confidence and enthusiasm is important, as that is how you build a winning team. Performance-wise, we tested in West Palm this past week in similar conditions to competition atmosphere, so I believe starting the season in Gainesville will prove beneficial to consistency. Regarding heritage, where we start is not super important or meaningful to me, because it’s how we finish that really matters.
 
“I always have goals to win races and a championship. However, going winless in 2020 has made me set more specific incremental goals. I intend to win at least three national events this season. You can’t do that without being great and consistent. If we can win three, we are in a good spot for intense momentum, which leads to advancement on the field, and that is an intricate variable into winning a championship. Call it a goal, or bucket list, or dedication to whatever it will take this season, my goal is to win both a Top Fuel and Factory Stock Showdown national event title on the same day. We have eight opportunities to do so this year, and my intention after four years of perfecting the craft of competing in both, is to solidify this goal.”
 
 

Funny Car:

RON CAPPS
Driver of the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat



Gainesville Event Highlights: 

  • Four-time event champion:
    • 2006, 2007, 2015, 2020
  • Two-time runner-up:
    • 2000, 2016
2020 Gainesville Recap:
Qualified fourth; Event champion (defeated John Smith in E1, Alexis DeJoria in E2, Matt Hagan in E3, Tim Wilkerson in E4)

Last Event (Las Vegas II):
Qualified No. 1; Event runner-up (defeated Chris Morel in E1, J.R. Todd in E2, Tommy Johnson Jr. in E3; defeated by Matt Hagan in E4)

Career Statistics:
566 races; 66 wins (one Top Fuel); 25 No. 1 qualifiers 

Noteworthy:
  • As the 2020 Gatornationals Funny Car event champ, Capps seeks to pick up his fifth Gainesville triumph as he attempts to go back-to-back
  • The Gatornationals marks Capps’ competition debut with his new co-crew chiefs, champion tuners Dean ‘Guido’ Antonelli and John Medlen
  • Capps and Hagan will battle it out to keep DSR’s undefeated Funny Car streak of 14 consecutive victories alive
Quotable:
“We talk about trying to get back to normal, but as far as normal goes, the start of this season feels anything but. We’re going to kick off our season in Gainesville as opposed to Pomona, Calif. and that’s something that’s never happened. As for me, I’m starting 2021 with a brand-new team from top-to-bottom. I have Guido (Dean Antonelli), and John Medlen calling the shots, and they brought their entire crew with them. I’ve known Guido a long time, since we both started working on fuel cars, and it’s been great to be reunited with him as a crew chief and me as a driver. John Medlen, I just can’t say enough about him. I got to work with him as my crew chief years ago. We won Sonoma together back in 2010; it was a very emotional win. I met my new crew for the first time a couple of weeks ago when I visited the shop to get fitted for the car, and then I got to spend more time with them in pre-season testing. There have been a lot of different things for me to get used to, but the success that Guido and Medlen has speaks for itself. I told them I wanted to adapt to what they do in the race car, and not the other way around so it has been a challenge for me, but I’m always up for a challenge. We had a great test session down in West Palm. Within four runs we ran a 3.94 (E.T.), a 3.93, and two times we ran 3.89 so it was a great few days.
 
“I’m looking forward to Gainesville. The Gatornationals is always a huge race, and this year is much bigger than it’s ever been since we’re starting the season there. I’m proud to represent NAPA AUTO PARTS again this year, and I’m thrilled to welcome a new partner, GEARWRENCH. We’re heading into the Gatornationals as the defending champions, and I’d like nothing better than to go back-to-back.”


MATT HAGAN
Driver of the Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye


Gainesville Event Highlights:

  • 2018 event runner-up
  • Three-time No. 1 qualifier:
    • 2010, 2011, 2020
2020 Gainesville Recap:
Qualified No. 1; Semifinal finish (defeated Bye in E1, Jack Beckman in E2; defeated by Ron Capps in E3)

Last Event (Las Vegas II):
Qualified second; Event champion (defeated Cruz Pedregon in E1, Paul Lee in E2, Alexis DeJoria in E3, Ron Capps in E4)

Career Statistics:
275 races; 36 wins; 40 No. 1 qualifiers 

Noteworthy:
  • Enters the season-opener as the defending Funny Car champion and begins his campaign for a fourth world title
  • Hagan and Capps will battle it out to keep DSR’s undefeated Funny Car streak of 14 consecutive victories alive
  • Seeking his first Gainesville Funny Car trophy
  • Hagan was the 2020 Gatornationals Funny Car No. 1 qualifier
Quotable:
“I'm excited to get back out here for the 2021 Camping World season with a championship-caliber car to defend my title with fans back in the stands and everyone having a good time.
 
“There are some tracks and some races that I haven't won at yet and one that really sticks out in my mind is Gainesville. I've been to the finals there but you still can't just show up and expect to win. You have to have a plan of action to do that and with it being our kickoff race this year, I really want to win the Gatornationals. It's very important to me to reinforce our championship and get a new year started the right way. I'm a hundred percent motivated to win that race. It's also so close to home for me that I have a lot of people there to support the effort. I've been there, I've tasted it, but I just come up short.”


Factory Stock Showdown Series:


MARK PAWUK
Driver of the Empaco Equipment Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak



2020 Gainesville Recap:
Qualified 10th; Quarterfinal finish (defeated David Kramer in E1; defeated by Stephen Bell in E2)

Last Event (Las Vegas II):
Qualified 15th; First round exit (defeated by Aaron Stanfield in E1)

FSS Career Statistics:
19 races; three runner-ups; two No. 1 qualifiers

Noteworthy:

  • Returns to the seat of his Dodge Drag Pak following an FSS career-best finish (third) in 2020
Quotable:
“I always look forward to the Gatornationals. From my early days of running Super Gas in the 1980s to switching over to Pro Stock in the late 80s. It has always been one of my favorite races to go to. I’m looking forward to getting out of the cold northern Ohio weather and heading south, but I’m especially looking forward to Dodge’s debut of the new 2021 Drag Pak. It will allow our Empaco Equipment Dodge Challenger to run the 2021 engine package that comes in the ’21 Drag Pak. It should help us be more competitive in hot weather conditions. Gainesville looks like it’ll be in the low-to-mid 80s and should be a beautiful weekend. We did some testing last weekend and we were competitive with the other manufacturers. We are gaining ground, and I’m really excited about the 2021 season. I’m hoping to be in the new Dodge Drag Pak later this season, and I’m excited to see what Leah Pruett can do this weekend in her new car. I’m proud to once again have the support of Empaco Equipment, Mr. Heater, Ohio CAT, and Ohio Peterbilt.”

 

LEAH PRUETT
Driver of the Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak



2020 Gainesville Recap:

Qualified 12th; First round exit (defeated by Arthur Kohn in E1)


Last Event (Las Vegas II):
Qualified No. 3; Quarterfinal finish (defeated Kevin Skinner in E1; defeated by John Cerbone in E2)

FSS Career Statistics:
23 races; three wins; one runner-up; two No. 1 qualifiers

Noteworthy:

  • Gainesville marks Pruett’s first event in 2021 where she will pull double-duty, competing in both the Top Fuel and Factory Stock Showdown categories
  • The 2021 Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak will make its competition debut at the Gatornationals with Pruett behind the wheel
Quotable:
“I was part of the development team and worked closely with Dodge//SRT engineers. We’ve very excited to start the Factory Stock season with the new generation Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag Pak after challenges last season delayed the debut. 
 
"We recently took delivery of the new Drag Pak, and we are still getting acquainted and comfortable with the all-new car. It is showing promise but we’ve only been able to test with it one time before competition, so we have to practice expectation management and understand we are still in our own development stage with the car. It looks fantastic and I’m very proud to be able to continue to help improve the performance throughout the season.”

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