DSR Gatornationals Post-Race Recap

NHRA Gatornationals Post-Race Recap

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

  • Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Mark Pawuk (Factory Stock Showdown) led the DSR brigade with semifinal finishes
  • Brown departs Gainesville sitting third in points
  • No. 1 qualifier Ron Capps advanced to the second round and is ranked fifth in the Funny Car standings

Driver Information:

Top Fuel:
Driver of the Matco Tools Toyota Top Fuel Dragster
Qualified: No. 10 (3.809 E.T. at 316.75 MPH)

The Results:
E1: 3.759 E.T. at 322.42 MPH defeated Mike Salinas 3.737 E.T. at 329.83 MPH
E2: 3.803 E.T. at 322.04 MPH defeated Billy Torrence 4.500 E.T. at 173.52 MPH
E3: 4.450 E.T. at 182.92 MPH defeated by Shawn Langdon 3.821 E.T. at 318.39 MPH

Race Recap:
Antron Brown was hoping to pick up right where he left off in 2020, and that was by ending his day in the winner’s circle. The driver of the Matco Tools Toyota Top Fuel dragster came close, successfully advancing to the semifinals at the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season-opener.
Brown qualified his Matco machine 10th to set up a round-one matchup with Mike Salinas on Sunday morning. The 2013 NHRA Gatornationals Top Fuel champion posted a 3.759 E.T. but it was his ultra-quick reflexes that allowed him to capture the holeshot victory over Salinas’ 3.737-second pass. Brown is regarded as one of the best ‘leavers’ in the sport, and for good reason. His E1 holeshot win was his 55th overall, and his ability to launch quickly off the line came into play once again in round two when he used his starting line advantage coupled with a 3.809 E.T. to defeat Billy Torrence and earn a bid to the semifinals. Brown was clean off the line against his round three challenger, Shawn Langdon, but started hazing the tires around 400 feet while Langdon was able to complete a full pass for the win.

“All-and-all it was a pretty good race weekend for this Matco Tools Toyota team here in Gainesville. Anytime you get to the semifinals, you’ve done a good job given how stout the competition is in this Top Fuel class. We learned a lot and that’s the mission. These were tricky, tricky conditions here in Gainesville today and our Matco Tools car just keeps getting better and better. The more laps we make I feel we’re just going to stronger. We’ll go back to the shop and work hard and come out swinging at the next race. Today we got a piece of the steak, but we didn’t get dessert. Next race we need to get the whole meal.”

Driver of the Mopar Dodge//SRT Top Fuel Dragster

Qualified: No. 3 (3.741 E.T. at 326.32 MPH)

The Results:
E1: 3.787 E.T. at 314.09 MPH defeated Mike Bucher 7.686 E.T. at 81.27 MPH
E2: 3.887 E.T. at 294.05 MPH defeated by Shawn Langdon 3.764 E.T. at 317.79 MPH

Race Recap:
Leah Pruett was a solid competitor in the 2020 Top Fuel championship chase and after securing her third consecutive fourth-place finish last year, Pruett has made it known that she is laser-focused on making sure she and her team are in the hunt once again this season. Pruett began her 2021 campaign by powering the Mopar Dodge//SRT Top Fuel dragster to the third-quickest pass of the final qualifying session to secure the No. 3 starting position. In round one of eliminations, she faced Top Fuel newbie Mike Bucher. Pruett was first to stand on the throttle and drove to victory while her opponent succumbed to instant tire smoke in the opposite lane. Round two found Pruett squaring off with on-track rival Shawn Langdon, and once again Pruett was first to launch, ripping off a .054 reaction time. Unfortunately for the double-duty driver who spent the weekend swapping back and forth between her Top Fuel rail and Dodge Drag Pak Challenger, her machine dropped a cylinder early into the run allowing Langdon to take the lead by the 330-foot timing block and pull away with the win.  

“I think there’s an overall consensus that the 2021 Gatornationals was a little unconventional for us as we experienced some issues early in qualifying on the first lap but we quickly adapted and had a very competitive race car for Sunday. Unfortunately, we started off this season with some mechanical gremlins. Our team, with the addition of a few new members, has done a great job meshing quickly. The tuning calls were great, but some parts failures plagued us this weekend. After that, you shake their hands and say good job and know that we have the heart and ability to get round wins and race wins. Overall, we feel good about the weekend. Walking away from eliminations, there’s nothing that we would have done differently. We’ll get to the bottom of it and roll on to the next Camping World NHRA race and be ready to win.”

Funny Car:
Driver of the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
Qualified: No. 1 (3.895 E.T. at 329.02 MPH)

The Results:
E1: 3.923 E.T. at 323.74 MPH defeated Jim Campbell 12.844 E.T. at 76.95 MPH
E2: 4.946 E.T. at 158.91 MPH defeated by Bob Tasca III 3.958 E.T. at 327.11 MPH

Race Recap:
Ron Capps’ competition debut with his new team, led by proven tuners Dean ‘Guido’ Antonelli and John Medlen, got off to a hot start at the season-opening NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. Aboard the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, Capps unleashed with a monster 3.895-second run in Q1, the quickest of the weekend, to claim the top spot and backed it up by running low E.T. of Q2 the next day. Capps’ crew chiefs opted to take a chance and step on it in Q3 but hazed the tires and fell short of their aggressive target of a mid-3.8-second elapsed time.
Starting race day from the No. 1 spot for the 26th time in his career, Capps appeared to be in prime position to go back-to-back at Gainesville Raceway where he finished as the event champ in 2020. Armed with the first NHRA Camping World yellow Funny Car No. 1 qualifier hat of the year, Capps was focused on closing out the weekend with the NHRA’s new blue Winner’s Circle hat to match his blue-and-yellow NAPA livery. Capps faced No. 16 qualifier Jim Campbell in round one of eliminations, and raced to victory by driving his NAPA Dodge to a 3.923 E.T. versus his opponent’s instant tire-smoker. While he got the win, he gave up lane choice to his round two challenger, Bob Tasca III, and Capps found himself on the troublesome right side. The veteran drivers were nearly even leaving the starting line, but Capps’ hopes for a fifth Gatornationals Wally trophy went up in smoke when his machine lost traction early into the run and Tasca was able to claim the round win.

“That’s what I love about this sport – the competition. We had a great qualifying outing, but with only three laps you only get one run in one of the two lanes. We wanted to win first round and lost lane choice going into the second round. After watching Robert (Hight) and some of the other cars run, we were very confident with that right lane, but it just seemed to chatter a little bit, sort of in the same spot it did on Q3. That’s just the way it is. Funny Car is so tough. It was almost a perfect weekend, but still ended up being a really good weekend overall.
“I’m really looking forward to working more with these guys led by Guido (Dean Antonelli) and John Medlen. We’re keeping it fun like we did with (my former crew chief Rahn) Tobler. It’s great to see so many fans and people being responsible and following protocols to allow us to race. We love the fans coming from all over to support us this weekend. A great opening weekend with GEARWRENCH on the car, and Pennzoil of course. On a separate note, we’re giving away my race helmet to a lucky fan soon. So, pay attention to social media!”  

Driver of the Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye
Qualified: No. 8 (3.974 E.T. at 325.30 MPH)

The Results:
E1: 3.922 E.T. at 329.67 MPH defeated by Bob Tasca III 3.920 E.T. at 330.47 MPH

Race Recap:
Matt Hagan began his title defense at one of the few remaining venues on the NHRA tour where a victory has eluded him. Hagan, who was presented with his 2020 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Funny Car championship ring on Saturday during qualifying at the NHRA Gatornationals, has come close to a Gainesville Raceway triumph, finishing as the runner-up in 2018, but had yet to seal-the-deal. He was hoping his luck would change on Sunday at the 2021 season-opener, but once again he felt a Gatornationals victory slip through his fingers as he found himself on the wrong side of a really close drag race.
Hagan qualified the Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye eighth to draw Bob Tasca III in round one. Hagan and Tasca were nearly even leaving the starting line with Hagan clocking a .072 reaction time to Tasca’s .074, and both drivers posted nearly identical E.T.s, (Hagan, 3.922, Tasca, 3.920), but Tasca narrowly claimed the upset win with a 0.0001-second margin of victory, ending the champ’s day early.

“We had a good test session in West Palm Beach to kick off the year and we were on the bad side of a really, really good drag race today to (Bob) Tasca. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tasca goes out and wins it. That’s a good car. It’s tough out there and we were on the tough side of the ladder. We would have had (Ron) Capps, our teammate, in the second round. It was going to be a dog fight all day. I have to say a lot about (my crew chief) Dickie Venables and (assistant crew chief) Mike Knudsen and this Dodge Mopar team and their leadership. The guys worked late working through some gremlins and put a really good race car under me. We’ll be back out here for the next one and will get back after it.”

NHRA Camping World Countdown to the Championship Standings (unofficial):

Top Fuel

1 Josh Hart   113
2 Shawn Langdon   94
3 Antron Brown   72
3 Justin Ashley   72
5 Steve Torrence   64
6 Billy Torrence   62
7 Doug Kalitta   54
8 Leah Pruett   52
9 Brittany Force   35
10 Mike Salinas   34

Funny Car
1 J.R. Todd   114
2 Robert Hight   95
3 Cruz Pedregon   73
4 Bob Tasca III   72
5 Ron Capps   64
6 Alexis DeJoria   60
7 Tim Wilkerson   57
8 John Force   56
9 Matt Hagan   34
10 Chad Green   32

Factory Stock Showdown Series:
Driver of the Empaco Equipment Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak
Qualified: No. 11 (7.873 E.T. at 174.12 MPH)

The Results:
E1: 7.855 E.T. at 174.26 defeated Jim Betz, Foul (Red light)
E2: 8.038 E.T. at 170.17 MPH defeated Gardner Stone, Foul (Red light)
E3: Foul (Red light) defeated by Aaron Stanfield 7.890 E.T. at 173.99 MPH

Race Recap:
Mark Pawuk came into race day at the Gatornationals as the 11th seed after steady improvement in his Empaco Equipment Mopar Drag Pak performance through each qualifying session. In the opening round of FSS eliminations, the team’s hard work paid off as Pawuk drove his HEMI-powered Drag Pak to their quickest run of weekend with a 7.855 seconds at 174.26 mph pass. He followed that up with an 8.038 second at 170.17 mph lap in his round two win over No. 3 seed Gardner Stone who left prematurely. Pawuk was matched up with No. 2 qualifier Aaron Stanfield for the semifinal round but saw his day shorten by a red-light start.

“For the way we started out this weekend, Leah’s car ran really good, ours was a little behind, but the guys worked really hard. We changed a lot of parts and we were able to make good runs. Maybe we got a couple of lucky breaks but hey, to go to the semis at the first race out this weekend in Gainesville, it’s awesome to go some rounds. I’m looking forward to our next race in Houston. Thanks to Empaco Equipment, Ohio CAT, Mr. Heater, and we look forward to seeing everyone in Texas.”

Driver of the Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak
Qualified: No. 13 (7.892 E.T. at 173.49 MPH)

The Results:
E1: 7.806 E.T. at 177.44 MPH defeated by John Cerbone 7.808 E.T. at 174.80 MPH

Race Recap:
Leah Pruett took her 2021 Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak for its first official eliminations drive as a No. 13 qualifier against the No. 4 seed John Cerbone. Pruett drove the new generation Drag Pak to her career-best Factory Stock Showdown run, resetting both ends of her personal record with a stout 7.806-second pass at 177.44 mph, bettering her previous top time of 7.852 seconds set at Gainesville in 2019 and best speed of 173.94 mph posted at Charlotte that same year. Unfortunately, while her new ride was faster on the track than her opponent’s, Pruett fell just short of turning on the first win-light of the season as her impressive run was overshadowed by her competitor’s 0.002-second start to give him the holeshot victory over the 2018 Factory Stock Showdown Series champion.

“The ‘shake their hands and walk away’ mentality definitely applies to our first round of Factory Stock (Showdown) round one this morning. Just an incredible package and race. John Cerbone had a .002 light and was two thousandths (of-a-second) slower than us at the stripe, and that would have required me to have a .004 reaction time. Right now, for me, those kinds of lights aren’t quite in the cards. I need a bit more seat time getting acquainted with this new Dodge SRT Drag Pak Challenger. Hats off to the entire DSR Factory Stock team, Terry (Snyder), Kevin (Helms), and everyone at Dodge and the SRT engineers for getting this great piece of machinery ready for us to debut this weekend at Gainesville. We were able to get this car into competition-form very quickly and I’m looking forward to some more seat time before our next race at Houston in May. We had a very good showing for the debut of the Drag Pak and we’re looking forward to maximizing all of its capabilities. What we saw today in round one is a testament to the type of competition this team and Dodge brings. Our competitors know that they have to step up to that level in order to try and beat us. We’re going to continue to be on top of our game, and pick away at it some more, and I’m confident we’ll have a very strong season.”

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