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The latest update as of March 7, 2020

--- NHRA Division Two logo --- Baby Gators

NHRA Eastern Regional Opener at Gainesville, FL

Happening just a week before the AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals the first Eastern Regional event of the season is taking place at Gainesville Raceway. It's the perfect opportunity for sportsman and pro sportsman racers to fine-tune their cars before the first east coast national event of the 2020 season. Taking full advantage of the well-prepped track are 12 Top Alcohol Dragsters and a like number of Funny Cars. And there's some real heavy hitters in the pits.

First Qualifying Session

There were quite a few aborted runs in the first qualifying session, as pair after pair of Funny Cars failed to hook up or stay in the groove, and when the smoke cleared, only two-time defending NHRA world champion Greg Bellemeur had put down a representative run at 5.574 - 270.37 that featured a quick pedal at the top of low gear to get through tireshake. Second on the list was Kris Hool with a lacklustre 5.958 - 257.48 and the field wound down to the #8 qualifier (Dan Pomponio) at 9.394.

Top Alochol Dragster didn't start much better as the first three pairs failed to break into the 5-second zone, until Mick Steele ran a solid 5.485 - 269.29 to break the string of mediocre - or worse - runs. The last two pairs of the opening qualifier saw some BIG numbers posted as Josh Hart ran a career best 5.162 - 280.84 to top the field, and right beside him, Julie Nataas nearly matched his mark with a 5.209 - 273.88 for the #2 spot. The final pair of the round saw Jackie Fricke steal the #2 spot away from Nataas with a great 5.192 - 272.50. The bump spot for the dragsters ended up at 10.246, held by the only blown alcohol car in the field, Tom Fox Jr.

Second Qualifying Session

The second qualifying session saw some marked improvements from the Funny Cars as the first pair out of the lanes saw D.J. Cox jump all the way to the top of the field with a very good 5.476 - 264.03. Interestingly, in the other lane, Winternationals winner Aryan Rochon went oh-for-two as he spun the tires on the launch again. The next pair saw both racers step up, as last week's South Central regional winner Annie Whiteley moved into the #2 spot at 5.486 - 273.05. Running alongside her was Matt Gill and his 5.591 - 266.95 moved him into the #4 position.

The round continued with Doug Gordon picking up the pace, running 5.487 - 269.56 - a very good pass - but it only put him in the #3 spot. Even worse, that didn't keep him there as Greg Bellemeur in the final pair, put down the run he wanted with a great 5.463 - 271.84 to move back on top. The round closed with the bump spot moving down from the 9.394 of the first session to the 6.099 of former NHRA world champion Jonnie Lindberg.

The dragsters saw similar major improvements as the round opened with Will Smith shaved ten seconds of his first effort, moving into #4 with a 5.381 - 269.56 pass. The first pair of the round saw both racers move into the field, with Rich McPhillips Jr. (replacing Troy Coughlin Jr. and Rich McPhillips Sr. in the cockpit) blasted out a #3 qualifying 5.203 - 276.92 while the blown car of Tom Fox Jr. ran a near career best of 5.275 - 273.55 to slot into the #5 spot, and move the bubble down to Mick Steele's first session 5.485 clocking.

In the next pair, Steele failed to better his time and stayed on the bubble and the rest of the runners also failed to move up in the order. A notable absence from the staging lanes was long-time national event runner Jeff Veale from Ontario who stayed in the pits working on the car, missing the first two chances to qualify.

Third (final) Qualifying Session

With four cars sitting on the outside going into the final session, it was go fast or go home time. Aryan Rochon struck the tires early and the Winternationals winner failed to qualify in his homestate event. In the first pairing of the round, Dan Pomponio pedaled his way to a spot on the bubble at 6.058 - 248.89 but it certainly wasn't a comfortable spot with a number of hitters still waiting to run. And it didn't take long for that bubble to evaporate as in the next pair Joshua Haskett booted him out with a 5.894 - 241.37 to jump up to the #7 spot and put Kris Hool on the bump with his earlier 5.958. Since Hool had already run he had no way to defend his position either.

Taking full advantage of his plight was Jonnie Lindberg who used up all of his lane as he fought the car all the way to the finish line and a great 5.457 - 267.80 time that put him at the top of the ladder. But that only lasted until Annie Whiteley ran in the final pair of qualifying and lit up the scoreboards BIG TIME with a 5.397 - 274.66 to move back to the #1 position and seal the field that was anchored by Haskett's 5.89 pass. Of note is that Ulf Leanders failed to come back for the second and third sessions after wounding an engine in the first qualifier.

The final session for the dragsters saw a number of no-shows as only 9 of the 12 cars appeared in the lanes. Missing the show entirely was Jeff Veale, and Tom Fox Jr. and Josh Hart decided to sit out and save parts for tomorrow's eliminations. The first car out of the waterbox, Jeff Chatterson from Ontario bumped Steele out with a good 5.426 - 263.10 to take the #7 spot and move Duane Shields (5.449) down to the bump. And that precarious position didn't last long as Mick Steele jumped back into the field with a 5.435 - 267.06 for the #8 spot. Shields ran next and ran a seven cylinder 5.552 to stay in the #9 position.

Other notable passes in the final two pairs saw Rich McPhillips Jr. nearly match his earlier 5.203 with a 5.209 coupled with a big speed of 280.54 and Julie Nataas's 5.268 - 275.45 was a nice backup to her earlier 5.209 pass. And that's a wrap for qualifying.

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