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The latest update as of March 6, 2022

Best laid plans.... etc.

This was supposed to be a big weekend of drag racing coverage for Northern Thunder. With two NHRA Lucas Oil Series regional events happening and the Good Vibrations March Meet underway, we sat here waiting to be inundated with photos and reports from Bakersfield. After a quick burst of test 'n tune shots from Wednesday, that was it. Since then: nothing. Two photographers on scene, but no photos in the inbox. The weather down at Famoso turned sour late Thursday, and most of yesterday was lost to rain, but we're still waiting for the next installment to arrive. Maybe tonight. Maybe not. Fingers crossed though.

64th annual Good Vibrations March Meet

NHRA Lucas Drag Racing Series Eastern Regional - Gainesville Raceway

Dubbed as the "Baby Gators" this first Eastern regional event of the season serves as a great preview of next week's Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. The pits were full of Top Alcohol Dragsters, with 16 cars in attendance, and most of them entered in the Gatornationals. On the Funny Car side, there were just six cars this weekend, and only entered eight for the national event, while there are already (entry deadline is Monday afternoon) 18 dragsters on the pre-entry list.

Qualifying got underway on Friday afternoon, but even with good atmospheric conditions and a well-prepped track, quite a few cars - dragsters and funny cars - had difficulting getting very far before tire shake or smoke interrupted their plans. While most of the pundits were expected some 5-teen dragster passes, low e.t. of the session was a very good 5.200 - 273.61 from the Gene Gallant tuned car of Karen Stalba. Following her was Winternationals winner (in only his second race in Top Alcohol) Mike Coughlin with a 5.276, and from there on it trailed off to Mick "The Real Deal" Steele on the bubble with a 5.658 - 265.85 effort.

The Funny Car fared even worse, with just five (of the six entered) cars making a pass, and only one - Kris Hool running quicker than 9-seconds. His low e.t. pass of 5.609 - 264.13 was good, but a couple of real hitters in the field, it shouldn't have held up as the #1 pass of the session. Late in the afternoon, all six cars appeared and two more broke into the 5-second zone, with Matt Gill making a very quick and fast 5.455 - 271.73 run to take the #1 spot away from Hool. We don't have all the TA/FC stats on hand, but his career best in national events was a 5.471 at Maple Grove last September.

The second session for the dragsters saw the field tighten up considerably, but low e.t. stayed with Stalba's 5.200 from earlier in the day. At the end of the round, there were four cars in the 5.20's, five in the 5.30's, and two more in the 5.40's. The bubble sitter, Canada's Jeff Veale was in at 5.391 - 267.37 and in what may have been a first, three of the eight qualifiers were from north of the border. Quebec's Dan Mercier sat #7 with a 5.378 - 270.43, while Jeff Chatterson (Brantford, ON) was one notch above at #6 with a 5.361 - 272.94 effort.

With the sun set and the lights on, the track was cooling quickly and the corrected altitude dropped under 1000' as the final qualifying session began. A few cars stumbled with the improved air and cool track, but a few racers, Jeff Veale especially, picked up the performance as he cranked out a 5.281 - 279.32 to set top speed and nearly move into the top half of the field. Nobody managed to break into the 5.10's, but Will Smith came closest, in the Robin Samsel dragster, with a 5.202 - 275.56 to snag the #2 spot, just behind leader Karen Stalba. The bump spot settled on Jeff Chatterson, with his earlier 5.361 holding down the final spot in the field. Showing the tightness of the final qualifying sheet, the first two alternates were in the 5.30's, the next two in the 5.40's, then two each in the 5.50's and 5.60's, with the slowest e.t. being a decent 5.693 pass.

In the first round of eliminations, there were some good runs and not-so-good. The low qualifier, Karen Stalba ignited the tires on the launch, roasting them to a 15.992, while the #8 qualifier, Jeff Chatterson turned his best e.t. of the weekend at 5.312 - 274.95 to advance to the semifinals. The closest race of the round featured Will Smith who cranked out a career best, and low e.t. of the meet, 5.197 - 278.58 to edge out Matt Sackman's very good 5.259 - 267.00 effort. Sackman, who's usual job is working on Antron Brown's clutch, was driving the #2 car of the Randy Meyer team. Also advancing to the semis was the #1 Meyer car, driven by Julie Nataas and Mike Couughlin in the McPhillips Racing entry.

All the Funny Car winners in their first round ran in the 5.50's, with Aryan Rochon leading the way at 5.500 - 257.24. Low qualifier Matt Gill had the closest race of the round, with his 5.544 - 260.51 taking out Canadian Ryan Stack by a couple of car lengths to earn the bye into the final. In that round, Rochon dispatched Ulf Leanders, and Gill staged the car before shutting off and saving everything for the final.

The dragster semifinal saw both winners running in the 5.20's, with Will Smith taking lane choice with his 5.227, while Julie Nataas was a little slower at 5.266. In the final, Smith kept up the pace with a very good 5.232 - 276.63 covering Nataas's close 5.284 - 268.38 as he earned his second regional of his career. The funny final wasn't nearly as close as Rochon lost traction early and slowed to a 7.239, while Matt Gill kept the pedal down all the way to a 5.554 - 267.88 for his third regional win at Gainesville Raceway.