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The latest update as of March 11, 2023

Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals

The 52nd annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals

Day three dawned sunny and warm and it appears that everything is back on track at Gainesville Raceway. The grandstands were literally packed for the Top Alcohol cars, which is almost unheard of usually, and this was only 10:15 in the morning. Even with all those fans in the seats, the announcers reported a very large traffic jam on the roads leading to the track. It appears that the track may set an attendance record for the day and the event, which could be a very good omen for the 2023 Camping World Drag Racing Series.

The Top Alcohol cars completed their first round of eliminations to start the "fast" portion of the day, and the round saw more than a few upsets and one wild crash. Last year's #2 finisher in the points standings, Matt Cummings, driving the McPhillips Family car smoked the tires and lost to unheralded John Ausherman, who was running just his third national event after debuting halfway through the 2022 season. Things got back to normal for the long skinny cars after that, as rising star Cody Krohn pounded out a new low e.t. of the meet at 5.157 - 279.38 to eclipse his 5.162 and 5.170 qualifying passes. Then the round finished with Julie Nataas joining Krohn in the 5-teens, with a 5.170 coupled with top speed of the meet at 280.60 mph.

There were three very noticeable absences from the dragster field, as last year's #3 finisher, Jasmine Salinas failed to get down the track quicker than 16-seconds on both of her qualifying attempts in the McPhillips-tuned machine. One of the Randy Meyer Racing entries, driven by Hunter Green didn't fare much better with an 8-second pass being his best. And last year's #10 Top Alcohol Dragster racer, Karen Stalba in the Gene Gallant-tuned A/Fuel dragster pedaled her way to a best of 5.965 - 245.47 that fell well short of the mediocre 5.648 bump spot.

A few final notes on Top Alcohol Dragster: there was only ONE supercharged alcohol car in the field, against TWENTY injected nitro entries. It's not a great sign of parity, but the ratio of blown vs injected entries should change when the nationale event tour moves out west for the Pomona and Las Vegas races. Another note is the Canadian particpation in the Gatornationals field. Three cars came down, two from Ontario and one from Quebec, with Dan Mercier leading the group with a pair of low 5.20 runs, including a #4 qualifying 5.214 - 278.86 pass. Unfortunately, Mercier fell in the first round to Cory Michalek, despite running a very good 5.265 - 279.09. Michalek took the win with a slightly slower run, but a quicker leave, an .018 light to Mercier's .036 reaction. A tough way to lose in what might have been one of this final events in Top Alcohol, as he's planning to run the ex-Terry McMillen Top Fuel car on a more regular basis.

The other Canadian drivers, both from Ontario, met in the first round of eliminations, as Jeff Veale (#7) faced Jeff Chatterson (#10). Veale left first and finished first as he improved from his 5.308 qualifying time to a 5.280 - 276.92 to hold off Chatterson's solid 5.350 - 271.08 as both drivers improved over their qualifying efforts. Veale's win earned him a "date" with Julie Nataas in the second round, later this afternoon.

With only nine cars in the Top Alcohol Funny Car pits, there wasn't much drama in qualifying, but the top five cars were all qualifed at 5.505 or better. Only one car clocked in slower than #8 Ryan Stack's 5.645 effort. However, the real drama started early in eliminations as the second pair featured #2 qualifier Bob McCosh, and #9 (last) John Headley in what turned into a debacle. Headley left late, very late, with a .531 reaction time, while McCosh's wasn't that much better at .251, but things went south quickly as McCosh's car labored from the launch and finally banged the blower at half track. That left him coasting, while Headley limped down to the finish line with almost as much trouble, finally passing McCosh at the stripe and turning on the winlight by less than half a car length.

But that wasn't the end of it, as Headley made an immediate right turn into McCosh's lane, passing in front of him and smashing head-on into the wall before the 'chutes even came out. Miraculously, McCosh was able to avoid his out of control opponent, and slowed to a safe stop while Headley was able to exit the remains of his under his own power. The body was broken in half, the front half of the chassis was twisted at nearly a 45 degree angle, and the crash most likely ended Headley's Funny Car career.

However, that wasn't the end of the round as the next pair saw multi-time champion, Greg Bellemeur in the "Killer B's" car get out of shape, pedal and try hard to make up the gap to Canadian Ryan Stack who had troubles of his own but got to the finish line first by a 5.604 - 259.46 to 5.864 - 259.36 for Bellemeur. Stack nearly hit the wall before half track and then had the car skating around in the shutdown area, but got it reined in to a safe stop. The round ended with top qualifier D.J. Cox Jr. having trouble in the right lane on his bye run, but kept the shiny side shiny and got to the finish line under power.

The final qualifying session for Pro Mod followed the Top Alcohol cars, and there were several instances of cars getting out of control in both lanes, but with the lack of downforce on those cars, it's not totally unexpected. More news from Gainesville tomorrow, as we're out of time to work on the website today. As always: stay tuned!