NHRA Nitro Season Opens at Gatornationals

Fifteen months after Gainesville Raceway was built in 1968, the first Gatornationals was held as a four-day event that featured National Hot Rod Association classes alongside amateur divisions, motorcycle races and Jr. dragster. For decades the drag racing event served as the traditional East Coast opener for the National Hot Rod Association and this year was the opening round of the 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series.

Both fans and competitors love coming to Florida and, over the years, the track has earned its status one of the season’s must-see national events. Long considered one of the NHRA’s fastest tracks, the Gatornationals saw the first 260-mph passes in Top Fuel (Joe Amato) and Funny Car (Kenny Bernstein) in 1984 and the first 300-mph passes by Don Garlits (Top Fuel) in 1986 and Kenny Bernstein (Funny Car) in 1992.

Generally speaking, many of the top drivers and teams like starting the NHRA drag racing season on the East Coast, as Gainesville Raceway does not have noise curfews and other restrictions against teams testing when gearing up for a new season. The National Hot Rod Association facility borders wildlife management areas, conservation areas, and University of Florida farms. So, track hosts races and is available for rentals year-round.

Shawn Langdon Blazes to Gatornationals Win

With the team’s owner claiming the NHRA Top Fuel championship last year, veteran Shawn Langdon vowed to avoid being the weak link at Kalitta Motorsports for upcoming 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Season. Beginning his sixteenth year in the professional nitro ranks, the Californian’s last Wally came at the U.S. Nationals during the season-shortened pandemic year. But, this season Langdon is reunited with longtime crew chief Brian Husen.

Langdon got the ball rolling in qualifying by picking up his first Number One qualifier award in Top Fuel with a 3.682-seconds elapsed time at 334.15 mph under the lights at Gainesville Raceway. The driver of the Kalitta Air dragster built momentum with wins over Cody Krohn, Justin Ashley and Antron enroute to the Finals. Billy Torrence began his full-time season with wins over Brittany Force, Mike Salinas and his son Steve. Langdon carded a 3.711 ET to earn his 18th Wally and giving Kalitta Motorsports its first Nitro Double weekend in 18 seasons.

J.R. Todd Delivers Coveted Double for Kalitta Motorsports

On a weekend where J.R. Todd and DHL team of Kalitta Motorsports had struggled to find the performance they needed to win the 55th annual Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals, staying focused on delivering win paid off. Todd only qualified sixth but out ran Blake Alexander, cruised to victory when Ron Capps red lighted and out pedaled Bob Tasca III to post a round-winning 4.963 ET at 180 mph. However, getting to the Final Round is the first step in claiming win, a Wally and the coveted Golden Gator.

Before the season opener, former Top Fuel driver Austin Prock moved to Funny Car to pinch-hit for three-time NHRA Funny Car champion Robert Hight, who step out of the John Force Racing Cornwell Tools / AAA Chevrolet Funny Car due to health concerns. Prock’s debut at the PRO Superstar Shootout last month scored a $250,000. He also earned the Number One qualifier at Gainesville and easily earned his spot in the final round. But, after a close start, J.R. Todd made his quickest pass of the weekend giving Kalitta Motorsports the first leg of the Nitro Double.

Artwork courtesy of NHRA


Lucas Oil Winternationals

Nitro teams will cross the country for the second race of the 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Series at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip in two weeks on March 31-24. For the 64th time the historic Southern California facility will host both nitro classes as well as the Pro Stock division. In addition, the popular #2Fast2Tasty Mission NHRA Challenge will also take place in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock on Saturday.


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