Great Race: 1992 Gatornationals
by John Miller
Nearly a decade after the event, many fans might have forgotten who won what at the 1992 Motorcraft Gatornationals. To this day, though, they remember what took place Friday afternoon at Gainesville Raceway.
Kenny Bernstein, driving his Dale Armstrong-tuned Budweiser King Top Fueler, made drag racing history by becoming the first driver to eclipse the 300-mph mark when he ran 301.70 in qualifying.
Bernstein's e.t. on the run, in the first pair in the second of Friday's two qualifying sessions opposite Al Segrini, was a 4.823, the quickest run ever until crowd favorite Eddie Hill cranked out a staggering 4.801 in his second-round victory over Pat Austin. Hill also ran 4.89 and 4.84 en route to the final, where his 4.84 beat Bernstein's up-in-smoke 9.43. With the victory — his first since the 1988 Fallnationals and his lone win of the 1992 season — the 56-year-old Hill became the oldest driver to win an NHRA national event.
All told, 37 four-second runs were recorded, including seven by Hill, whose worst run was a cylinder-dropping, blower-belt-tossing 4.93 in qualifying. Only 12 Top Fuelers ran in the fours during qualifying; by the end, all 16 had recorded a four-second lap at some stage of the event. The "kings of the sport" were the royalty of Gainesville Raceway.
If the Top Fuel show wasn't enough, Warren Johnson turned in one of the most dominating performances ever in Pro Stock. In eliminations, Johnson made four runs within an .008-second span, ranging from 7.141 in the second round to a 7.149 that tripped up Larry Morgan in the semifinals. Bookending those runs were a 7.143 and a 7.145 in his final-round victory over Jerry Eckman, who was appearing in his third final in four races.
Remarkably, Johnson left Gainesville Raceway with only one national record to his credit, the speed mark, which he set at 194.46 mph in qualifying. Leaving Florida with the e.t. record was the Mopar Parts/Wayne County Speed Shop Daytona driven by Scott Geoffrion, who ran 7.139 for the pole.
While racers in Top Fuel and Pro Stock were smashing the record books, the Funny Car contingent just put on a good ol' drag race. John Force claimed both ends of the Gainesville Raceway track record en route to the final, where he gunned down Jim Epler with the quickest and fastest run of his career, a 5.154 at 289.01 mph.
After going winless for seven months and eight races, Force led the field with a 5.21 and stayed on that pace, barring a 5.27 in the opener, for the remainder of the event. After removing Whit Bazemore, Force tangled with Cruz Pedregon — who, by the end of the season, would overtake Force and become the only other driver in the 1990s to win the Winston Funny Car championship — and, after a minor starting-line burndown, took a comfortable 5.20 to 6.34 victory when Pedregon struck the tires at midtrack.
The two-wheelers also took a liking to the Gainesville Raceway surface, finishing with a record 7.87 bump spot. Jim Bernard's victory in Pro Stock Bike, the second of his career, was the most shocking of the event. Pre-race favorite John Myers broke in the first round, and Byron Hines did likewise in the second. Bernard then personally took care of the next-quickest riders in the field, Dave Schultz and John Mafaro.