For the first time in more than 18 years, Gainesville resident, business owner, and drag racing champion Frank Hawley will be among those to compete at Gainesville Raceway in the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals. Hawley, a two-time NHRA Funny Car world champion, is the proprietor of Frank Hawley's NHRA Drag Racing School, headquartered at the racetrack, and this year will be piloting a nitro Funny Car for Mike Ashley and Roger Burgess' Gotham City Racing.
"A lot has changed since I drove last in 1991," Hawley said. "Funny Cars go a lot faster, there's so much more technology available to help tune the cars, and the safety features have gotten so much better.
"With the school, I've obviously stayed really keyed in to what's been happening in this world, and actually, after listening to so many crew chiefs over the years, I think I know how to communicate with Aaron [Brooks] and Rod [Centorbi, co-crew chiefs] about what's happening in the car so they can make their tuning decisions."
Hawley calls Gainesville home, and along with being the host track for his school, the venerable quarter-mile has been very friendly to his career. In 1982, behind the wheel of the famous Chi-Town Hustler tuned by the legendary Austin Coil (now tuner to 14-time Funny Car world champion John Force), Hawley scored his first NHRA national event win at the Gators with a 6.07 in the final against Tim Grose, whose parachute deployed before half-track.
"That was really the year that things started falling into place for us. We weren't even scheduled to go to all the races, but we did so well at the season opener in Pomona, and then when we won Gainesville, things just went on from there," Hawley said.
The London, Ont., native went on that year to record victories in Columbus, Ohio, and Brainerd en route to winning the season championship. He also scored that year in the inaugural Big Bud Shootout, defeating Don "the Snake" Prudhomme in the final, 5.85 to 5.92.
En route to the first of two straight NHRA Funny Car world championships, Frank Hawley drove the Austin Coil-tuned Chi-Town Hustler Dodge Charger to his first victory at the 1982 Gatornationals.
From 1981 to 1991, Hawley won seven NHRA Funny Car event titles, the 1982 and 1983 Funny Car world championships, and two Top Fuel event titles. In 1985, he founded his school, which was at the time limited to classroom and on-track instruction for Top Alcohol Dragsters and Top Alcohol Funny Cars. Eventually, the curriculum expanded to include Super Comp dragsters, Super Gas doorslammers, and Pro Stock Motorcycles. Distinguished graduates include Whit Bazemore, Larry Dixon, Jerry Toliver, Matt Hines, and his new Gotham City Racing teammate, Melanie Troxel.
"Returning to competition at the Gatornationals really just makes sense for me," Hawley said. "Once you're a racer, I don't think that desire to get out and compete ever leaves, and this was an opportunity that was pretty hard to turn down. Of course I'm looking forward to competing again, but more than that, I'm really looking forward to helping Mike and Roger promote our sport and market it to a number of companies that probably haven't been approached yet. "The package of being able to be involved and drive the car again, race with a lot of my friends, and to help these guys grow their racing business, it's just wonderful," he said.