ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals
by Phil Burgess, NHRA.com
Reigning NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series world champs Tony Schumacher, Tony Pedregon, and Jeg Coughlin collected victories at the 39th annual ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway, the third round of the 2008 season. Coughlin and Pedregon earned their first wins of their title-defense seasons, scoring in Funny Car and Pro Stock, respectively, with final-round victories over Gary Densham and Jason Line, and Schumacher posted his second in Top Fuel by defeating Brandon Bernstein. As he did for his first win in Reading last year, No. 1 qualifier Matt Guidera won Pro Stock Motorcycle with a blistering string of four six-second passes.
Reigning NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series world champs Tony Schumacher, Tony Pedregon, and Jeg Coughlin collected victories at the 39th annual ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway, the third round of the 2008 season.
Coughlin and Pedregon earned their first wins of their title-defense seasons, scoring in Funny Car and Pro Stock, respectively, with final-round victories over Gary Densham and Jason Line, and Schumacher posted his second in Top Fuel by defeating Brandon Bernstein. As he did for his first win in Reading last year, No. 1 qualifier Matt Guidera won Pro Stock Motorcycle with a blistering string of four six-second passes.
“There were a lot of good cars and a lot of people running equal to us, and every round was a battle,” said Schumacher. “We really had to earn this one. I look at this trophy and it’s a nice one, and we had really difficult cars to beat, and it was one of the harder ones to earn. We got some breaks. Running 4.74 against
“We’re really good at crunch time and when it matters, but getting a break every now and then is nice. This is
Bernstein, who won the Gatornationals in his 2003 rookie season but hadn’t won a round in Gainesville since and failed to make the starting field for last year’s event, came from seventh in the field and worked his Budweiser dragster past a pair of drivers making their 2008 debuts, Clay Millican and Michael Gunderson, the former with a 4.59 and the latter in a smoke-filled second-round bash. Bernstein regained a semblance of form in the semifinals and earned lane choice for his 24th Top Fuel final with a close 4.66 to 4.67 conquest of Hillary Will, ending her best outing of the season.
“We ran good when we had to run good and had a few rounds where we did what it took to win,” said Pedregon. “Usually it’s all about how quick and fast can we run and how much power can we apply to the track, but today we raced the conditions. Dickie [Venables, crew chief] had a really good game plan today. I have a lot of respect for Gary Densham, and we didn’t take him lightly -- I know some of his tricks; I hope he doesn’t think I forgot – and he’s a tough customer, and these conditions played right into his hands.
“To think that a little over a month ago I was in the hospital with burns on my hands is quite an accomplishment. It’s been pretty much nonstop for our crew, and we’ve had great support from our sponsors. We didn’t get off to the kind of start we wanted, but when you look at the quality of cars out here, you know why. You can’t count on too many of these guys just folding up. It used to be not that many years ago you had one or two cars; now you have a world-class field of 12 to 15 cars with all of the resources and talent. It’s going to be a dogfight, and every race is going to be important.”
Densham, who hadn’t reached a final round since doubling up at the 2004 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals while driving for Force, reached his first final as a team owner since the 1999 CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals, where he lost to then-Team Force driver Pedregon. Densham, who hadn’t won a round this year, qualified the Racebricks Chevy just 15th but upset his tire-smoking former boss in round one with a 4.91, eked past tractionless Del Worsham in the second round with a blower-belt-breaking 7.66 to Worsham’s 12.80, then squeezed past Tim Wilkerson on a holeshot in the semifinals, 4.96 to 4.92.
“The Gatornationals is definitely a marquee event on the NHRA tour, so it feels good to win here,” said Coughlin, whose win is his second at this event and earned him the points lead. “You always want to have the points lead with the Countdown to the Championship format, but we want that points lead bad coming into the second leg of the Countdown.
“Beating Greg on a holeshot in the second round was certainly a turning point for us, and we got a little fortunate in the semifinals after breaking the wheelie bar on the burnout. My crew chief told me I needed to shut it down, but I knew that Johnny had been having some problems, so I at least was going to stage it. As soon as I let the clutch out it brought the front end up but also started spinning the tires, which helped a lot and dropped the front end and ran quick enough to have lane choice for the final. Then to have Jason Line, the last reigning champ, in the other lane, I knew we had our hands full, and both of us put .65s on the board and put on a good show for the crowd."
“This win is so much better than our first win,” said Guidera, whose
“I think our team has come around a lot faster than the rest of the teams,” said Guidera. “I think a lot of these teams didn’t do their homework this season, and I know how hard our team worked, and it showed. We had the field covered by a couple of hundredths, but there was a lot of parity with two Buells, a Harley, and a Suzuki in the final four.”
Hines, who made history at this event in 2005 by recording the class’ first six-second pass, reached the final for the first time here since his inaugural Gainesville win in 2004 from the No. 3 hole with a string of six-second passes – 6.96, 6.95, and 6.97 – to trailer Junior Pippin, Angie McBride, and McBride’s teammate, reigning world champ Matt Smith, last year’s runner-up at this event. The battle between the class’ two most recent world champs was indicative of their status; both recorded 6.973s, and Hines won with a perfect .000 reaction time aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson to Smith’s decent .014.
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