Photos and words by Phil Hutchison
I don’t know why I bother listening to the weather when it comes to racing in Florida. All week long leading up to the Gators, rain was forecast each day. Even Sunday looked iffy but thank to the Weather Gods, the reports were premature and the race went off without a hitch with no rain falling on the property during the weekend. And the racing was great. One of the best Gators in recent years with lots of side by side runs by the Pros and the NHRA Sportsman racers.
In no particular order, my recap from last weekend
Former Lucas World champ and multi time event winner Joe Santangelo got the chance of a lifetime when Speedco Racing team owner Arnie Martel asked the Connecticut driver if he would be interested in wheeling the team’s B/SR and Camaro Super Stocker in 2014. Good thing Joe said yes since he’s done nothing but win with the potent roadster and Camaro.
Joe qualified the ’34 Chevy in the #5 spot with a 0.585 under 7.775 and took it from there.
On his way to the Winner’s Circle Joe defeated the Pontiacs of Bo Butner and Randy Daniels in the first two rounds, then took out a red lighting Steve Szupka in the quarterfinals only trimming 0.06 off his index in the process. In his semifinal match against Greg Kamplain’s B/ED,Joe used a great 0.015 light to take out the Brownsburg IN drivers 0.564 under 6.906 but a 0.138 RT killed Kamplain’s chances of making the finals.
On the other side of the ladder, former D1 and Lucas champ Al Ackerman’s little F/D was taking out Jenny Treadwell’s E/ED, a no show Rodney Rosenstiel in R3, and then defeated 2014 Lucas champ David Rampy’s A/EA in the semis to meet Santangelo for the Gator’s Comp title.
Ackerman was first out of the gate with a 0.016 light but Santangelo was no slouch either as he was right with the Saddle Brook NJ driver with a 0.019 RT. On the top end Santangelo had enough motor to hold off the dragster of Ackerman, running a 0.555 under 7.745 to Ackerman’s close -0.529 7.971. The win in Comp was the second for Santangelo behind the wheel of Martel’s B/SR having won the US Nationals in 2014.
Top Alcohol Dragster and Funny Car
Top Alcohol Funny Car featured some of the best racers inside and outside the USA as recent Winternationals’ winner Jonnie Lindberg and fellow Swedish racer Ulf Leanders had their potent funny cars solidly in the field of 16. Also joining the “Out of Towner’s” was reigning Lucas champ Steve Harker who calls Australia home when not racing out of Gainesville GA in his ’13 Monte Carlo.
Lindberg put his ’10 Monte Carlo on the pole with a 5.467 followed by Harker’s 5.533. D1’s Mickey Ferro had his new green look Monte Carlo in the #3 spot with a 5.557 while Todd Veney capped off the top 4 with a 5.569 in the Follow a Dream Camaro. John Headley held down the bump with a 6.143 in his ancient Mustang.
The finals of Top Alcohol Funny car went down to the World Champ Harker against Ulf Leanders for the Wally. Leanders was off the line first with a 0.088 to Harker’s 0.101 and ran a 5.541 @ 261.47 MPH to defeat the champ’s 5.626 @ 256.80 MPH. Low qualifier Lindberg went out in R2 due to some violent tire shake against Paul Noakes.
While Alcohol Dragster did not feature an international cast of characters like Funny Car, it did feature some of the quickest cars in the class including Lucas Champ Chris Demke out of Tujunga CA along with former champ Duane Shields from Boulder City NV. Joining this cast was multi time winner Randy Meyer out of Kansas, and D1 hitters Rich McPhillips out of PA, Jackie Fricke and teammate John Finke, and Richard Bourke from NJ.
The finals boiled down to the blown dragster of Lucas champ Demke and the A/FD of Meyer.
Demke had reeled off bracket like times throughout eliminations with a 5.28, 5.27, and another 5.27 to get to the final round. Meyer had been in the low 5.30’s all day and needed to step up his game in the finals if the Kansas racer wanted to win. Step up is exactly what Meyer did as he laid down a 5.219 at a Top Speed of the Meet 277.37 MPH to shock Demke’s off pace 5.33 at 276.24 after both drivers got off the line with nearly identical RTs.
Richard Bourke had low ET with a 5.215 in the opening round Sunday morning.
David Rampy, who had a decent chance for a double at Gainesville in both Super Stock and Comp had to settle for just one. Earlier Rampy lost to eventual Comp R/U Al Ackerman in the semis but took his Camaro to a win in Super Stock beating the always tough Mike Crutchfield in the finals with a 10.238 at 127.57 mph for the win. The win was Rampy’s 87th Lucas Oil National event win.
Kevin Helms’ Mopar out of Schriever LA took the Stock win over the Camaro of Jeff Adkinson with a 0.018 light running a 8.923 on his 8.92 dial.
In Super Gas it was Bill Clark out of Dartmouth Nova Scotia Canada taking his ’00 Firebird over the red lighting Mustang of Craig Porter from Silver Spring, Md. The win was Clark’s first in NHRA competition.
And in Super Comp it was an all Anthony Bertozzi final as the Ashland VA racer owned both cars racing for the Wally. John Labbous out of White House TN, driving one of Bertozzi’s cars, got off the line by just a tick and what ended up in a double breakout, beat Bertozzi with a 8.888 to a 8.870. The win was Labbous’ second NHRA win.
Starting in 2015 both Top Sportsman and Top Dragster will be contested on a national scale for a NHRA World Championship for the first time. The Godfather of D2 Top Sportsman racing Ronnie Davis, won the first national event of the year driving his venerable Corvette to a win over a stout field. Davis’s final round opponent, the ’06 Cobalt of Jeff Barker got a little loose off the line losing some ET and giving Davis lots of room on the top end for his second NHRA career win. Davis ran a 6.768 on a 6.63 dial as Barker was way off with a 6.989 on his 6.63 dial.