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NHRA Gatornationals Qualifying Surprises


Morgan Lucas - Anne Proffit photo

Morgan Lucas - Anne Proffit photo

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They say the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season really starts in Gainesville, FL.

If qualifying results for the 43rd annual Tire Kingdom Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway are an indication, maybe yes and maybe no.

Morgan Lucas, who was fastest at the season-opening Winternationals grabbed his second No. 1 qualifier of the three-race season with a top ET of 3.766 seconds at 321.88 mph, set in Saturday morning's session. He backed that up nicely with a final lap 3.770 and the top speed of the event, 325.56mph.

"I can honestly say this is the best race car I've ever had," Lucas said. "I can't wait to hop in the thing. I credit the guys on the team. I feel like we've had the ingredients to perform this whole time and didn't know how to put it together. (Crew chiefs) Aaron Brooks and Rod Centorbi brought that to the table and with them here, I can focus and drive the car with a clear mind," said the driver/owner of Morgan Lucas Racing.

The same scenario holds true for the Funny Car No. 1 qualifier, driver/owner Cruz Pedregon, who changed tuners last year to this, hiring Lee Beard, whom the driver called, "Probably the best personality-wise to work with me." Pedregon's Saturday evening best of 4.026 seconds at 311.05 stopped the reigning No. 1 flopper driver, Mike Neff from getting two in a row. It was the third top qualifier for Pedregon at the Gators, first of this season and 46th of his career. Jack Beckman and Neff's teammate Robert Hight pushed him back to fourth.

Cruz Pedregon burnout - Anne Proffit photo

Cruz Pedregon burnout - Anne Proffit photo

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Pedregon didn't qualify his Toyota Camry for the Winternationals and went out in the first round at Phoenix; maybe his season start here? "It put me back in the seat really hard and got a little blurry around mid-track," he admitted of his quick pass. "It was a very good feeling, euphoric as they say. It's nice to reward these guys with a run like that. We're really going to enjoy it for tonight, but we'll be focused on getting back into the points battle on race day."

Before Pro Stock qualifying began on Saturday morning, Mopar Dodge Avenger driver Allen Johnson was asked what it would take to be No. 1 in this intensely competitive category? He replied, "a .48," which would compute to 6.48-seconds. Then he went out and did it, running 6.486 at 211.93 mph to take the No. 1. "This is Pro Stock country so it's great to be No. 1 qualifier here. The Mopar people are throwing us new parts and the Dodge Avenger is an awesome race car," he said.

The Pro Stock Motorcycle season begins here in Gainesville and it seems like 2011 never ended. Eddie Krawiec, who won the 2011 title on his Harley-Davidson Screamin' Eagle, annihilated the record books Saturday morning with a 6.750-secnd run at 198.03 mph. After testing and tuning to a 200-mph quarter-mile lap, Krawiec was hoping for those kinds of atmospheric conditions to make it official.

He had to settle for a national record instead. It was his 10th No. 1 and earned him a 20-point bonus for setting the national ET. "This morning we got some great weather and we were able to take advantage of it. We had a stiff head wind so maybe tomorrow if the wind dies down, we can get that 200-mph run?" Krawiec set the national speed record here last year, making this track a place where he feels "very comfortable."

Before the first Saturday Top Fuel qualifying session, Kenny Bernstein was soluted for the 20th anniversary of his 300-plus run. Wearing the same fire suit top, Bernstein brought the old race car out for a ride down the return road, to the delight of the near-capacity crowd.

Suzuki parts necklace, courtesy Karen Stoffer - Anne Proffit photo

Suzuki parts necklace, courtesy Karen Stoffer - Anne Proffit photo

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Karen Stoffer had a great season in Pro Stock Motorcycle competition with her Suzuki last year, but it wasn't without engine damage. She and husband Gary have stockpiled some of the smaller pieces and made a necklace out of some of the more wearable item!

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