Mar 15, 2015; Gainesville, FL, USA; Funny car winner Ron Capps (left) and NHRA top fuel driver Spencer Massey celebrate together after winning the Gatornationals at Auto Plus Raceway at Gainesville. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

NHRA Gatornationals return for second time in less than a year

It’s time for the 52nd annual National Hot Rod Association Gatornationals. Last year’s version of the event was postponed until September because of the coronavirus pandemic. Fewer than six months have passed since the NHRA last came to Gainesville Raceway.

Gatornationals began on Thursday with qualifying sessions and the event runs through Sunday. There is one major difference between this year’s competition and those of the past.

NHRA kicks off season at Gatornationals for first time ever

Traditionally, the season begins in Pomona, Calif. for the NHRA Winternationals. In the 70-year history of the association, the season has never started in Gainesville.

But that changes today. Drivers will begin their quests for a 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series world championship at Gatornationals.

There are four main professional classes in the drag racing association’s top competition level: Top Fuel Dragster, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle. All four winners from last year’s Gatornationals will race this weekend.

Drivers to watch

Along with the four returning Gatornationals victors, there are some other drivers to keep an eye on in the first event of the season. Here are the ones to watch:

  • Steve Torrence, Top Fuel — Torrence will attempt to win his fourth consecutive Top Fuel title this season. He has three straight crowns and defeated his father, Billy Torrence, in the final round of the 2020 Gatornationals.
  • John Force, Funny Car — The 16-time Funny Car champ is 71 years old and still a force to be reckoned with. Despite taking 2020 off, he recorded the best time at Palm Beach International Raceway in preparation for Gatornationals.

  • Ron Capps, Funny Car — Capps has a Funny Car world championship under his belt and has won four times at Gatornationals. He went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.
  • Matt Hagan, Funny Car — He won his third Funny Car title in 2020. However, the defending champion is yet to win at Gatornationals.
  • Erica Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock — She has four Pro Stock championships and took her second consecutive crown last season. But Enders-Stevens has not captured victory at Gatornationals.
  • Alex Laughlin, Pro Stock — Laughlin was the underdog victor at the 2020 Gatornationals. He earned his first-ever Gatornationals win and fourth career win at the event.
  • Matt Smith, Pro Stock Motorcycle — Smith is searching for his fifth world championship in Pro Stock Motorcycle after his fourth title in 2020. Additionally, he won at Gatornationals for the first time in last year’s edition of the event.

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