With three consecutive Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals victories, NHRA Mello Yello Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Eddie Krawiec is eager to get back on the saddle to claim a fourth win at the tradition-rich 44th annual event, March 14-17 at historic Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville.
The Gatornationals is the season debut for NHRA’s two-wheel class, Pro Stock Motorcycle. Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), and Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s event champions. The third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will be televised on ESPN2HD.
“We’re excited, looking forward to Gainesville,” Krawiec said. “Hopefully, the performance side of it will steadily increase throughout the season. For me, I know the target is on my back, and everybody’s after me. They want my No. 1 plate. The hardest thing is to maintain it. When you’re in the No. 1 spot, the only place to go is backwards. From two on up, you can improve. From one, the only way to go is down.”
Guarding his throne will not be an easy task. The NHRA’s new Pro Stock Motorcycle rules have teams working overtime in preparation for their season opener in Gainesville. Krawiec is confident that the growing pains will be cured and will try to start the season right where he left off in 2012.
“As a rider, I feel like I have it together mentally,” Krawiec said. “Obviously, after the rule changes this past season, we had to go back and do pretty much a whole redesign of the top half of the motor. It’s going to be a long road from here. There are a lot of great bikes out there. It will be interesting to see how we stack up and see how competitive we are off the hit. It’s exciting just to be able to make Gainesville at this point.”
The Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson rider is coming off a record-making 2012 season that included winning his third Pro Stock Motorcycle championship on the strength of nine victories, two runner-up finishes, and five No. 1 qualifying positions. He lost only seven rounds of racing the entire season.
“For us as drivers, obviously with the momentum, after coming off a championship, I’m ready to go two weeks later,” Krawiec said. “Let’s start the schedule again, go racing. But I think as a racer, the key thing is being able to develop your overall package, refine what it is you have, then go out there and continue to race. The off-season is much-needed time, but now I’m ready to go racing.”
Defending last season’s win at the Gators would be a great kick start for the Harley-Davidson team. In the final round, Krawiec defeated teammate Andrew Hines, becoming only the second racer to earn the maximum 150 points by winning the race, setting a national e.t. record (6.750 seconds), leading all four qualifying sessions, and earning the No. 1 qualifying position.
“Our intentions at Gainesville are right now to show up with our two Harley-Davidsons and qualify,” Krawiec said. “Anything from there on would be a bonus. Then we’ll continually raise our goals going to each race throughout the season. I’m excited.”
Fellow Harley-Davidson teammate Hines, the 2004 Gainesville winner and a three-time world champ, is looking to finally seal the deal with a fourth championship this season. Hector Arana Sr., 2009 world champion and event winner, is taking his two sons, 2011 rookie of the year Hector Jr. and rookie Adam Arana, along for the ride onboard their Lucas Oil Buell bikes this season with hopes to end a winless streak. Power couple Matt and Angie Smith revamped their three-bike team with rider John Hall. Others to watch in the two-wheel class this season include new Sovereign/Star Buell rider Michael Ray and teammate Scotty Pollacheck and Suzuki rider Jimmy Underdahl.
In Top Fuel, defending event winner Lucas will be challenged by seven-time world champion and Mello Yello points leader Tony Schumacher, a four-time winner of the Gatornationals. Others seeking wins include defending world champ Antron Brown, O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries winner Shawn Langdon, Spencer Massey, and Doug Kalitta. Rookie driver Brittany Force will make her first Pro start in Gainesville in her Castrol Edge dragster.
In Funny Car, two-time Gatornationals winner Ron Capps leads the points standings in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger. Defending event winner Hight and defending world champ Jack Beckman will try to grab their first victories of the season. Other pre-race favorites in the 8,000-horsepower category include track record holder Cruz Pedregon; Winternationals winner Courtney Force; 15-time world champ John Force, who has seven Gatornationals victories on his resume; Matt Hagan; Del Worsham; and 2009 Gators winner Bob Tasca III.
The Pro Stock class is chock-full of championship contenders, including defending event winner Edwards in his Interstate Batteries/I am Second Chevy Camaro, four-time Gatornationals winner Jason Line, Phoenix winner Erica Enders-Stevens, Winternationals winner and points leader Vincent Nobile, two-time Gatornationals champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., and defending world champ Allen Johnson, who drives the Team Mopar Dodge Avenger.
The NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, which will compete at 10 events in 2013, also will take to the track for the first time this year as Troy Coughlin looks to defend his world championship title.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful motorsports attraction on the planet. While visiting the pits, interactive NHRA Nitro Alley, and the NHRA Manufacturers Midway, fans will also want to check out NHRA’s popular Hot Rod Junction presented by the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, which offers a spectacular display of many nostalgic dragsters, race cars, and hot rods, including vintage machines that were driven by “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Don Carlton, K.S. Pittman, “Big John” Mazmanian, Bruce Larson, and Jerry Baltes, among others. Several NHRA Legends of Drag Racing autograph sessions also will be scheduled throughout the weekend, allowing fans the rare opportunity to meet many of NHRA Drag Racing’s biggest stars from the past.
Fans also will want to take advantage of the popular Championship Sunday Track Walk, which is free to all Sunday ticket holders, with Top Fuel legend and Florida resident Darrell Gwynn. This popular event gives fans the opportunity to walk down the legendary dragstrip alongside some of NHRA’s biggest stars.
On Friday at the track, fans will have the rare opportunity to attend a special Nitro Pit Party and Press Conference in the Pro pits prior to the first qualifying session. Many of the top stars in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will be featured during the press conference, which starts at 10:45 a.m.
As its Nitro Generation celebration continues, NHRA is offering free general admission for children 12 and younger with a paying adult.
• SCHEDULE: NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for noon and 2:15 p.m. on Friday, March 15, and continue on Saturday, March 16, at noon and 2:15 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 17.
• TICKETS: For tickets for the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals, log on to NHRATIX.com or call the NHRA Ticket Sales Center, 800-884-NHRA (6472).
• TELEVISION: On Sunday, March 17, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise 90 minutes of qualifying coverage at 1:30 a.m. ET and three hours of eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. ET.