Defending NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Matt Smith. (Photo courtesy: NHRA)

Everything you need to know about this weekend’s NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.

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While this weekend’s Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., will be the third race of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class will be kicking off its share of the 2014 campaign, as well.

While Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock compete in 24 NHRA national events, Pro Stock Motorcycle (PSM) is a condensed 16-event slate of races, kicking off its share of the 2014 schedule at the Gatornationals’ long-time home of Auto-Plus Raceway.

Two-time and reigning PSM series champ Matt Smith is looking to pick up where he left off at the end of last season, and with added incentive: he’s never won before at Gainesville.

“Gainesville is definitely one of the premier events the bikes race at,” Smith said. “It’s one place I’ve always wanted to win. That’s always been a goal of mine. There’s going to be some strong competition, but my mindset is to go lay down some big numbers right off the bat and let everyone know I’m serious about defending this title.”

Smith qualified No. 1 at last year’s Gatornationals but was unable to earn the victory. He’ll be debuting a brand new bike in an attempt to get that elusive Gainesville win this weekend.

“We’re looking to be just as strong this year as we were a season ago,” said Smith, who rides the Stockseth Racing Buell. “We’re going to do our best to carry it over. It’s real exciting to enter the season with that No. 1 on your bike. It puts a target on your back, but that’s what you like. I’m trying to defend my title. We’ve worked hard and prepared, and it should be a great event.”

Hector Arana Jr. won last year’s PSM portion of the Gatornationals and ultimately wound up winning the first three events of the season in 2013. He’d welcome doing the same this season.

“I set some pretty high standards last season in Gainesville for myself,” said Arana Jr., who finished fourth in last season’s PSM final standings. “I look to do the same again this year. It’s a new season and I want to start it off like I did in 2013 with a win in Gainesville.”

Arana will be joined in this weekend’s field by teammates Hector Sr. (his father) and brother Adam. Other key riders to keep an eye on this weekend include three-time (2010-2012) Gatornationals winner Eddie Krawiec, Andrew Hines, Michael Ray and newcomer Chaz Kennedy.

“We worked hard (during the offseason) to get ready,” said Hector Arana Sr., who finished fifth in the 2013 standings. “We regrouped and learned some things from last year. Hopefully, we can stay consistent this year. We worked hard trying to find little things to make the bike go faster. That’s what we focused on, the little things, so we can make fewer mistakes. Hopefully it will lead us to accomplish more at the races.”

Krawiec, who won the PSM championship in 2012, wants to reclaim his crown in 2014.

“I think we’ve gotten a lot better over the winter, and we were able to work with the full combination of our new ideas,” Krawiec said. “It appears that we have very consistent motorcycles, and we can now duplicate the setup from run to run, and really see the results of our tuning. I’m really itching to line up and pop the clutch on my V-Rod.”

Defending Gatornationals winners in the other three pro series heading into this weekend are Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock).

NOTES: There has been a great deal of action already in the first two NHRA national Events in the season-opening race last month at Pomona (Calif.) and three weeks ago at Phoenix.

Funny Car driver John Force, coming off a record 16th championship last season, began the 2014 campaign off in great fashion by setting new national elapsed time (3.965 seconds) and speed (324.12 mph) records in his class at Pomona.

Fellow Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria became the first female Funny Car driver to dip below the 4.00 second mark (3.996 seconds) at Pomona, and then won her first national event at Phoenix.

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AMALIE MOTOR OIL NHRA GATORNATIONALS FACT SHEET

WHAT:  45th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, the third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.

WHERE: Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, Gainesville, Fla. The track is located on 11211 North County Road 225 in Gainesville.

WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, March 13-16

SCHEDULE:

THURSDAY, March 13

LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying at 8:30 a.m.

FRIDAY, March 14

LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations at 8 a.m.

PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES qualifying at 1:45 p.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at noon and 2:15 p.m.

SATURDAY, March 15

LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations at 8 a.m.

PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES qualifying at 11:30 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at noon and 2:15 p.m.

SUNDAY, March 16

PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES eliminations begin at 9:30 a.m.

Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

2013 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Johnny Gray, Funny Car; Allen Johnson, Pro Stock, Hector Arana Jr., Pro Stock Motorcycle.

MOST GATORNATIONALS VICTORIES:  Warren Johnson, 9, Pro Stock; John Force, 7, Funny Car; Don Prudhomme, 5, FC; Joe Amato, 4, Top Fuel; Kenny Bernstein, 4, FC/TF; Larry Dixon, 4, TF; Don Garlits, 4, TF; Jason Line, 4, PS; Ed McCulloch, 4, FC; Tony Schumacher, 4, TF; Dave Schultz, 4, Pro Stock Motorcycle; Terry Vance, 4, PSM.

TRACK RECORDS:

Top Fuel – 3.749 seconds by Morgan Lucas, March ’12; 326.87 mph by Lucas, March ’12.

Funny Car – 4.026 seconds by Cruz Pedregon, March ’12; 317.12 mph by Robert Hight, March ’12.

Pro Stock – 6.473 seconds by Mike Edwards, March ’12; 214.31 mph by Edwards, March ’13.

Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.750 seconds by Eddie Krawiec, March ’12; 199.26 mph by Krawiec, March ’11.

CURRENT NATIONAL RECORDS:

Top Fuel – 3.701 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. ‘12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Charlotte, N.C.

Funny Car – 3.965 sec. by John Force, Feb. ’14, Pomona, Calif.; 324.12 mph by J. Force, Feb. ’14, Pomona, Calif.

Pro Stock – 6.471 sec. by Mike Edwards, April ‘13, Charlotte, N.C.; 214.35 mph by Line, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.

Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.

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NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES POINTS STANDINGS

Point standings (top 10) following the second of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel:  1.  Doug Kalitta, 191; 2.  Khalid alBalooshi, 165; 3.  Antron Brown, 156; 4.  Steve Torrence, 155; 5.  (tie) Brittany Force, 127; Spencer Massey, 127; 7.  Shawn Langdon, 124; 8.  Tony Schumacher, 92; 9.  (tie) Richie Crampton, 84; David Grubnic, 84.

Funny Car:  1.  John Force, 225; 2.  Robert Hight, 159; 3.  Alexis DeJoria, 156; 4.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 136; 5. Del Worsham, 132; 6.  Matt Hagan, 129; 7.  Bob Tasca III, 124; 8.  Jack Beckman, 92; 9.  Ron Capps, 88; 10.  Tim Wilkerson, 84.

Pro Stock:  1.  V. Gaines, 191; 2.  Jason Line, 180; 3.  (tie) Allen Johnson, 161; Vincent Nobile, 161; 5. Dave Connolly, 128; 6.  Shane Gray, 127; 7.  Erica Enders-Stevens, 120; 8.  Jeg Coughlin, 88; 9. (tie) Larry Morgan, 82; Shane Tucker, 82.

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Grace Autosport continuing to build program towards May

L to R: Grace Autosports Team Principal Beth Paretta and race driver Katherine Legge launch an all-female Indy 500 team to contest the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016 (PRNewsFoto/Grace Autosport)
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One of the newest teams planning to field an entry at this year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Grace Autosport, continues its preparations in what could be a hectic month of February.

The primarily female initiative, led by Beth Paretta with Katherine Legge as nominated driver, has gained traction in the last month or so with further meetings, STEM events and Legge’s standout drive in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opening race, the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

While announced last May, time is of the essence for securing both an engine lease and a team partner, to go along with the crew already established.

The target to confirm both the engine and team partner is coming up next month.

“[We’d need to finalize] by the beginning of March to give it proper time,” Paretta told NBC Sports in an interview following the Rolex 24.

Paretta was on site at Daytona for the Rolex 24 for a number of meetings with manufacturers and other key industry stakeholders, to continue to promote the Grace Autosport message, brand and team.

“Yes, there were a few key meetings – some planned, some impromptu – which went very well,” she said.

“The awareness still surprises me. I was wearing a Grace Autosport hat in the paddock and a few people asked me about the team. Many people in the racing community have said they think the concept is cool and have offered help.

“I get offers for help from some guys that have worked on teams I’ve worked with in the past, which is lovely.”

Legge’s drive at Daytona in the DeltaWing DWC13 coupe didn’t hurt matters, either.

The Tim Keene-led team opted not to qualify in the treacherous, rain-soaked conditions. Legge started the car and went from 13th and last in the Prototype class field up to third within the first 20 minutes, and led by the end of the first hour.

In a career that’s had occasional standout drives, this was one of them, and came at a good time.

“Her drive in the DeltaWing was just fantastic. While she was leading overall I was talking with some other racing drivers in pit lane and one said, almost dismissively, ‘Well, that car was really fast,’” Paretta said of Legge.

“Yes, it was, but she has been an integral part of the development of that car and part of the reason why it’s become faster. Any IMSA fan knows that the DeltaWing project has had a lot of challenges so I think to see it running up front was a nice surprise for many fans. People like an underdog so I think it was really exciting to watch her climb through the field and run up front.”

Legge was due to share the car with Andy Meyrick, Sean Rayhall and Andreas Wirth before Meyrick got caught up in a strange accident, where a radio issue meant Meyrick didn’t fully hear there was another PC car stopped on course in the middle of Turn 1.

Although Meyrick braked earlier than normal to avoid it, proved by the data, he still wound up hitting Chris Cumming’s stranded car which took the DeltaWing out of the race. Cumming’s PC car was also severely wounded.

The DeltaWing aside, where Legge and Grace really seek to make strides is in STEM events. Legge and Paretta recently did an event in Indianapolis with the Hoosier Association of Science Teachers, Inc., last week.

The STEM portion is a major component of the Grace Autosport effort.

“STEM and education for girls is the foundation of Grace Autosport. It isn’t a throwaway comment connecting racing with a ’cause.’ It is why we are racing,” Paretta said.

“Even though we have yet to turn a wheel, we are working with different groups supporting educational initiatives for girls and young women. We participated in the Society of Women Engineers’ annual conference, which was held in Nashville in October, and this week Katherine and I will be delivering the keynote address to a conference for science teachers in the State of Indiana.

“So STEM education isn’t a pet cause for us, it is the cause for what we are doing. We will be making a few more announcements in the coming months that we will explain how we will connect our message to the community and the classroom.”

Jake Eidson steps up to Pro Mazda with Cape in 2016

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Jake Eidson came up short of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda championship last year, losing out to Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing’s Nico Jamin.

Now, at the next step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, they’ll be teammates.

Jamin was confirmed last week with Cape for his step up from USF2000 into the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and this morning Eidson, the 20-year-old out of Littleton, Colorado, was confirmed as Cape’s second driver.

“I’m extremely grateful and excited to enter my first season of Pro Mazda and to rejoin Cape Motorsport with Wayne Taylor Racing,” Eidson offered.

“After finishing second in last year’s USF2000 championship, we weren’t sure if moving up to Pro Mazda was possible. When the season was over, we tested with the Capes and quickly knew that they have a winning team. Fortunately, we were able to make the 2016 season achievable.

“I know that my goal, as well as the team’s goal, is to aim for the top spot in the Pro Mazda championship and I have a lot of confidence in their ability to make it happen. This is a dream come true and I can’t wait to get started!”

It’s a natural progression for Eidson, who ran two full seasons in USF2000. His first came with Cape in 2014 where he finished third in points, before he moved to Pabst Racing and was one of only two drivers (Aaron Telitz) to pose a threat to Jamin as the year progressed.

Eidson is supported in his efforts by Rising Star Racing, DA Lubricants Company, Bell Helmets, OMP, Team USA Scholarship, and SafeisFast.

The top three USF2000 drivers all moving up to Pro Mazda is important for the second rung on the ladder; they’ll race arguably the championship favorite in Garett Grist plus his three young, hungry teammates at Juncos Racing, with other driver announcements to come in the coming days.

Red Bull GRC confirms Wild Horse Pass for season opener

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Phoenix was listed as the season opener for the 2016 Red Bull Global Rallycross season, but a location was not confirmed.

Today though, the series has confirmed where the Phoenix round will be held: at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway.

It’s in Chandler, Arizona, technically, but it should still be a good spot for the season-opening doubleheader round.

The full release is below:

For the first time in series history, Red Bull Global Rallycross will visit the state of Arizona during the 2016 season. Red Bull GRC Phoenix, the season opener and first of four doubleheaders on the schedule, will take place at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, one of the most diverse motorsports playgrounds in the United States.

“The southwest is a crucial market for Red Bull GRC, with many of our most passionate fans located in the region,” said Red Bull GRC CEO Colin Dyne. “The opportunity to bring our unique brand of racing to the Phoenix market for the first time was something we couldn’t pass up. Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park is the perfect setting for us as we look to open our finest season yet.”

Located just off of I-10, Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park is located only 15 minutes from downtown Phoenix, with ample parking and amenities on-site. Fans will be treated to a challenging and fast mile-long track, featuring the series’ signature 70-foot jump, and will be able to see all the action from great spectator areas overlooking the entire facility.

This will be the first time that a Red Bull GRC season begins with a doubleheader. Performing well in the opener has been a constant step towards winning a title, as no Red Bull GRC champion has ever finished worse than fourth in the first race of the year. Defending Supercar champion Scott Speed and defending GRC Lites champion Oliver Eriksson finished second and third in class, respectively, in last year’s opener; both drivers are expected to begin their title defense in Phoenix.

In no great surprise, McLaren also passes crash tests

xxxx during day four of Formula One Winter Testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 22, 2015 in Montmelo, Spain.
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The new McLaren chassis, the MP4-31, has passed its crash tests ahead of the 2016 Formula 1 season, the team has confirmed today.

This means all 11 teams have had their new chassis complete the crash test and thus be ready for action starting with the first test of the winter February 22-25 at Barcelona, in Spain. Sauber has already indicated it will debut its new chassis at the second test.

McLaren, of course, will be looking for a better start to its season with race drivers Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button and reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne. Alonso’s mysterious accident last spring at Barcelona ruled him out of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.