Langdon (TF), Tasca (FC), Connolly (PS) and Smith (PSM) lead NHRA Gatornationals qualifying

Leave a comment

After struggling in the season’s first two races, defending NHRA Mello Yello Series Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon put everything together in Friday’s provisional qualifying for the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.

Langdon powered his Al-Anabi Racing dragster down the historic Auto-Plus Raceway at 3.786 seconds (320.58 mph) to lead the Top Fuel class.

“As long as the track allows it, you can really throw down some good runs,” said Langdon, in pursuit of his first career Gatornationals win. “We’re trying to make the best run we can on each session, and we thought a .78 was about all we could get away with. We’re trying to get as much information as we can in each lane to get ready for Sunday.”

Richie Crampton, who is among first-year drivers in contention for NHRA Rookie of the Year, was second quickest in Top Fuel at 3.816 seconds/320.58 mph in the GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster.

Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta was third fastest followed by Phoenix winner Antron Brown and Steve Torrence rounding out the top five.

Bob Tasca III paced all drivers in Funny Car qualifying with a top run of 4.103 seconds at 304.39 mph in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Shelby Ford Mustang.

Tasca won the 2009 Gatornationals – his first career Funny Car win – and was runner-up in the 2010 event.

“I don’t know what it is about Gainesville, but I love racing here,” Tasca said. “This place has been awfully good to me over the years. We set a record in my alcohol car and were on the pole that year. I got my first win here in Funny Car. It’s just a special place.”

Jack Beckman was second quickest (4.108/275.96) in Funny Car, followed by Chad Head, Ron Capps and Tony Pedregon.

Series leader John Force qualified 11th and Phoenix winner Alexis DeJoria was 12th overall after day one.

Dave Connolly was the provisional top qualifier in Pro Stock (6.476 seconds/213.98 mph), but No. 2 qualifier Erica Enders-Stevens set a new NHRA speed record with a burst of 214.69 mph.

Debuting their new Dodge Darts, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Allen Johnson qualified third and fourth, followed by fifth-quickest Shane Gray.

Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Matt Smith led his class with a run of 6.800 seconds at 196.96 mph

“We spent the off-season building and testing a lot of new parts and we made progress,” Smith said. “I’m excited about this season.”

Andrew Hines, Smith teammate John Hall, Michael Ray and Eddie Krawiec also qualified in the top five.

Qualifying continues Saturday in all pro classes at noon and 2:15 pm ET, with final eliminations starting at 11 am ET on Sunday.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Friday’s results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the 45th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.  Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations.

Top Fuel — 1. Shawn Langdon, 3.786 seconds, 320.58 mph; 2. Richie Crampton, 3.816, 316.97; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.819, 319.37; 4. Antron Brown, 3.836, 315.78; 5. Steve Torrence, 3.839, 319.22; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.847, 316.97; 7. Tony Schumacher, 3.858, 320.28; 8. Clay Millican, 3.861, 308.71; 9. Leah Pritchett, 3.899, 306.67; 10. Morgan Lucas, 3.922, 303.50; 11. Brittany Force, 3.945, 308.92; 12. J.R. Todd, 3.974, 271.46.

Not Qualified: 13. Spencer Massey, 4.239, 208.52; 14. Bob Vandergriff, 4.264, 254.62; 15. Terry McMillen, 4.705, 163.39; 16. David Grubnic, 4.801, 149.70; 17. Pat Dakin, 5.152, 128.49; 18. Ike Maier, 5.872, 117.34; 19. Sidnei Frigo, 10.108, 69.25.

Funny Car — 1. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.103, 304.39; 2. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.108, 275.96; 3. Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 4.115, 300.46; 4. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.121, 302.14; 5. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.127, 285.41; 6. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.128, 307.23; 7. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.132, 303.78; 8. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.148, 305.08; 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.188, 299.60; 10. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.189, 288.95; 11. John Force, Mustang, 4.380, 246.98; 12. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.799, 167.76.

Not Qualified: 13. Tommy Johnson Jr., 5.075, 147.96; 14. Blake Alexander, 6.388, 98.77; 15. Dave Richards, 7.109, 92.05; 16. Jeff Arend, 7.669, 83.02; 17. Courtney Force, 8.184, 73.00.

Pro Stock — 1. Dave Connolly, Chevy Camaro, 6.476, 213.98; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.483, 214.69; 3. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.484, 214.62; 4. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.487, 213.98; 5. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.495, 213.60; 6. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.510, 212.56; 7. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.518, 213.30; 8. Jimmy Alund, Camaro, 6.527, 212.90; 9. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.529, 212.66; 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.533, 214.04; 11. Steve Kent, Camaro, 6.536, 212.43; 12. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.541, 213.20.

Not Qualified: 13. Rodger Brogdon, 6.541, 212.53; 14. Jonathan Gray, 6.552, 212.16; 15. Matt Hartford, 6.581, 211.39; 16. Shane Tucker, 6.594, 211.53; 17. Kenny Delco, 6.613, 210.24; 18. Robert Patrick, 6.615, 210.28; 19. Lewis Worden, 6.652, 210.83; 20. Mark Hogan, 16.552, 45.53.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.800, 196.96; 2. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.813, 195.68; 3. John Hall, Buell, 6.830, 195.05; 4. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.853, 196.16; 5. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.856, 195.96; 6. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.857, 194.38; 7. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.891, 195.45; 8. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.892, 194.46; 9. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.901, 196.02; 10. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.910, 196.10; 11. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.920, 193.82; 12. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.920, 193.27.

Not Qualified: 13. Katie Sullivan, 6.924, 192.85; 14. Fredrik Fredlund, 6.939, 193.99; 15. Mike Berry, 6.987, 188.91; 16. Scotty Pollacheck, 6.987, 187.73; 17. Eddie Reed, 6.989, 190.06; 18. Joe DeSantis, 7.009, 187.55; 19. Freddie Camarena, 7.055, 192.36; 20. James Surber, 7.095, 187.26; 21. Elvira Karlsson, 7.149, 185.92; 22. Hector Arana, 9.994, 81.91; 23. Odolph Daniels, 16.646, 43.73.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”