Ron Capps, Steve Torrence, Alex Laughlin, Matt Smith victorious in Gatornationals

Sunday afternoon marked NHRA’s 51st Gatornationals located in Gainesville, Florida making up the postponed event from March due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Ron Capps in the Don Schumacher Racing NAPA Dodge Charger, Steve Torrence honoring the legendary Don Garlits paint scheme, Alex Laughlin in the Havoline Chevrolet and Matt Smith in the DENSO Auto Parts/Stockseth/MSR EBR machine were all celebrating in victory lane in their respective categories Sunday in Gainesville despite threatening skies in the background. Capps took the Funny Car win, while Torrence earned a win in Top Fuel, Laughlin in Pro Stock, and Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

When Round 1 started, Capps was up against the No. 13 Qualifier John Smith’s Dodge Charger. The Round 1 meeting between Capps and Smith marked the first time in NHRA history the two would face each other. Capps beat Smith with a reaction time of .075 compared to Smith’s .089. From there, Capps won against Alexis Dejoria in Round 2 right before the semi-final. A scary moment, however, took place in the semi-final when Capps’s car exploded at the start/finish line and going sideways before Capps was able to park the car. Thankfully, Capps walked away without injuries and was able to advance to the finals against Tim Wilkerson. Despite the incident, Capps was able to put that behind him and beat Wilkerson with help of quicker reaction time than Wilkerson’s despite Wilkerson being quicker than Capps. The victory was Capps’ 66th of his Funny Car career.

American Muscle

“We all knew it was Tobler’s birthday and we all secretly wanted to win on his birthday,” Capps said. “But to bring out a car that we had as a backup, that’s never made it to the finish line and it goes 3.93 in the final round of the Gatornationals is crazy. He’s had that car up in the trailer since last year when we ran it at ‘Night Under Fire’ at Norwalk (Ohio) and made a check-out run with it and then he put it away for these occasions. With live TV pushing us, we had every team member of Don Schumacher Racing over here working on the car. It was unbelievable. Team members you’re battling against in the championship are over here helping our guys and it was cool. I’m so happy for Tobler and (assistant crew chief) Dustin (Heim) because to go up there in the final round and beat someone like (Tim) Wilkerson in a final is always tough to do but to do it with a car that has never been to a finish line, that’s NAPA Know How.”

“It was a crazy day today. There was a lot going on, probably more than a lot of fans realized. We’ve always got confidence that we can win a race. That NAPA Know How I brag about that (crew chief) Rahn Tobler has, I mean everybody’s got their favorite neighborhood mechanic at a NAPA AutoCare Center and Tobler to me is that guy. He’s the guy you can trust and the guy you can count on, and I’m confident we’ll do big things as we head into this final stretch.”

Ron Capps enjoys Gatornationals victory, Photo Courtesy of NHRA.

In the Top Fuel category, it was father-son squaring off against each other. with Steve and Billy Torrence in the final round. Steve, however, with the help of his Don Garlits paint scheme defeated his father Bill by going 3.809 seconds and 322.11 mph. Billy only went 320.74 mph and 3.810 seconds. Torrence, who qualified second on Saturday defeated Tony Schumacher’s car in Round 1, Doug Foley in the second round, and Leah Pruett in the semi-finals to ultimately help Steve win the Gatornationals.

By winning the Gatornationals, Steve took over the championship points lead from Doug Kalitta after Kalitta was eliminated in the first round by Terry McMillen. Kalitta had a 31 point advantage heading into the Gatornationals. Torrence now leads the standings by 22 points over Kalitta. The Top Fuel victory was Torrence’s third of the 2020 season and the 39th of his career.

“Don, I just want to say thanks for giving us an opportunity to run your car and to just celebrate the greatness of Don Garlits,” Torrence gushed after winning his third race of the season. “I never won here at Gainesville before, never even been to a final.
But today, we had magic. We were racing ‘Big Daddy’s’ car and we got a win for ole Dom (a reference to friend, and Capco crewman, Dom Lagana, who remains hospitalized with injuries suffered last month in a traffic accident.)”

Steve Torrence drove a modern day facsimile of Don Garlits’ Swamp Rat 14 dragster into the winners’ circle Sunday in the 51st annual NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla.  Torrence beat his dad, Billy, in the Top Fuel final to win for the first time in Florida. Photo Courtesy of Mark Rebilas.

For the Pro Stock division, Alex Laughlin, after qualifying fourth in his Camaro, won by defeating Aaron Stanfield in the final round. Laughlin in the Havoline Chevy won with a reaction time of .012, 7.068 seconds and 204.76 mph. Laughlin won in Round 1 after a close race against Bo Butner by 0.011 seconds, Kyle Koretsky in Round 2 and Jason Line in the semi-finals before advancing to the finals and facing Stanfield. The victory at Gainesville was Laughlin’s first after finishing runner-up last year to Butner.

“After the first qualifier, I thought we were going to win the race this weekend,” Laughlin said. “This track has always been really good to me. I was amped (in the finals) and I just went nuts when I saw the win light come on. What a weekend. More than anything, I just needed that this year with how awful a year it’s been. We had a completely brand new crew this weekend and we were just trying to find a routine. Everything just paid off.”

Alex Laughlin Gainesville Pro Stock Victory, Photo Courtesy of NHRA.

Finally, in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith scored his first victory of the 2020 NHRA season Sunday in Gainesville. Smith had to face Andrew Hines in the finals but won as he was quicker with times of 6.843 seconds and 196.99 mph. Smith was the No. 1 qualifier after Saturday afternoon earning the 40th of his NHRA career and his second of the season. 2020 hasn’t been too kind to Smith, who has come up short multiple times, especially at the three Indy races. Smith lost to Ryan Oehler in the first Indy race in the finals but made everything perfect this weekend.

Smith scored victories over Kelly Clontz in Round 1, John Hall in the second round and eventually beating Indy winner Scotty Pollacheck in the semi-finals. Smith now has 25 career victories in his Pro Stock Motorcycle career. In addition, he takes the championship points lead as well.

“I’ve tried since 2006 to win this race and I’ve never been able to do it,” said Smith, a three-time world champ. “I’ve watched my dad do it a couple times and it means a lot to win it. I’ve always wanted to win Gainesville and leave with the points lead, and I was able to do it. Right now, I think Team MSR has the best team out here and we have the power to win this thing. We’ve just to keep everything together, but we have the power to win races and win a championship.”

Matt Smith Pro Stock Motorcycle Victory, Photo Courtesy of NHRA.

Updated Funny Car Standings

  1. Jack Beckman, 569 points
  2. Matt Hagan, -4
  3. Tommy Johnson Jr, -57
  4. Ron Capps, -83
  5. Tim Wilkerson, -121
  6. Bob Tasca III, -135
  7. J.R. Todd, -149
  8. Alexis Dejoria, -273
  9. Cruz Pedregon, -303
  10. Paul Lee, -311

Updated Top Fuel Standings

  1. Steve Torrence, 548 points
  2. Doug Kalitta, -22
  3. Leah Pruett, -33
  4. Billy Torrence, -115
  5. Justin Ashley, -146
  6. Shawn Langdon, -165
  7. Terry McMillen, -171
  8. Antron Brown, -175
  9. Clay Millican, -211
  10. Doug Foley, -332

Updated Pro Stock Standings

  1. Jason Line, 515 points
  2. Erica Enders, -2
  3. Jeg Coughlin, -34
  4. Alex Laughlin, -156
  5. Matt Hartford, -186
  6. Greg Anderson, -192
  7. Chris McGaha, -214
  8. Aaron Stanfield, -231
  9. Bo Butner, -234
  10. Deric Kramer, -235

Updated Pro Stock Motorcycle Standings

  1. Matt Smith, 348 points
  2. Scotty Pollacheck, -21
  3. Andrew Hines, -28
  4. Angelle Sampey, -48
  5. Eddie Krawiec, -64
  6. Ryan Oehler, -111
  7. Angie Smith, -150
  8. Hector Arana Jr, -158
  9. Chris Bostick, -167
  10. Steve Johnson, -170

Up Next: With the Gatornationals now complete, there are four NHRA races remaining in the 2020 season with the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals in St. Louis, Missouri next up on the schedule, taking place from Friday, Oct. 2 to Sunday, Oct. 4.

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