Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) pilot Matt Hagan drove his red-hot “Demon-possessed” Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye to a three-second pass, the only one in Funny Car qualifying amid hot and muggy conditions, to garner the No. 1 qualifier position for Sunday’s elimination rounds at the 51st annual Amalie Motor Oil National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Gatornationals at historic Gainesville Raceway.
Hagan’s final qualifying run at 3.975 seconds and 321.35 mph to earn the top spot on the eliminations ladder was an improvement on an already strong 4.006 sec./ 315.64 mph initial run that had him second on the timing sheets. With this his third career No.1 qualifier position at the Gatornationals (2010-11), his third of the season and the 39th of his career, Hagan benefits from a first-round bye and five extra bonus points for his efforts. He is also looking to hoist a third Wally trophy this season and his first at the Gatornationals.
While the Florida sun elevated track temperatures to over 120-degrees making qualifying and the drag strip a lot trickier, the Funny Car championship battle also heated up as Hagan (525 points) heads into race day at Gainesville second in the standings, sandwiched between points leader Jack Beckman (549) and Tommy Johnson Jr. (492) with Ron Capps (411) rounding out the top-five. With just five race days remaining in the 2020 NHRA season and a tight points race between the DSR teammates, every round win and bonus point is especially valuable.
While they battle through rounds and jostle for position atop the championship standings, the Mopar Dodge//SRT Funny Car foursome is also looking to extend their team’s current streak of nine-consecutive event wins.
Three-time Gatornationals winner Ron Capps is seeded fourth for Sunday’s first elimination round after posting a stout 4.025 sec./ 309.27 mph qualifying pass in his HEMI-powered Dodge//SRT machine and will have John Smith as his first opponent of the day.
Qualifying didn’t quite go as planned for Beckman who won at the historic Gainesville track in 2018. He will start his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat from the ninth rung on the eliminations ladder after a 4.123 sec./ 254.18 mph qualifying effort and will see Paul Lee in the next lane for his first match-up.
Tommy Johnson Jr., who has had three No. 1 qualifier positions this season and is seeking a second win this year with what would be his first Gatornationals win, didn’t fare as well as usual in qualifying posting a 4.129 sec./ 249.44 mph run for the tenth quickest pass of the day in his MD Anderson Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. He’ll be paired-up with J.R. Todd for the opening round.
DSR Top Fuel driver Leah Pruett is not only looking to score her first Gatornats event win but also hoping to make some big gains in the standings as she sits in second place just 51 points behind leader Doug Kalitta going into race day. Pruett took her red, black, and chrome Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye dragster for a 3.922 sec./315.64 mph run on her final qualifying attempt to give her lane choice against Clay Millican.
In NHRA Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) qualifying, the Mopar Drag Pak duo of Mark Pawuk and Leah Pruett will go into eliminations seeded tenth and 12th respectively after the heat slowed their forward momentum both on track and in qualifying. In the first session held on Friday, Pruett was seventh on the speed charts after taking her Mopar Dodge Challenger for an initial pass at 8.297-second and 168.01 mph. Her second run on Saturday at 8.160 sec / 169.25 mph put her 12th overall to pair her up with Arthur Kohn for the opening round.
Pawuk fared a slightly better moving up a spot to a tenth place on the eliminations ladder with his second pass at 8.105 sec./ 171.99 mph. Pawuk came to Gainesville Raceway second in points with four race days left to catch the current leader and No. 1 qualifier, Aaron Stanfield. Pawuk will line-up his Empaco Equipment Mopar Drag Pak next to Derik Kramer in the first round.
Television coverage of the NHRA elimination rounds, including LIVE finals at Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, will air on Sunday, September 27th, on FS1 beginning at 2 p.m. ET.