CHEVROLET RACING IN NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION
AMALIE MOTOR OIL NHRA GATORNATIONALS
GAINESVILLE RACEWAY AT GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA
SUNDAY, MARCH 19, 2017
Chevrolet Records Funny Car, Pro Stock, Factory Showdown Wins
• John Force adds to illustrious career with 148th Funny Car victory
• The No. 1 qualifier provides 2,500th round win for John Force Racing
• Shane Gray continues Chevrolet mastery of Pro Stock with victory
• David Barton earns SAM Tech Factory Showdown win in COPO Camaro
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 19, 2017) – It was a big day for Chevrolet Camaro drivers and teams at the sun-drenched 48th Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.
· John Force earned the 148th Funny Car victory of his illustrious career, driving the PEAK Coolant & Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro SS.
· Shane Gray continued Chevrolet’s dominance of Pro Stock competition by driving the Gray Manufacturing Tech Chevrolet Camaro SS to victory.
· David Barton won the opening round of the School of Automotive Machinists & Technology NHRA Factory Stock Showdowns in his GMPartsNow.com Chevrolet COPO Camaro.
The 2,500th Funny Car round victory for John Force Racing was one of the most satisfying for the team patriarch. Force, who blistered the Gainesville Raceway elapsed time (3.832 seconds) and speed (333.25 mph) records in earning the 155th No. 1 qualifier honor of his career, registered his 148th Funny Car victory by defeating Jonnie Lindberg in the final.
With 17 victories, Force also became the winningest driver of a Chevrolet-bodied Funny Car.
Force has won the Gatornationals a class-record eight times – including five in a row between 1992 and 1996 – and has won the championship in six of those seasons. He has won the Gatornationals four times from the No. 1 qualifier position, and his 3.928-second pass at 328.14 mph in the final gave the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion an extra spring in his 67-year-old step. Nine drivers have contributed to the team’s 2,500 Funny Car round victories in 12,112 NHRA Funny Car rounds.
“We’re going to do some damage this year,” said Force, whose last Gatornationals victory as a driver came in 2001. “We have the heart.”
Robert Hight, who reset track records for elapsed time (3.828 seconds) and speed (334.82 mph) – also personal bests – in a first-round victory in the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS, lost his quarterfinal matchup when he smoked the tires. Hight’s first-round pass was the fourth-quickest in NHRA Funny Car history.
Courtney Force, who posted a career-best speed of 333.25 mph to complement an elapsed time of 3.860 seconds in qualifying fourth, lost in the first round in the Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro SS.
Chevrolet also recorded its third successive Pro Stock victory of the young National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season – each by a different driver – as Gray defeated class points leader and Phoenix winner Greg Anderson (Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro SS) in their maiden final-round matchup. Gray, who retired from full-time racing after the conclusion of the 2016 season, joined his father Johnny (Funny Car, 2013) as race winners in the Gatornationals.
“This isn’t supposed to happen; I was just going to run a few races with my son (Tanner),” said Gray, who picked up his sixth class victory. “We’re having fun, there’s no pressure and we’re kind of using this car as a test car. Racing Greg is always awesome.”
Chevrolet drivers won every Pro Stock elimination race for the second consecutive event. Anderson eliminated KB Racing teammate and reigning Pro Stock champion Jason Line (Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro SS) in one semifinal, while Gray ousted Chris McGaha (Harlow Sammons of Odessa Chevrolet Camaro SS) in the other.
Tanner Gray (Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro SS), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (JEGS.com Elite Chevrolet Camaro SS), Bo Butner (Butner Auto Sales Chevrolet Camaro SS), and two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders (Elite Chevrolet Camaro SS) also were first-round winners.
In Top Fuel, No. 4 qualifier Brittany Force recorded her best pass of the weekend of 3.716 seconds at 328.54 mph in the Monster Energy Chevrolet dragster in winning her first-round matchup. The winner of the 2016 Gatornationals could not repeat the result, falling in the second round.
Barton, of Pennsylvania, who won three of four School of Automotive Machinists & Technology NHRA Factory Stock Showdown events in 2016 in his GMPartsNow.com Chevrolet COPO Camaro, prevailed in the first of five events this season. Barton posted a pass of 8.131 seconds in the final to give Chevrolet the opening-round victory.
“I knew coming to this race it would be a struggle with so many great drivers,” said Barton, the top qualifier. “We planned to bring out a new Camaro, but didn’t want that pressure right off so we brought out old faithful and won.”
Stephen Bell of Shreveport, Louisiana, was the No. 2 qualifier of 64 Super Stock entries in his Chevrolet COPO Camaro and advanced to the third round of eliminations.
Reigning Stock Eliminator champion Jeff Strickland of Red Bay, Alabama, advanced to the semifinals in his 2017 GMPartsnow.com-Berger Chevy Chevrolet COPO Camaro in 70-entry class. Adam Badgett of Mount Airy, North Carolina, was the No. 10 qualifier in the GM Parts Now Chevrolet COPO Camaro and reached the third round of eliminations.
The next stop of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule is the DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals on March 31-April 2 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The event also serves as the backdrop for the K&N Horsepower Challenge for eight Pro Stock drivers. A $50,000 check is on the line in the specialty race that was won by Anderson last year.
ROGER ALLEN, CHEVROLET RACING NHRA PROGAM MANAGER: “What an exciting day for Chevrolet Racing and its teams and drivers with victories in Funny Car, Pro Stock and in the SAM Tech Factory Showdown. John Force continues to exude enthusiasm for his Chevrolet Camaro program and hats off to him for the victory from the No. 1 qualifier spot. Shane Gray surprised a few people by ousting Greg Anderson in the Pro Stock final, which shows how close the Chevrolet Camaro SS teams are this early in the season. And David Barton picking up the win in his COPO Camaro in the first of five SAM Tech NHRA Factory Showdowns shows how progressive that program is. Now it’s on to Las Vegas and hopefully more wins.”
An interview with Funny Car winner JOHN FORCE, JOHN FORCE RACING, PEAK COOLANT & MOTOR OIL CHEVROLET CAMARO SS:
Q: WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO PUT THAT MEDAL AROUND YOUR NECK?
JOHN FORCE: “We made a lot of changes coming here, and I don’t know if I’m smart or just lucky. Either way, I surround myself with great people and they are the ones that make it happen. Then there are the sponsors and the cheer of the crowd. I found the music. I’ve lived on music in my old Chevy. I can remember when I was 15 years old driving around without a driver’s license and the music carried me. Every day, the Beach Boys, Merle Haggard. I lived that life and you find yourself. A lot of things are about heart, a lot of things are about luck. But you always feel someone up there like you, and it’s not that God is going to pull for me. If that’s how it worked, I’d be in real trouble. It’s just a matter that I believe hard work, dedication … it’s been a draining day. I kept telling my wife every round, ‘I’m going to win this thing again. I’m not accepting that it’s over.’ I’ve been real lucky. Chevrolet has been real good to me. We gave the fans a race at the Gators.”
Q: IS WINNING THE BEST, FITTING TRIBUTE TO ERIC (MEDLEN) 10 YEARS LATER?
JOHN FORCE: “Eric was like my kid, and we’re all a big family even though we fight sometimes. You look at these people (fellow competitors) and know how much you care for them, and I know Eric would want his dad to win and I know if his dad can’t win he’d like to see John Force do it one more time. He was in my heart all day. He could win or lose, but he was happy driving that race car. I showed you all that this old man can cut it. Age is not a limit.”
Q: DID YOU THINK YOU MIGHT NOT GET BACK TO THE WINNER’S CIRCLE HERE?
JOHN FORCE: “I don’t go to a race without believing I can win. The day I don’t believe I can win, then it’s time for me to quit. It’s like a rollercoaster ride and I’m still a kid driving that ’54 Chevy listening to the Beach Boys, and I found the music. They are going to be sorry I found the music, trust me.”
Q: IF A 40-YEAR-OLD JOHN FORCE LINED UP AGAINST YOU TODAY, WOULD ONE HAVE AN ADVANTAGE OVER THE OTHER?
JOHN FORCE: “I’ve got a lot of experience that, believe it or not, things that I bring to a racetrack, I read things, I listen, I study the other drivers, I’m nothing special. I’m just a guy that’s devoted my life to it. If there’s anything I could take back, it would be the time that I lost with my girls and my wife. Now they are out here with me racing. If anything, I’m going to learn from my mistakes.”
An interview with Pro Stock winner SHANE GRAY, GRAY MOTORSPORTS, GRAY MANUFACTURING TECH CHEVROLET CAMARO SS:
Q: WALK US THROUGH THE PROCESS OF THE WEEKEND.
SHANE GRAY: “We use the car I’m driving as a test vehicle, so I guess … I don’t know how to say this but I wasn’t supposed to win. When you’re testing parts, you’re just not supposed to win. This whole deal is based around (son, Pro Stock rookie) Tanner. I don’t want to run 24 races and I don’t plan on it. We test parts on my car before we slide them to his car. We had a lucky day today. There were some rounds wins that the car pulled me out of the hole and there was a couple of rounds where I pulled the car out of the hole. It was a complete team effort today by the engine shop and just the entire team. Tanner had a little mistake in Round 2 today. We talked about it afterward, and I’m glad he made that mistake. He’s 17 years old and a senior in high school. I started racing with him when he was 10 years old on a circle track. Tanner’s always been one of those kids that if he makes a mistake probably won’t do it again because he’s so competitive. He wants to win.”
Q: HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR HIM TO SEE AND EXERPIENCE A WIN FROM THE ROLE HE’S IN NOW?
SHANE GRAY: “I think a lot of winning, you just have to let it come. I kind of compare winning to looking for a wife or girlfriend. You’re probably not going to find one if you’re looking. Just don’t look. Don’t worry about winning and you’ll win. Go drive your car and you’ll win your fair share of races.”
Q: IS THERE ANY SITUATION YOU COULD IMAGINE WHERE YOU PURSUE THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
SHANE GRAY: “Absolutely not. Nothing is impossible, but it’s not something I’m interested in because I want my son to win the championship. But if my son is going to win the championship, he definitely needs to beat me. The races that are close to home, we’ll run them. We just had a good day.”
Q: WAS IT YOUR SON WHO SAID I WANT TO RACE OR WAS IT YOU WHO SAID IT’S TIME TO RACE AT THE PRO STOCK LEVEL?
SHANE GRAY: “It was my son. Last year, I was done with drag racing. I had intentions of putting him in a World of Outlaws Sprint car. Grandpa (Johnny Gray) wasn’t excited about that because of neck and back injuries. Tanner has run all kinds of dirt track cars and we put him in the Late Model series on asphalt and won rookie of the year in Florida. He just told me one night, I want to race your car. We turned him loose (at Rockingham) and a month later we took him to Bradenton and got his license.”