On the eve of the 2021 NHRA season, the final two rounds of qualifying were held Saturday afternoon at the GatorNationals located in Gainesville, Florida.
After putting up a quick time Friday night of 3.895 seconds and 329.02 mph, NAPA Auto Parts driver Ron Capps was looking to keep his No. 1 spot for the two Saturday qualifying sessions. The time Capps set Friday night was against his Don Schumacher Racing teammate and 2020 Funny Car Champion Matt Hagan. On Saturday afternoon in the second round of qualifying, the San Luis Obispo, California native faced Tim Wilkerson and put up a time of 3.948 and 320.66 mph over Wilkerson’s 5.052 seconds and 150.28 mph.
The run was still fast enough for Capps to hold the No. 1 qualifying spot through Round No. 3. In Round 3, Capps was up against Wilkerson again. As the Christmas tree lights went out, Capps ended up going 4.082 seconds and 163.65 mph. Despite the tire smoke coming to the line, the Don Schumacher Racing driver earned his 26th career No. 1 qualifier spot. Oddly enough, Capps is the defending race winner where he faced Wilkerson in the final round last year.
“I’m just a small link and I just didn’t want to mess up,” said Capps, who has three wins at the historic facility. “I’ve got my first Camping World hat (for a No. 1 qualifier) and it’s great. It’s been fun and we’re excited, but tomorrow is race day. We’ve got a great crowd here, and I’m feeling good and I don’t want the dream to end, so hopefully, we can finish the job on Sunday.”
While Capps stole the show in qualifying, all eyes were on John Force who, after Friday’s qualifying session, was 13th in the running order. In the first two attempts, Force was not locked in at all, meaning the 16-time Funny Car Champion had to make the third and final round count the most and he did. Force rocketed to 3.934 and 323.66 mph to lock into the show. Force will be making his first start since Arizona of last year. The Yorba Linda, California native has a total of eight career victories at the GatorNationals with his last win coming four years ago in 2017.
Funny Car Round 1 Eliminations Ladder:
No. 1 Ron Capps vs No. 16 Jim Campbell, No. 8 Matt Hagan vs No. 9 Bob Tasca III, No. 4 Robert Hight vs No 13 Bobby Bode, No. 5 John Force vs No. 12 Paul Lee, No. 2 Alexis Dejoria vs No. 15 John Smith, No. 7 Cruz Pedregon vs No. 10 Chad Green, No. 3 Tim Wilkerson vs No. 14 Dave Richards and No. 6 J.R. Todd vs No. 11 Blake Alexander.
To no surprise to anyone, Steve Torrence was the quickest out of the Top Fuel category. The three-time Top Fuel champion put up a time of 3.699 to earn his 28th career No. 1 qualifier. His teammate and father Billy Torrence was the closest competitor as Billy ended up with a time of 3.735. Steve Torrence will be looking for a repeat, as the Texas native won this race last year after defeating Tony Schumacher, Doug Foley, Leah Pruett and his father Billy Torrence. He will face No. 16 qualifier Joe Morrison in the first round.
“We need to maintain our focus and concentration on going laps and going rounds because there’s a lot of people targeting us,” said Torrence, a 40-time event winner. “We’re going to have to step up. Brittany (Force) is back, some other people are back and it’s going to be a competitive field, just as it always is. Getting in these things, you get jacked up and that run (Friday) was stout. We made a good run this afternoon and we’re excited to stay on top. The yellow (No. 1 qualifier) hats are nice, but we’re trying to get some of those winner’s hats, so we’ll see what we can do.”
Krista Baldwin, who is a third-generation racer, and is the daughter of Top Fuel racer Bobby Baldwin and the granddaughter of NHRA racer Chris Karamesines, attempted to make her debut. On Friday afternoon, Baldwin had a time of 5.343 seconds and 125.74 mph meaning she had to make Saturday count if Baldwin wanted to race on Sunday. In the second round, she was a bit better at 181.81 and 4.503 seconds.
Baldwin would need help in the final round, but unfortunately, she failed to qualify after veteran Doug Foley posted a time of 3.849 and 322.11 mph. Baldwin will have to wait another day to make her Top Fuel debut.
Top Fuel Round 1 Eliminations Ladder:
No. 1 Steve Torrence vs No. 16 Joe Morrison, No. 8 Josh Hart vs No. 9 Clay Millican, No. 4 Doug Kalitta vs No. 13 Arthur Allen, No. 5 Brittany Force vs No. 12 Justin Ashley, No. 2 Billy Torrence vs No. 15 of Scott Palmer, No. 7 Mike Salinas vs No. 10 Antron Brown, No. 3 Leah Pruett vs No. 14 Mike Bucher and No. 6 Shawn Langdon vs No. 11 Doug Foley.
Veteran Pro Stock racer and four-time Gainesville winner Greg Anderson was the quickest after three rounds of qualifying Friday and Saturday but earning the top spot wasn’t easy. Anderson faced 2020 Pro Stock Champion Erica Enders in the final round late Saturday afternoon. Both Anderson and Enders put on quite an epic battle but in the end, Anderson’s speed of 211.36 mph gave him his 107th No. 1 qualifier over his 23-year career.
“It feels great,” Anderson said. “It’s been a long five months with no racing and that drives us crazy. This is what it’s all about, racing at the Gatornationals, and so far my car has just been flawless. We got the spot we wanted and we’re going to come out tomorrow – on my birthday – and see if we can get a blue (winner’s) Camping World hat.”
Pro Stock Ladder for Sunday eliminations – Numbers represent where the driver qualified.:
No. 1 Greg Anderson vs No. 16 Cristian Cuadra, No. 8 Chris McGaha vs No. 9 Alex Laughlin, No. 4 Deric Kramer vs No. 13 Val Smeland and No. 5 Kyle Koretsy vs No. 12 Dallas Glenn.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
The Pro Stock Motorcycle class quite possibly had the most interesting story out of qualifying Saturday. Four drivers, Angie Smith, Angelle Sampey, Hector Arana Jr. and Matt Smith all reached 200 mph for the first time ever at Gainesville. Angie Smith was the first to do so when she reached 200.47 mph and 6.880 seconds while facing Lance Bonham in the second round.
However, at the end of the final qualifying session, the No. 1 qualifier went to the Matthews, Louisiana native, Angelle Sampey. Sampey put the Vance and Hines Mission Foods Suzuki Motorcycle on the pole with an ET of 6.742 and 200.00 mph. The No. 1 qualifier is Sampey’s 52nd of her career. This is Sampey’s second Gainesville No. 1 qualifier as her first came in 2007.
“This is amazing. I posted a video of my team celebrating on the starting line because I don’t get to see them celebrate very often,” said Sampey. “I’m so proud to have Mission Foods on board this year. This feels like mission accomplished already, but I feel like I have so much more ahead of me. I’m just the lucky rider of this Suzuki. I’m still learning this motorcycle. It’s been a struggle but I’m still going.”
Pro Stock Motorcycle Ladder for Round 1:
No. 1 Angelle Sampey vs No. 16 Michael Phillips, No. 8 Scotty Pollacheck vs No. 9 Corey Reed, No. 4 Ryan Oehler vs No. 13 Jerry Savoie, No. 5 Karen Stoffer vs No. 12 Kelly Clontz, No. 2 Matt Smith vs No. 15 James Underdahl and No 7 Hector Arana Jr. vs No. 10 Angie Smith.
Eliminations begin at 10 a.m. ET and can be seen on NHRA.TV with a subscription before switching over to FOX later in the morning.