THE RECLINER REPORT!
Stop #3–The 50th Annual NHRA Amalie Oil Gatornationals, Gainesville, Florida!
Woo-hoo! You’re back! We’re Back! The drivers are back! The fans are back! Best of all, for the 50th time, the NHRA is back…in Gainesville, for the 2019 Gatornationals! Man, we’ve gotta start having more of these events, ’cause it seems like it’s been years since the Arizona Nationals, and that was just two weeks ago! Anyhoo, the NHRA brought the rolling thunder circus down to Florida, and the racing dudes didn’t disappoint. Thanks to Fox 1 Sports coverage of the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Tour, we learned about trucker chicks, big piles of guts, and how being a copycat can help you win money and prizes! Let’s light ’em up!
I’M DAVID, YOU’RE GOLIATH–Top Fuel. First Round. T.J. Zizzo versus Scott Palmer. A part-time runner on a limited budget (Zizzo) versus a guy who’ll be participating at every event, a driver with mucho more resources. (Palmer) On paper, a total mismatch. But, they don’t run ’em on paper. So, 4.467 seconds after leaving the starting line, Zizzo finished first following a wild ride that saw the Chicago native pull a front-end wheelie at the starting line that would’ve given any of us highway drivin’ mortals on our work commute a stroke. Zizzo. Underdog. Winner. Epic.
YOUNG IN AGE, OLD IN SOUL–Yep, Austin Prock is a rookie Top Fuel pilot. Yep, he’s also a young buck at 23. But, the dude’s got a soul and feel for racing history much older than the numbers on his birth certificate. Want proof? In an interview with Tony Pedregon, we traveled to Prock’s pit to view his driver’s helmet, a tribute to the late, great Eric Medlen, who, 12 years after his death on the track in Gainesville, is still on the hearts of many of the NHRA community. The reason for the visit? See, it turns out that back in 2007, Eric and Austin had made plans to paint Prock’s first-ever racing helmet. Following Medlen’s death, his father John not only presented Austin with his own painting tools, but also taught him how to use them. The result, Prock created a real work of art, complete with Eric’s number four on top, a “trucker chick” silhouette, (Which was Eric’s trademark on helmets he painted) and metalflake from Eric’s shop. Dude has serious painting skills, an amazing talent behind the wheel, and an appreciation for racing icons. Stellar.
YOU’RE TOO OLD, DUDE! 87 years. A long time, yeah? Yup, anything that’s 87 years old has been around this planet for 31,755 days. Or, we’re looking at 45,727,200 minutes. That’s some serious Earth time. Yeah, 87 means ancient…antique…just…well, it’s just dang old. Yeah, right. Tell that to Top Fuel pilot Chris Karamasines, who has seen 87 calendars during his time on the planet, all while tearing up racetracks across the country. Let’s be honest. There are a lot of 87-year-olds who gave up driving their own vehicles years ago for a comfy rocking chair on their front porch. OK, so what about reserving a front porch spot for the Detroit-born man nicknamed “The Greek”? Fugeddaboutit.
HEY. YOU OLD ENOUGH TO DRIVE? We also some have brand-new whippersnappers tearing up the Top Fuel category, such as Dayton, Ohio native Pat Dakin, who clocks in at a spry 73 years young. And, it’s also safe to say that Dakin is a little bit familiar with the Gainesville track, as he raced in the inaugural Gatornationals event in 1970. It took the staffers almost five minutes and most of their Cheeto-covered fingers to figure out that Dakin has had 50 opportunities to race at the legendary facility. They’re not exactly the sharpest tools in the shed…
KA-FREAKIN’ BOOM–Tommy Johnson, Jr. is a heckuva Funny Car driver. TJ is experienced and knows how to wheel one of those 10,000- horsepower roman candles down a track. Johnson also owns a big pile of guts. No, big doesn’t quite describe the pile. Instead…huge. See, that’s what develops when you plant yourself just inches behind a nitro-fueled powerplant that produces enough juice in a single run to light up the city of Omaha. Unfortunately, we’ve watched this season as TJ has been in the seat for a total of three explosions on the track, all of which probably registered as earthquakes at a Richter station somewhere miles away in the mountains of Colorado. Anyway, during the fourth qualifying session on Saturday, the body of Johnson’s ride flew halfway to Alabama following a blast that could only be described as a major league blammo. So, where was Johnson on Sunday morning? Well, he was in the cockpit, dropping the hammer in a first-round, 326-mph effort over John Smith. Guts, I tellz ya. Sheer guts. Dude is nails.
HEY, THAT’S ONE MORE THAN 799–Winning an NHRA tour event is tough. Heck, ask any driver, and he or she will tell you that just going rounds on Elimination Sundays is a challenge. Why? OK, you’ve heard this from us at the Recliner Report least 26 times in the past year, but here goes: “On any given Sunday, anyone can beat anyone else.” True ‘dat. So, if being victorious in a single run is tough, just imagine winning 800 rounds in a career. Man, there are folks who haven’t even made 800 runs, much less won that many! Yep, that number makes you appreciate Pro Stocker Greg Anderson, the Minnesota native who hit the magic number in a first-round victory on Sunday. Can you spell legend?
YOU DID SAY GAINESVILLE, RIGHT? You’ll have to excuse any of the Pro Bike competitors who drool when learning that it’s the week of the Gatornationals. The reason? Simple. This track can be dang quick. Like a bunny. See, in 2005, Andrew Hines broke the seven-second barrier, blasting his way to a 6.99 and raising the speed bar to new heights. Hines also picked up a $10,000 check for his efforts. Yep, going fast can be fun…and profitable! Then, in 2018, Hector Arana, Jr. smashed through the 200-mph wall for the first time in the category, picking up the honor of going faster than any other driver had traveled. And, he also got a nice check. Speed pays, dudes…
GATOR-IN-TRAINING–Let’s say you drive a Top Fuel dragster. Sweet. Yep, it can be a pretty cool life when you’re traveling across the country to drive in front of tons of admiring fans. An added bonus? You have your own hero cards, which includes a shot of you and your ride that you can autograph for the folks who want to say hi at tour stops. This isn’t a dream. It’s real, and you’re living the life. For a five-year-old, that’s pretty cool, huh? So, right now you might be thinking, “That would be cool. Drag racing for a living. Traveling. People wanting my autograph. Wait a minute…I’m not five years old!” OK, I kinda waited to sneak that in. Just wanted to see if you were reading everything. Anyway, though you might think this is a joke, it’s not. Yep, if you’re Cameron McMillen, it’s the real deal. See, Cam is the five-year-old son of “The Extermigator” Terry McMillen, and yes he drives a dragster, only it’s the Junior Dragster version. But, he actually does have his own hero card, and it comes complete with an area at the bottom for Cam to sign. Dudes, that’s epic!
ANYONE, ANYTIME, ANYWHERE–Beware of part-time racers. They can bite ‘ya at any time. Just ask Brittany Force, who found herself finishing behind T.J. Zizzo in the second round of Top Fuel competition. Yep, on Sundays, it doesn’t matter one bit how fast you drove it on Friday and Saturday. Watch out for the Zizz…
WHERE DO I GO? Andrew Hines didn’t win a single event in 2018. None. Nada. Zippo. For the first time in 15 years, Hines didn’t take home a single Wally to live on his mantel. But, on Sunday he defeated teammate Eddie Krawiec in an all-Harley Pro Motorcycle final, earning a really sweet trophy to reside at his casa. After going winless in 2018, did he have trouble finding the Winners Circle? Nah. See, in 2004, the Gatornationals were the site of his first-ever win. Dude knows the way…
I THINK I’LL GROW SOME TOMATOES–Following the 2018 season, Bo Butner seriously considered retirement. Maybe he wanted to focus on a business, plant a garden, read books by his favorite writer, or take dancing lessons. Who knows? After Sunday’s victory over Alex Laughlin, his second so far out of three races this season, Bo knows. He knows he’s not going anywhere except down the track. For the entire 2019 season. Yup, with a win total that already matches his entire total from last year, Butner is on a mission. So, what about the garden? Nah. It can wait.
DON’T CALL ME THAT! Robert Hight is a copycat. Yep, he enjoys doing exactly what others do. You might think that’s a bad thing. Nope. Not when you’re copying another guy who’s winning races. See, with his win over Tim Wilkerson in the Funny Car final, Hight picked up his 2nd victory of the young season, equaling the total of Bo Butner. Yep, being called a copycat might’ve been fighting’ words as a kid, but when you’re taking home Wallys…hey, it’s a pretty good thing to be.
LOOK OUT BELOW! Incredible. Awe-inspiring. Enormous. Unlike anything ever seen before. And that just describes the dogpile created at the starting line by the Kalitta crew members following Richie Crampton’s victory in the Top Fuel category! Man, there were dudes running, diving, flying, rolling, screaming, hooping, hollering…these guys should’ve received a Wally for their efforts, ’cause Hall of Fame-quality dogpiles like this one take talent and skill. The luckiest guy of the bunch? Crampton. Why? He wasn’t around to get mashed into the asphalt. Instead, the dude was far, far away! Yep, Richie barely escaped a starting line free-for-all, and speaking of barely, Crampton won by 32 ten-thousandths of a second, which translates into 18 inches. Yep, at about the same length of six Twinkies lined up end-to-end, Richie picked up his first Wally of the season, and also his first event win since…the 2018 Gatornationals. We’re betting Crampton kinda likes Gainesville.
Well, there ya go. The 50th Gatornationals are ovah, and we have a nice little layoff until April 5-7, when the racing boys and girls visit that quiet little city out in the middle of the desert. Maybe you’ve heard it. It’s called Las Vegas, and it’s supposed to be a pretty fun place to take a vacation. The rumor is that they even have a few nice places to eat, and also some pretty cool shows to attend. The word is that the town is sorta fun. We’ll see. They probably roll up the sidewalks around 9:00pm…
Till then, keep reclining!