The 2018 NHRA drag racing season vaulted into full spring bloom with the running of what is regarded as the traditional season-opening event on the East Coast: the 2018 Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
That annual fan attraction destination was hosted for the 49th time at the fabled Gainesville Raceway in Florida, to a sellout crowd and featured a myriad of Chevrolet racer highlights as brand racers once again crowded victory lane.
The SAM Tech NHRA Factory Stock Showdown class was certainly a major highlight. The season start for that aggressive program continued its amazing momentum and solid gains in popularity for both racers and fans. The first of seven scheduled Factory Stock Showdown events for 2018 was an eye-popping affair that featured a 16-car qualified field and attracted a record entry list of 30 cars! In the end, Chevrolet COPO cars proved to be dominant, with Louisiana’s Stephen Bell taking home the trophy in that eliminator. Bell, a successful car dealership franchises owner, raced his Chevy Camaro past second-generation driver Aaron Stanfield in the all COPO title bout with a winning 8.176 e.t. at 167.47 mph.
For Bell, it was his first career national NHRA event win and it came after he defeated the Mopar of Joseph Welch in round one; the Mustang of Charles Watson in round two; and the COPO of Leonard Libersher in the semifinal round.
The event featured a stunning 8.188 e.t. bump spot and no less than three drivers cracked the 170-mph barrier—all Chevrolet drivers. Those drivers were the defending series champion David Barton (171.36 mph), Pete Gasko Jr. (170.23 mph), and Randy Taylor (170.66 mph). David Barton was also credited with low e.t. of the race, hitting a 8.020 e.t. to pace the field during qualifying.
Super Stock class racing featured a first-time winner when North Carolina Camaro driver Kevin Riner prevailed. Riner raced his SS/JA ’98 Camaro past the field when he took a final round win light over the GT/GA Cavalier driven by Pat Clifford. Stock Eliminator was won by Jeff Taylor racing his FS/D ’15 Camaro. For the Indiana-based Sportsman level racing star, that was career national event win number 45 and it was his third in Stock Eliminator.
Pro Modified racing was a ferocious affair that drew in an NHRA record 35 cars entered, which included a number of new circuit drivers. But in the end, it was wily veteran racer “Tricky Rickie” Smith who prevailed when he beat New York state powerhouse driver Mike Janis in the all-Chevrolet Camaro final round. Smith’s nitrous-injected entry clocked a winning time of 5.794 at 249.76 mph to prevail for the 12th time in his NHRA Pro Mod racing career.
Pro Stock racing also featured a Chevy winner, with third-generation driver Tanner Gray winning for the sixth time in his very young career. Gray wheeled the Gray Motorsports ’17 Camaro past Bo Butner and his 2017 NHRA World Championship winning Camaro in the final round, taking the win light with a 6.588 to Butner’s 6.605.
Super Gas (9.90 index) class racing featured yet another all-Chevrolet final round title bout with Jim Perry facing Michelle Furr. Perry’s great-looking Chevy S-10 emerged the winner over Furr’s ’17 Corvette by a 9.912 to 9.933 margin. For Perry (from Tennessee), that was his third career win at the NHRA Gatornationals with this truck, having also won here in 2012 and 2016.
Enjoy this extensive Chevy High Performance event photo gallery from the 2018 Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. CHP
Photos by Bruce Biegler and Phil Hutchison