Florida’s warm climate and Southern charm combined with great on-track action and 40 years steeped with history and performance milestones have made the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals one of the must-see events of every NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season, with racers and fans alike looking forward to the first East Coast national event of the season. Pro Stock driver Kurt Johnson is among those who look forward to the trip to Florida each season, and in addition to the history and warm weather that accompany the event, when ACDelco assumed title-rights sponsorship of the race in 2006, the Gatornationals became an even bigger event for the 45-year-old racer; the urgency to be at the top of his game and run at the front of the pack became a greater priority at Gainesville Raceway than ever before.
“It seems that we try twice as hard when we go to the ACDelco races,” Johnson said. “We’ve struggled a couple of years at Gainesville. Then, in 2005, we won the ACDelco race in Las Vegas, so it’s been a mixed bag of tricks for us. At the same time, we’re going to do everything we can to pull out a win at the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals. There are going to be a lot of great customers there who buy our products, and that’s what it’s all about - marketing high-quality ACDelco parts and services. We’re going to do all we can to win this thing.”
Johnson has been going to Gainesville Raceway since 1976, when he made the long trek south from Minnesota with his dad, Warren, and his mom, Arlene, and since that trip to the Gatornationals more than 30 years ago, the veteran Pro Stock driver has understood the appeal and excitement surrounding the Gatornationals.
“Everybody is tired of the winter; they want to see sunshine and great drag racing, and the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals is the perfect place for that,” Johnson said. “The fans are excited. They want to see those boards light up with a great number. You have a lot of barometer at Gainesville, which helps these Pro Stock cars run fast if the air is right.
“When you leave Minnesota, you have cold and snow and slush, and then you hit the Florida border, and you’re looking at oranges and grapefruits and warm climate. My first time at the Gatornationals, I thought it was cool. It was the first time I had been in Florida or that far south - I was digging it.”
Johnson’s first Gatornationals as a Pro Stock driver was during his rookie season, in 1993, and admittedly, it was a memorable race, but for all the wrong reasons.
“There was a lot going on at that race,” Johnson said. “We borrowed a Cutlass from Gary Chimeri that was one of Dad’s old cars. We qualified, and I think we blew up some motors, too, but it was a good car. I was a little hard on equipment at that time in my career. I lost to Larry Morgan in the second round. The Scribner brothers were helping me, and I was using Dad’s motors. I was getting a lot of help from a lot of people.”
In 1999, Johnson advanced to his first Gatornationals final round when, after qualifying No. 2, he defeated Hurley Blakeney, Morgan, and Troy Coughlin before losing to his dad in the championship heat. Four years later, in 2003, Johnson captured his first Gatornationals victory with a pair of decisive round-wins against Greg Anderson in the semifinals and Jeg Coughlin in the final.
“That was a great day,” Johnson said. “Greg was running good and was tough, and then to get by Jeg Coughlin in the final took about everything we had. I was good on the Tree in those two rounds, .013 against Greg and .016 against Jeg, but that’s what it takes to win a national event: not only running fast on the track but also letting out the clutch on time. The 2003 Gatornationals was a special race to win [because] the whole family was there, Kathy, Erin, Conner, and Jarrett.”
Since making his Pro Stock debut in 1993, Johnson has won 39 national events, earned 29 No. 1 qualifying awards, and 16 top 10 points finishes, 13 of which were in the top five. In fact, Johnson has never finished outside of the top 10 during his career and has averaged a fourth-place points finish in his 16-year career. The resident of Lawrenceville, Ga., has also won at least one race every year since 1995 (the longest current streak in NHRA Pro Stock), and his 507 round-wins are second among full-time, active Pro Stock drivers only to those of his six-time NHRA Pro Stock world championship father.
“It takes everybody at the shop in Sugar Hill to create a winning program,” Johnson said. “There are 12 of us that work on the two cars. Justin Belfance primarily takes care of the clutch and the transmission and that particular part of the car when we get to the track, but he oversees pretty much everything at the shop as far as getting the ACDelco Chevrolet ready for competition. Bobby Wunderlich does the back half, including tires and rear-end gears, and Mike Smith tunes the motors and works between both cars. Then we have Randy Chambers and Adam Drzayich off of Dad’s team, who came over and helped out at Phoenix, with Dad overlooking everything. Greg Pitts orders all the parts and anything else we might need, Craig Cash and Ronnie Seeger do the CNC work, Mom takes care of the administrative stuff, and Kathy is a big help when the kids are in school.”
The team’s hard work is already paying off this year. At the series’ last event in Phoenix, the ACDelco Chevrolet driver rebounded off a disappointing season opener in Pomona to advance to his 74th final round.
“We had four strong qualifying runs in Phoenix where we learned something every time out,” said Johnson, who is in sixth place in the Full Throttle standings. “On Sunday, we continued to improve as the day went along. We did everything except win the race, and we came awfully close to doing that. We feel really good right now, and obviously, we would have felt better if we would have won, but it was an upward stroke, and with a little more testing and fine-tuning, I think we can do some damage in Gainesville.
“Once you get to the racetrack, you only have so much horsepower, so lately we’ve looked at trying to make better runs, maximizing the horsepower that we have. You have to make everything work in sync.”
Johnson hopes to carry the momentum he gained in Phoenix into Gainesville, but he knows that the competition will be tough and that he and his ACDelco team will need to be on their game if they hope to score another Gainesville Wally.
“With the number of terrific teams that will be on hand at Gainesville Raceway fighting for the 16 qualifying spots, we can’t leave anything to chance,” Johnson said. “You have to be on your game for all four qualifying sessions, and it’s going to take a good hit right out of the box. We want to win one of these — preferably the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals — and then we’ll see what happens after that.”
Load up your car and bring the crew, Texas Motorplex is waiting for you!
This weekend, racers from all over the area will load in the pits at 8am for 3 qualifying runs in an attempt to make the cut for PINKS All Out on March 20-21. The 30 most consistent racers will be announced at the end of the qualifying event this weekend. Texas Motorplex will also invite 6 additional racers to compete at PINKS All Out by luck of the draw. “We will be drawing 6 random tech cards from the 2nd chance qualifier this weekend. We understand that racers have bad days too, but we still want to extend the offer to 6 racers to come out to compete at PINKS All Out. We originally were only going to be able to draw 2 WILD CARDS from each qualifier, but we wanted to be able to reach out to 4 more racers,” says Ashley Kellough. Entry fee is $30 for PINKS hopefuls. Other cars may test & Tune for $15 per car; spectator and crew admission is $10.
In the event that wind speeds increase as predicted, there is a possibility that we will be contesting the event on the eighth mile. We will still invite the 30 most consistent racers, as well as 6 additional WILD CARDS drawn at random to participate in our PINKS All Out event March 21st. We will make the final call on the quarter mile or eighth mile on Saturday morning.
Come out to the Texas Motorplex to compete against some of the best racers around! Texas Motorplex will be holding the final 2nd chance qualifier next weekend on March 14. If you are not able to attend this weekends event or do not make the cut, come out March 14 for your final chance. “Texas Motorplex looks forward to seeing everyone this Saturday. We wish everyone the best of luck and encourage everyone to HAVE FUN!” states Kellough.
Texas Motorplex would like to thank everyone who came out this weekend to kick off our 2009 Racing Season. We would also like to congratulate all of our March 1st, 2009 class winners. Click here for the O’Reilly Bracket Racing Series #1 Results
Jr Dragster Program: Top Eliminator-Taryn Greene, Modified-Hailey Strnad, Sportsman-Raymond Longoria, Run For the Trophy-Joseph Williams, Best Appearing Crew-Bailey Williams.
Bracket Program: Super Pro-Gerald Haning, Pro-“Mad”Max McGlothin, Quick 16-Mike Crader, No Electronics-Austin Williams, Trophy Street Carlisle Wykes
Reher-Morrison Racing Engines is proud to be taking one of this weekend’s winners to school. Each point class winner received a Reher-Morrison Championship Engine Assembly book, and was entered into a drawing. Reher-Morrison would like to Congratulate Mike Crader of Bedford. Mike won a certificate to attend the Reher-Morrison Racing Engine Building School held on March 21st-22nd. Congratulations Mike!
This season Texas Motorplex is dedicated to making positive changes for our racers. We appreciate everyone who gave us feedback from this weekend’s event, and hope to continue to keep an open communication with our racers. Texas Motorplex will be accepting Points Registration Forms until April 11th. Check our website for Weekly Results, Winner Photos, and Upcoming Events. We look forward to a great season and appreciate your support in rebuilding the bracket program.
COME KICK OF THE 2009 SEASON THIS WEEKEND Feb 28th-March1st
This Saturday, Texas Motorplex will be holding an Open Test & Tune for all racers and fans. Gates open at 10am and we will turn the 1st tire at 11:00am. We will be running all day till DARK. Come out and meet our staff, tune your car, and stop by our Concession Stands to try one of our NEW Jr. Slider Cheeseburgers for only $1.50. Gate Prices for Saturday are $15 to race, $10 to watch. All racers who attend the Test & Tune Saturday, are welcome to stay overnight for the Sunday kickoff of our 2009 O’Reilly Bracket Series!! Be sure you arrive before 5pm to attend our Test & Tune. Once our gates close we will not be allowing rigs to enter the facility until Sunday morning.
Sunday, March 1st kicks off our 2009 O’Reilly Bracket Series. JR. Gates will open at 8:00am with racing beginning at 8:45am. Our Bracket Gates will open at 11:30am with racing beginning at 12:30pm. NEW FOR THIS SEASON, for our Bracket Program we will be running Quick 16 in the 1/8th mile! Bring your car out this Sunday and race for a chance to win a FREE Reher-Morrison Racing Engine Building School entry for March 21st-22nd. Be sure to stop by our Onion Bomb stand and try out our NEW “Onion Bomb”. A colossal 20oz. Texas Sweet onion, marinated, cut, breaded, battered and deep fried to a crispy, golden brown and served with your choice of Ranch or Red Spicy Cajun Dipping Sauce. Also try our new Chicken Fried Steak On-A-Stick platter served on top of French Fries, and a Chicken Fried Steak Sandwich. Quench your thirst with a tall glass of our Made-from-scratch “fresh brewed” Raspberry or Peach iced tea.
Following our Racer Orientation last week, we would like to clarify a few details for our O’Reilly Bracket Series:
This season we will be running the Jr Program in the mornings and the Bracket Program in the afternoon. There will be two different gate times posted. We ask that you please respect the posted gate times in order for both Programs to benefit. Our Sunday, March 1st Gate Times will be 8am for the Jr Program, and 11:30am for the Bracket Program. For a full year gate time schedule visit O’Reilly Bracket Racing Series Race Info
Bye runs will be determined by drawing from the lanes. The 1st number drawn will be the lane. The 2nd number drawn will be the number of cars back in that lane. That car will be pulled to the side until the last set of cars is paired up to run. If there is a straggler to the lanes and the last pair is already pulled out of the lanes and is to the “Do Not Change Dial-In Past This Point” sign, located under the tower, the straggler will be disqualified and the Bye run will be paired up with the last run car. The Bye run will have lane choice, and the bye WILL NOT carry on to the next round. If there is an even number of cars and the Bye run has to be paired against another car, the Bye run will have lane choice, and the Bye WILL NOT carry on to the next round. Each round there will be another drawing for the Bye run. If a pair of cars proceeds past the “Do Not Change Dial-In Past This Point” sign and a car breaks, then the other car will receive a competition bye and will not be paired up with another car. In this event, there will be a competition bye, as well as the drawn Bye run.
NEW for the 2009 JR DRAGSTER PROGRAM at TEXAS MOTORPLEX
At each Jr event, our friends at Target Restoration will be awarding a 3ft trophy to the “BEST APPEARING CREW” for the Jr. Drag Teams. We will be taking a team photo in our NEW Winner Circle and posting this team on our website the following week! So Jr’s and crew, show your team colors and you can take home a 3ft trophy and bragging rights for Texas Motorplex “BEST APPEARING CREW”!!
Jr. Drivers will have a chance to participate in our “RUN FOR THE TROPHY” race each Jr Event. This event will be following our 2nd Time Trial Class for Jr.’s. This one lap race will cost $10 to enter. Each car will display a dial-in and the closest to their dial-in will receive a trophy!! 100% of the entries will go towards our Jr. Drag Racing League Western Conference Finals Team. Help support our team, and take a chance at taking home a trophy in our “RUN FOR THE TROPHY” Showdown!
SPECIAL FOR MARCH 1st O’Reilly Bracket KICK OFF RACE
Reher-Morrison Racing Engines proudly supports bracket racers and is giving Reher-Morrison Championship Engine Assembly books to each race winner today. One lucky race winner will get a certificate to attend the Reher-Morrison Racing Engine Building School on March 20 and 21. This school is an awesome way to learn from the pros. Check out www.rehermorrison.com for info on engines, components, engine assembly books, and the engine building school. Accelerate your dreams with Reher-Morrison!
BEGINNING April 11th for our BRACKET PROGRAM
We will have a “RUN FOR THE $” race at each Bracket event beginning at our #2 O’Reilly Bracket Race. This one lap race will cost $10 to enter. Each car will display a dial-in and the closest to their dial-in will receive 50% of entry fee purse. What a great way to support our racing program, and have a chance at some extra $$$.
Spaces still remain for the Golf Cart Showdown Competition at PINKS All Out on March 21. Is your golf cart “Texas Style” and captures the spirit of Pinks All Out? If so, you could be selected to participate in the 2009 Great Texas Golf Cart Shootout at PINKS All Out on March 21.
Send us photos of your cart, [front, side, and overhead], and you may be selected. You do NOT have to be racing at PINKS ALL OUT to participate.
Each cart selected will load in Friday, March 20, and be on display Saturday during PINKS ALL OUT. Then, racing in their own bracket during the exhibition period, near sundown on Saturday, they will be competing at sixty (60) feet for the title of Champion of the Great Texas Golf Cart Shootout for 2009.
Besides racing, prizes will be awarded for “People’s Choice” “Wildest Helmet” and “Most Creative”.
- Entry fee will merely be the crew admission price of $30 each for pilot and co-pilot.
- Golf Cart must have a factory motor/engine.
- All teams must have a pilot and copilot consisting of one male and one female.
- All participants must wear a helmet (Be creative! Prizes will be given)
- Drivers must be 16 years of age or older.
- Pilot and copilot must remain seated during the 60ft race.
- No alcohol can be consumed by participants before or during the event.