Last month, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series stopped in Gainesville, Florida for the NHRA Gatornationals. You can see the the Pro Stock, Funny Car, Top Fuel, and Pro Stock Motorcycle recap and current points standings here.
Here’s a rundown of the Sportsman class winners from Gainesville.
Sportsman Racing Recap: NHRA Gatornationals
Frank Aragona – Competition Eliminator
The weekend prior, at the Division 2 race there at Gainesville Raceway, Frank Aragon sealed his own fate in the second round when he turned on the red-light to Greg Kamplain. At the national event, though, it was Aragon with the upper hand in the final as he wheeled his E/DA dragster to victory over Kamplain. Aragon earned the 10th national event trophy of his career with his 7.332 on the 7.87 index to a 6.829 on the 7.33. The win was his first since scoring the trophy in Charlotte last fall.
“This was my second Gatornationals win, and this is my favorite track,” said Freehold, NJ-based Aragon. “I’m so stoked. I just had a good feeling coming here, and everything played out. Here we are with the trophy.”
Kevin Riner – Super Stock
Competing in his first national event final round, Kevin Riner earned the victory when he drove his LS1-powered 1998 SS/JA Camaro to an 11.014-second pass at 101.01 mph on his 10.87 dial to beat a tire-spinning Pat Clifford’s 10.009 (9.40) at 119.96.
“This is a dream come true,” said Riner, of Autryville, NC. “I started running NHRA about three years ago, and all I wanted to do was race against David Rampy, Dan Fletcher, and Anthony Bertozzi. I never thought I’d get all this success. It’s just awesome.”
Jeff Taylor –Stock Eliminator
Four-time Lucas Oil Series champion Jeff Taylor wheeled his 2015 naturally aspirated FS/D COPO Camaro to national event win No. 45 with a final-round defeat of FS/AA Cobra Jet pilot Ken Miele. Taylor ran a 9.816 on his 9.80 dial at a speed of 129.40 mph to shut down Miele’s 8.864 (8.80), 150.33.
“My car was really good, and we had a couple good breaks along the way,” said Taylor, of Sellersburg, IN. “We had good help from a lot of people, including my wife, Patty, who was crew chief this weekend. She did a fantastic job, and my son, Chad, was helping with dial-ins and watching times back home. They were both awesome.”
Greg Slack – Super Comp
61-year old Albemarle, NC resident Greg Slack was .024 at the tree to opponent Ray Miller Jr.’s .033, and he sealed the deal on his first national event win with an 8.911 at 170.75 to an 8.910, 185.87 on the 8.90 index. Slack had been to three previous career final rounds before finally scoring the Wally in Gainesville.
“This is great,” said Slack. “I left home February 14th to go racing at Lights Out 9 down at South Georgia Motorsports Park, and my wife couldn’t travel with me–but she gave me a little stuffed dog named Spot, and he rode with me every pass. I’ve got a decent year going so far, and we’re going to try to keep it going.”
Jim Perry – Super Gas
Former world champion Jim Perry overcame Michelle Furr’s .016-second reaction time – Perry was a respectable .023 at the tree – to make his way to the fifth NHRA national event winner’s circle of his career. Niota, TN’s Perry drove his freshly painted 2000 S-10 pickup truck to a 9.912 at 158.69 on the 9.90 index to Furr’s 9.933, 154.95 with both drivers on and off the throttle as they approached the finish line stripe.
“We had a little bit of bad luck last week,” admitted Perry. “We broke a motor and borrowed a motor from Rusty Cook. Looks like this one came along with a lot of luck.”
Ronnie Proctor – Top Sportsman
After four national event final rounds, Ronnie Proctor was wondering if he would ever win a Wally. On Sunday in Gainesville, he finally got it done. The nitrous oxide-enhanced 706 cubic inch Ford powerplant under the hood of his 2009 Mustang triumphed with ease as Lester Johnson rolled the beams in the other lane. Harpers Ferry, WV’s Proctor ambled to a safe 8.583, 123.64 with the assured victory.
“Thank god I finally got it,” said an exuberant Proctor. “I don’t know who went the farthest as a bridesmaid, me or John Force. But I’m finally the bride. Hallelujah.”
Alan Kenny – Top Dragster
A previous victor on the historic grounds at Gainesville Raceway, Steve Cohen was hoping for another Gatornationals trophy. However, as the final round approached, he realized he had a serious issue with his dragster and wouldn’t be able to make the pass. Cohen pulled to the starting line looking for a little luck, but Al Kenny had no trouble of his own in the other lane. Kenny’s win was decisive as he raced to a 6.291 on his 6.20 dial with a speed of 188.75 mph. It was the eighth national event win for Kutztown, PA’s Kenny, who now has trophies earned in three different categories: Super Comp, Super Gas, and Top Dragster.
“I didn’t just want to run him, I wanted to kick his [tail],” said Kenny. “I had it set up that I could put a .010 package on him, maybe, but I didn’t get the chance. I just love this class because I love going fast.”
Chris Demke – Top Alcohol Dragster
Blown Top Alcohol Dragster pilot Chris Demke put No. 1 qualifier Josh Hart on the trailer with a powerful run that started with a .023-second reaction time to a .047. Demke led at each increment down the quarter-mile dragstrip and he won national event trophy No. 19, his first since Chicago 2015, with a 5.305-second pass at 273.33 mph to a 5.313, 270.70.
“[Team owner] Jerry Maddern has been giving Kevin [Watson, car chief] and I a hard time about not tuning this car right, and honestly, we’ve been struggling for the last couple of years,” said Demke, of Tujunga, CA. “Thursday or Friday morning, he came over and told us like a couple of kids who had to clean their room, ‘ you’re going to change the tune-up, and this is how it’s going to go.’ Kevin and I, we kicked dirt, and we frowned, but we did what he said – and now we’re holding the Wally. This is all about Jerry Maddern, right here.”
Sean Bellemeur – Top Alcohol Funny Car
Phoenix winner Sean Bellemeur went back-to-back with a victory over Annie Whiteley in Top Alcohol Funny Car at the Gatornationals. Bellemeur–with team owner Tony Bartone watching from off-site– lasted to a 5.460-second pass at 268.28 mph to shut down No. 1 qualifier Whiteley’s 5.483, 270.43. It was Bellemeur’s fifth national event win.
“Yesterday was the anniversary of my mother passing away, and she was a huge supporter,” said Bellemeur, of Placentia, CA. “Tony Bartone, the owner of this car, put a license plate on it that says ‘Butterflies,’ and that was my mom’s favorite. In fact, we have a butterfly sitting on the number in memory of her. This win was for her.
“To all you fans in the stands who just watched the Jr. Dragster run – I started in Jr. Dragsters. Kids, if you want to do this, you can. I’m proof of it, just like Shawn Langdon, Leah Pritchett, and all the rest. It starts with the Jr. Drag Racing program.
“I’m just a California boy who had never even been to the Gatornationals. This is one of the big ones, and I can’t believe it. We won the Gatornationals.”