Brown, Gray, Johnson, Arana take Gatornationals wins

Antron Brown raced to the Top Fuel victory at the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals Sunday at historic Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, giving Don Schumacher Racing its 200th team win.

Johnny Gray (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock), and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners at the tradition-rich NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event.

One month after walking away from a spectacular high-speed crash at the season-opening race in Pomona, Brown powered his Matco Tools dragster to a 3.761-second run at 318.77 mph to finish in front of Clay Millican, who posted a 3.813 at 319.67 in his Parts-Plus dragster. It was defending world champion Brown’s 38th career victory and his first of the season.

“It’s a great team effort,” Brown said. “It felt good to bring that win home, and hopefully, we can put Pomona behind us and keep moving forward.”

Brown outran Larry Dixon, Steve Torrence, and Spencer Massey in the first three rounds to advance to the final. He moved into the points lead, four up on second-place Tony Schumacher, who lost in the opening round.

“To win, you have to have every piece of the pie,” Brown said. “It was important to be consistent and as fast and quick as you can be. Every round was tough. It’s a great win for this team. It gives you great confidence as a driver to see the car running like this and come out and win after what happened in Pomona.”

Schumacher earned five of his victories as a driver and 195 have come over the years from a variety of drivers in all four NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series categories. Only John Force Racing has more team victories in NHRA history, with 218, all earned in the Funny Car category.

“It’s incredible,” Don Schumacher said. “It started in 1970 in Indianapolis when I won the U.S. Nationals. I am not someone who ever counts things like that. I never thought it would happen or even considered it. Thanks to all of my drivers. They do an incredible job day in and day out.”

Prior to Brown claiming the 200th DSR win, Gray earned his fourth career victory in Funny Car and the 199th team win for Schumacher when he held off Del Worsham at the finish. Gray covered the distance in 4.053 at 315.49 in his Pitch Energy Dodge Charger while Worsham trailed in his DHL Toyota Camry with a 4.100 at 303.50.
Gray, who was runner-up at this race a year ago, defeated early round opponents Jeff Arend, Alexis DeJoria, and defending world champ Jack Beckman to get back to the final round here.

“The Gatornationals is such a prestigious race, and to win, it is just a great feeling,” Gray said. “I was disappointed last year; we had a great race car and should’ve won it, but it wasn’t our day.”

Gray, who says he will retire from full-time driving at the end of the season, was also thrilled to play a key role in his team owner’s special day.

“Don has been great to me, and to be a part of that, it’s an awesome feeling for everybody down the line who has contributed to this, which started with Don winning the first one,” Gray said. “To be a part of his organization is unbelievable.”

In Pro Stock, Johnson used a quicker reaction time to defeat teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the final round for his first victory of the season and the 17th of his career. The defending world champion finished in 6.535 at 212.59 in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger, just in front of the quicker, but losing, Dodge Avenger of Coughlin, who posted a 6.514 at 212.25.
“Everyone asks me why I would hire two assassins,” Johnson said about his teammates, Coughlin and Vincent Nobile. “They make me better. Vincent challenges me, and it’s the same with Jeggie; I knew I would have to do my ultimate best to beat him. I hope we have to go head to head like that a bunch more.”

It is the first Gatornationals victory for Johnson and his first final round in The Swamp. To advance to the final, Johnson drove around Matt Hartford, Erica Enders-Stevens, and Jason Line.

“I think we’re one of the premier teams in Pro Stock now,” said Johnson, who moved to third place in the points standings. “We have a great team that makes great decisions based on scientific methods and data, and we keep improving those decision making tools. We aren’t the fastest car right now, but we are consistent, and we can win some races like that.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Arana scored his fourth career victory and first in more than a year when he outran veteran rider Steve Johnson in the final. Arana rode his Lucas Oil Buell to a 6.885 at 195.65 to hold off Johnson’s Suzuki, which trailed with a 6.920 at 193.99.
“To grab the race win for Team Arana and Lucas Oil is a big accomplishment, and it proves that having a third bike [with brother Adam riding the third team bike] isn’t going to slow us down but actually speed us up,” said Arana, who beat Michael Phillips, defending world champ and three-time defending Gatornationals winner Eddie Krawiec, and Hector Arana Sr. to advance to the final.

“I am looking forward to a very competitive season and some close racing this season,” Hector Arana Jr. said. “This is a step in the right direction. When my dad won his championship, he won the Gatornationals, and Eddie Krawiec has done that the last two years. I hope to keep that trend going this year as well.”

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues April 5-7 with the NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Von Smith raced to the season-opening victory in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series. Smith, the 2010 world champion in the 250-mph doorslammer category, powered his ’68 Camaro to the win over Chip King in the final round.

Smith covered the distance in 5.931 seconds at 244.60 mph to take his fourth career win in the class while King fouled at the start in his ’69 Dodge Daytona in his first career final-round appearance.

Smith, who qualified seventh, advanced to his fourth career final round by outrunning defending world champ Troy Coughlin Jr., No. 2 qualifier Danny Rowe, and Pete Farber in the first three rounds.

With the victory, Smith opens a 22-point lead over second place King in the series standings.

The NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series continues April 19-21 at the Dollar General NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte. The category will compete in the traditional two-lane format at the event.