Gainesville Raceway has long been regarded as a very fast racetrack where amazing performances take place just about every time a pair of vehicles blast down the dragstrip. For NHRA fans, the upcoming Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals, March 10-13, promises to deliver in every aspect, and it also will mark the Pro Stock debut of NASCAR racer Kurt Busch.
Busch will pilot the Shell Dodge Avenger and try to qualify for the field of 16 for Sunday's 11 a.m. eliminations. It's a rare opportunity for Busch to race in another major motorsports series as his tour takes the weekend off.
Last year Busch competed in the Super Gas category at the Gatornationals and lost in the first round of eliminations. After finishing fifth in the Daytona 500 three weeks ago, Busch is looking forward to giving NHRA drag racing a go at one of the sport's marquee events.
“It's a whole different world than NASCAR,” Busch said, “The toughest part is staging the car and, of course, cutting a good light; the thrill of the launch and the speed at the top end is why I'm so fascinated with drag racing.”
Busch will be competing against the world's best Pro Stock drivers, including current points leader and recent Winternationals winner Jason Line, defending world champ Greg Anderson, and veteran racer Allen Johnson, who has been Busch's mentor through testing and will provide engines for the new team.
“Kurt is right on target,” Johnson said. “His shifting is awesome for a newcomer, he's got a simulator to work on it and practice and, in my opinion, he's right where he needs to be to qualify for Gainesville.”
Busch, who has earned 22 victories and 12 pole positions during his 12-year NASCAR career, is optimistic about his chances – but realizes NHRA Pro Stock competition is among the most cutthroat in all of motorsports.
“Pro Stock is the tightest Pro category as far as the elapsed time is concerned, and it's not going to be an easy task,” Busch said. “I feel me teaming up with Allen Johnson and the Mopar folks, we've given ourselves the best opportunity to make the show.”
NHRA will officially celebrate its 60th birthday during the Gainesville weekend, as back on March 13, 1951 Wally Parks and several business associates signed the incorporation papers to launch what ultimately has become the world's largest motorsports sanctioning organization.
Among the highlights planned for the traditional NHRA East Coast opener will be appearances from many legends of the sport, including most notably, famed Florida resident and the world's No. 1 ranked drag racer, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, who will serve as an event dignitary and participate in many fan meet-and-greets and autograph sessions. Vintage car corrals, NHRA-exclusive Cacklefests, track walks with legends and special legends match races will highlight the 60th anniversary celebration off the track.