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2014 Amalie Oil NHRA GatorNationals: Who to watch

Courtney Force is looking for her first round win of 2014
NHRA Media

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series heads to Florida for the third event on the 2014 schedule, the 45th running of the historic Amalie Oil NHRA GatorNationals, Thursday through Sunday, March 13th through 16th at Auto Plus Raceway at Gainesville. The Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock categories will be joined for the first time this season by Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Defending race winners Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) return to Gainesville to defend their titles, while Funny Car winner has turned his wheels over to Tommy Johnson Jr. for the 2014 season.

There will be no shortage of Grays at the GatorNationals, however. In addition to Gray Motorsports Pro Stock drivers Shane Gray, Johnny’s son, and his teammate Dave Connolly, Shane’s younger brother Jonathan, who just earned his Pro Stock license on Monday, will attempt to make his first Pro Stock event.

"It's tons different than my old Comp car," said Gray on NHRA.com. "There is a lot more going on. You have to think about throttle control a whole lot more, changing gears, keeping it straight. There is just a whole lot more to worry about in the Pro Stock car than the automatic car, that's for sure. It was a big sense of relief getting the first burnout out of the way. I know I can do it now, but we'll see. We'll see what happens."

"I'm as comfortable as I know how to be in the car right now, and I'm just going to keep chipping away at it, keep getting runs and getting more comfortable," Gray continued. "Really and truly, not a whole lot excites me. I'm pretty even. But this does. This excites me."

John Force, winner of the season opener at Pomona, where he also set the national e.t. and speed records for Funny Car, has seven wins at Gainesville. His youngest daughter Courtney, also in Funny Car, is still searching for her first round win of the season. The John Force Racing team has been busy working on Courtney’s car in the weeks since Phoenix, redoing the cockpit of her Traxxas Mustang after her father revealed in a teleconference that she had been experiencing problems during the first two events of the season.

“In this sport it’s easy to be on top one weekend hoisting a Wally and out in the first round the week after,” said the youngest Force. “That’s why it’s important to stay positive because things can always turn around at the next event. My Traxxas Ford Mustang team is ready and excited to go to Gainesville and I have high hopes after testing we will be able to start turning things around.”

Pro Stock Motorcycle kicks off its 16-race schedule, and defending champ Matt Smith is ready to kick off his title defense. “We’re looking to be just as strong this year as we were a season ago,” said two-time champ Smith. “We’re going to do our best to carry it over. It’s real exciting to enter the season with that No. 1 on your bike. It puts a target on your back, but that’s what you like. I’m trying to defend my title. We’ve worked hard and prepared, and it should be a great event.”

Pro qualifying for the 45th annual Amalie Oil NHRA GatorNationals at Auto Plus Raceway at Gainesville in Florida gets underway Friday, March 14th at noon and 2:15 p.m. ET, with final rounds on Saturday, March 15th at noon and 2:15 p.m. ET. Eliminations begin Sunday, March 16th at 11 a.m. ET. Keep up with the action at www.nhra.com.

Quotes in this piece, unless noted, provided by the NHRA.

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