50 Years of the Gatornationals

Part 6: 1996-2000

Words and photos by Steve Gruenwald

This 1996 Top Fuel final was run after an hour-long rain delay which put the finals into the early evening. The air got good and Scott Kalitta (near lane) hooked up too good and went over backwards at half-track, giving the win to Blaine Johnson who was busy trying to avoid all the flying debris from Kalitta's crash. What a way to end a race!

John Force really dominated the Funny Car show at the Gators during the 90's as he would win back to back to back to back…etc. He won in 1992, ‘93, ‘94, ‘95 and here in ‘96. He would win again in 1999, 2001 and he won last in 2017, for a total of eight wins in Funny Car. Pretty impressive!

NASCAR team owner Robert Yates and his son in the grandstands in 1996.

Tony Bartone is one of two drivers who have won in both TA/FC and T/AD at the Gatornationals. The other is Jay Payne. This win was in 1996, and he would win T/AD in 2003.

Tom Hoover loses his car’s body at the 1996 Gators.

1996 was not a good year for Larry Dixon in Top Fuel either.

Al Hofmann would win FC at the Gators in 1997, but crashed heavily in the final round and had to be air lifted to hospital with serious injuries.

Bob Newberry won his third Gatornationals in 1996 with TA/FC win number two. He first won Comp in 1981 then TA/FC in 1990. A multi time winner here, he would end up with two more wins in TA/FC in 2003 and 2005 for a total of five before he retired.

Marshall Topping had a bad Gatornationals in 1997, crashing the Montana Express TF in qualifying on Saturday.

Jerry Toliver was lucky enough to get a Mad sponsorship in 1998 for his nitro FC. How cool! Funny Cars are perfect for the slapstick humor that is Mad magazine.

Cruz Pedregon added a Funny Care win in 1998 to go along with is 1989 T/AD win.

Can you name the racer who has won under three different names? Angelle Seeling (far lane) won Pro Stock Bike in 1999 (seen here against John Smith), in 2003 she won as Angelle Savoie, and Angelle Sampey won in 2006. An odd stat that probably only I would see.

What can you say about Cory Mac's boomer at the 1999 Gatornationals. It's always great to see these cars spit the engine out of the chassis! See the piston outrunning the car above the front. McClenathan told me the wrist pin hit him in the you-know-where!

Not to be outdone at the 1999 Gators, Jim Head was able to keep his engine in the car!

Mike Dunn (far lane) defeated Doug Herbert for the TF win in 1999.

Larry “Spiderman” McBride was on hand at the 2000 Gators for some exhibition runs on his Top Fuel Harley.

This shot in 2000 has five Top Fuel champions together at the Gators. Wonder what they are saying? Can you name the only one who did not win TF at the Gators? He would be on the far left: Gary Scelzi. Then, moving right: Kenny Bernstein, Tony Schumacher, Joe Amato and Larry Dixon.

Doug Kalitta (far lane) would defeat Tony Schumacher in the TF final in 2000. His first of three here, also winning in 2005 and 2014.

Kenny Bernstein is one of two drivers to win at the Gatornationals in TF and FC. The King of Speed won TF in 1998 and FC three times, in 1984, ‘84 and ‘88. (You will have to wait for the answer as the other driver has not even won his first race at the Gators by 2000. It would be a few years to go.)


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