50 Years of the Gatornationals

Part 7: 2001-2005

Words and photos by Steve Gruenwald

Bobby Lagana's pit and ramp truck hauler was the epitome of the low buck TF independent in 2001.

The Snake and Bounty Hunter could write a book with all their stories.


Snake's driver Larry Dixon won his second TF title at the Gators in 2001. He would repeat the following year 2003 and again in 2009. Do you recognize the announcer behind Dixon? It is Alan Reinhart, with hair!

Peter Biondo backed up his 1994 win in Super Stock with another in 2001. He wins Super Stock again in 2006, followed up with wins in Stock in 2007 and ‘08, and wins back in Super Stock in 2011, for a total of six.

Unknown TF fire at the 2001 Gators.

Pro Mod debuted at the Gators in 2001. Paul Athey in Johnny Rocca's Mercury got crossed up on his burnout and swerved into Ronnie Hood's lane just barely nicking the Corvette. He backed up, staged the car and took off!

Rickie Smith defeated Kirk Kuhns in the final of the first Pro Mod race at the Gators. Smith has the most wins of anyone here with four, 2001, 2012, 2016 and 2018.

After two wins in T/AD Jay Payne switched to TA/FC and would win in 2001. He then won Pro Mod in 2005.

Tony Pedregon scored his first of two wins in Funny Car with a win in 2002 followed up with another in 2008.

This is Joe Costello interviewing Tony Pedregon after his win in 2002. Joe was doing his motorsports show for Miami radio WQAM at the time. Who knew they would both become part of NHRA TV coverage for Tony and on track coverage for Joe, as well as his own WFO show.

Don Garlits at the Gators in 2002.

Darrell Alderman defeated WJ in the semis and goes on to win Pro Stock in 2002. He also won in 1989 and 1995.

Kurt Johnson defeated Jeg Coughlin Jr. in 2003 for his only Pro Stock win at the Gatornationals.

Tony Schumacher won Top Fuel at the Gators for the first time in 2004. He will win four more times, 2007, ‘08, ‘10 and ‘17, to lead Top Fuel drivers with five wins at the Gatornationals. Don Garlits, Joe Amato and Larry Dixon each have four TF wins here.

Del Worsham won the Gatornationals in 2004 by stopping John Force in the final round. He will become only the second driver to win in Funny Car and Top Fuel at the Gators when he wins TF in 2011. He joins the short list alongside Kenny Bernstein.

After a DNQ at his first race here in 1989, it took until 2005 before Whit Bazemore would win Funny Car. After a fire in the semis, he was up against first time finalist Bob Gilbertson who handed the win to him with a red light.


Four-time Gators Funny Car champ Ed "the Ace" McCulloch in 2005.

Scott Kalitta in 2005.

The Gainesville Sun's Norm Froscher always saw that the Gators received top billing. For his many years of continued support for the Gatornationals the pressroom is named in his honor.

When Jeremy Preston won Super Gas at the Gators it was a big deal for me. You see Preston was from my home track of Moroso Motorsports Park, now PBIR. A winner locally and a good racer, it was great to see him win at a nationals event.

Announcer and racer Bret Kepner on the starting line at the Gators. Now you know why they call him "Mr. Dirt"! 2005  


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Part 4


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Part 6



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