50 Years of the Gatornationals

Part 4: 1986-90

Words and photos by Steve Gruenwald

Shirley Muldowney was always a hit with the fans and the media. Here she is on the cover of the Gainesville Sun supplement for the 1986 Gatornationals. Another legend who won the "Greatornationals". She won Top Fuel back to back in 1981-82.

Don Garlits debuted his Swamp Rat XXX in 1986 at the Gators. With an enclosed canopy and a spoon nose covering 13" tires he ran 268 during the first weekend. The finals were delayed one week due to torrential rain. The following week Garlits ran 5.409/272.56 over Dan Pastorini in the semis -- good for Low E.T. and Top Speed. He would win the final over Dick LaHaie who blew the blower off the car at 1,000 feet. This shot is on that run, shot from the old top end grandstands. This would be his last win here after first winning in 1972 and again in '77 and '78.

Tim Grose tried this new approach and ran his headers through the hood. Here he qualifies alongside Scott Kalitta in 1986.

Bob and son Billy Glidden through the trailer door at Gators 1986.

Just happened to be in the right place in 1988 when Tom Hoover did this great wheel stand for me. Thanks, Tom.

John Force at the top end 1988. Check out the body distortion! He would not win in Gainesville until 1992, but then he would conquer Funny Car with a total of eight wins, winning again in ‘93, ‘94, ‘95, ‘96, ‘99, 2001, and ‘17. Hey, that eight wins ties him with Frank Manzo for all time wins at the Gatornationals! So, do you know who has won more than these two?

Shirley listens while Big Daddy speaks. Gators 1988.


Paul Candies and Don Prudhomme don't know it yet but after this encounter prior to the first round, the Snake would lose first round to Art Hendy in Chuck Worsham's “Tinker Toy”. Then in the second round Candies would see his driver Mark Oswald also lose to Hendy at the Gators in 1989.

This was also Prudhomme's last FC ride at the Gators in 1989.

Darrell Gwynn in the winner’s circle after his defeat of Eddie Hill in 1989. He is surrounded by his dad, Jerry, and mother, Joan, as well as Linda Vaughn, crew chief Ken Veney and the entire crew.

Tom “Mongoose” McEwen’s '57 FC make a pass at the 1989 Gators.

This is Whit Bazemore's first nitro ride. He wound up 17th at the Gators in 1989.

Cruz Pedregon wins in T/AD in 1989 at the Gatornationals in Gary Turner's Blown Alcohol Dragster.

Pat Austin would win for the third straight year in 1989 after winning in ‘87 and ‘88. He would go on to win in 1991, ‘92 and a sixth time in 1994. This put him second behind Frank Manzo who has eight wins in TA/FC. In the far lane is Tommy Johnson, Jr.

Prudhomme came back to Gainesville in 1990 driving a Top Fueler. He would be taken out in round by eventual winner Darrell Gwynn.

In 1990 Darrell was on top of the world after a late Saturday afternoon pass that was the first in Gators history by qualifying number 1 with a 4.985 at 281.95 mph.

The final was a repeat of 1989 as Darrell again stopped Eddie Hill in the final for his last win.

Connie Swingle in the “Swamp Rat III”, a ride that made him famous, towed in front of the crowd at the Gators in 1990. 


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