The Gatornationals Seen Through the Lens of Steve Gruenwald

Part 1, 1970-1977


With the Gatornationals celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, we want to mark the occasion. Florida-resident Steve Gruenwald has been attending the Gators since 1974 and has been shooting the event for DRO since we began publishing. Over the next couple of months we will be sharing some of his photos and memorabilia.

The cover of Drag News from the first Gatornationals. The finals were held on Sunday, Feb. 15, 1970. That first race was held just two weeks after the Winternationals. Candies & Hughes would win FC. Leonard Hughes would stop teammate Larry Reyes, who won the Winternationals. Candies & Hughes would win T/F in 1974 with Dave Settles driving.

A collage of some of Gruenwald’s past event ticket stubs. This year will be 46 years in a row for him attending.

Tommy Shinholster, from Titusville, FL, would defeat Jack Ditmar’s “Mini-Brute”, who just won the Winternationals two weeks prior, to win Comp. Elim. He became the first Floridian to win at the Gators. His Willys was powered by a 292 blown small block Chevy running in CC/GS.


The Drag News cover for 1971.

The Ramchargers with Leroy Goldstein driving would win FC over Bobby Rowe.

The Drag News cover shows Garlits wins in 1972.

Ed “The Ace” McCulloch wins his first FC title at the Gators in 1972. He would go on to win FC in 1986, ’89 and ‘90.

Francis Crider became the first driver to win the Gators twice. He won Comp in 1971 driving a C/D. Then he would win in Modified in this Hemi-powered A/SR.


Pat Foster would get his first Wally at the Gators in 1973.

Herm Peterson won T/F in 1973, then suffered a horrendous fire later that summer. He returned the next year with this streamliner, which he brought back to the Gators in 1988.

“Ohio George” Montgomery used this turbocharged Mustang to win Comp two years in a row, 1973 and ‘74.

Wally Booth got AMC its first ever Pro Stock victory in 1974.


Back in the day, if you won, NHRA would put your car on the cover of the event program. The 1974 T/F winner Dave Settles graced the 1975 cover in the Candies & Hughes dragster.

Judy Lilly became the first woman to win at the Gators by taking the Stock Eliminator title.


Walt Weney drove his S&W A/F to a Pro Comp win in 1975.

Butch Leal wins in 1975 as Modified Champ. He would go on to win Pro Stock in 1988.


Part 2, 1976-80 


Part 3


Part 4


Part 5



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