GAINESVILLE, Fla. --
After opening the season with a pair of quarterfinal efforts, native Australian Grubnic is hoping to pull from his past successes at the Gatornationals to kick his 2013 season into high gear and improve on his sixth place points position.
Grubnic says the annual East Coast NHRA opener is one of his favorite events on the circuit.
"It's one of our greatest races on the tour," Grubnic said. "It's like our Daytona 500. It has a diversified fan base that comes from all over the country to enjoy watching NHRA drag racing at its best."
Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year's event champions at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville. The third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals will be televised on ESPN2 HD.
After winning the tradition-rich event in 2006 and claiming two No. 1 qualifying positions there, Grubnic is eager to add another Gatornationals victory to his resume. It won't be easy given the competition this year, but he knows how to get the job done when it's crunch time.
"I was fortunate to win in Gainesville back in 2006," Grubnic said. "It was one of the greatest moments in my racing career. The key to winning this event is the same for all of them and that's beating your opponent to the finish line with quickness and consistency. You have to make it to the final to win, of course, so getting by the early rounds is obviously imperative. It's all about consistency and going rounds on Sunday."
The driver of the Optima Batteries dragster is coming off one of the strongest seasons of his career, where he raced to one victory and ended a nearly six-year winless streak, raced to one No. 1 qualifying position and finished 10th in the Countdown to the Championship points standings. With many of the same drivers back in the lineup this season, Grubnic expects more of the same challenge on the track.
"The competition this year has been fierce and tough so far," Grubnic said. "Everybody is pushing the limits so close to the edge to keep up."
In Funny Car, defending event winner Robert Hight, along with defending world champ Jack Beckman will try to grab their first victories of the season with two-time Gatornationals winner Ron Capps, who leads the points standings in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger, hot on their bumpers. Others to watch in the 8,000-horsepower category include Winternationals winner Courtney Force, 15-time world champ John Force who has seven Gatornationals victories under his belt, Matt Hagan, 2009 Gators winner Bob Tasca III and Del Worsham who returns to the series after a year-long retirement.
The Pro Stock class this season is filled with drivers determined to win more than ever, including defending event winner Mike Edwards in his Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevy Camaro. Four-time Gatornationals winner Jason Line is looking to add win No. 5 to his resume, Winternationals winner and points leader Vincent Nobile, two-time Gatornationals champ Jeg Coughlin and defending world champ Allen Johnson, who drives the Team Mopar Dodge Avenger, are also among those to watch in the 200 mph factory hot rod category. Phoenix winner Erica Enders-Stevens will try to keep the momentum going in her GK Motorsports Chevy Cobalt.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle competition, Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson rider Eddie Krawiec will be gunning for his fourth consecutive victory at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville. Lucas Oil Buell riders Hector Arana Sr. and Hector Arana Jr. will be racing hard to end their winless streak while rookie Adam Arana looks to make a name for himself in the sport. Others to watch for in the two-wheel class this season include new Sovereign/Star Buell rider Michael Ray, teammate Scotty Pollacheck and Suzuki rider Jimmy Underdahl.
The NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, which will compete in 10 events throughout 2013, also will take to the track for the first time this year as Troy Coughlin looks to defend his world championship title.
Every race ticket is a pit pass, giving NHRA fans the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers in the most powerful motorsports attraction on the planet. While visiting the pits, interactive NHRA Nitro Alley and the NHRA Manufacturers Midway, fans will also want to check out NHRA's popular Hot Rod Junction presented by the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum that offers a spectacular display of many nostalgic dragsters, race cars and hot rods. There will also be several NHRA Legends of Drag Racing autograph sessions scheduled throughout the weekend, allowing fans the rare opportunity to meet many of NHRA Drag Racing's biggest stars from the past.
Fans will want to take advantage of the popular Championship Sunday Track Walk with Top Fuel legend and Florida resident Darrell Gwynn, which is free to all Sunday ticket holders. This popular event gives fans the opportunity to walk down the legendary drag strip alongside some of the NHRA's biggest stars.
As NHRA continues its Nitro Generation celebration, NHRA is offering free general admission for children 12 and under with a paying adult. Fans will also have the opportunity to attend a special Nitro Pit Party and Press Conference in the pro pits prior to the first session of qualifying on Friday. Many of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series superstars will be featured during the press conference, which begins at 10:45 a.m.
• SCHEDULE: Mello Yello Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for noon and 2:15 p.m. on Friday, March 15 and continue on Saturday, March 16 at noon and 2:15 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 17.
• TICKETS: Tickets are available for the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals online at www.NHRATIX.com or by calling the NHRA Ticket Sales Center at 800-884-NHRA (6472).
• TELEVISION: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise 90 minutes of qualifying coverage at 1:30 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, March 17 and three hours of eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, March 17.