104 Stevetorrence Saturday Gainesville
Steve Torrence led Top Fuel qualifying Saturday at Gainesville Raceway. (NHRA photo)

Steve Torrence Leads Gatornationals No. 1 Qualifiers

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Steve Torrence maintained his top spot in Top Fuel on Saturday, as the three-time NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series champion qualified No. 1 at the season-opening 52nd Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.

Ron Capps (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories ahead of the first race of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.

Torrence qualified No. 1 for the 28th time in his career after his impressive run of 3.699-seconds at 324.90 mph in his 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster from Friday held up.

After a string of three straight dominant seasons, Torrence appeared to keep his momentum going to open the new campaign. He will take on Joe Morrison to open eliminations, looking to repeat his Gainesville triumph from last season.

“We need to maintain our focus and concentration on going laps and going rounds because there’s a lot of people targeting us,” said Torrence, a 40-time NHRA winner. “We’re going to have to step up. Brittany (Force) is back, some other people are back and it’s going to be a competitive field, just as it always is. Getting in these things, you get jacked up and that run (Friday) was stout. We made a good run this afternoon and we’re excited to stay on top.

“The yellow (No. 1 qualifier) hats are nice, but we’re trying to get some of those winner’s hats, so we’ll see what we can do.”

Steve’s father, Billy, moved to second in the final qualifying session with a run of 3.735 at 326.95, while Leah Pruett also made a big jump to close out Saturday, going 3.741 at 326.32 to qualify third.

Capps’ 3.895 at 329.02 in his 11,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat from Friday gave him the No. 1 qualifier for the 26th time in his career.

It’s a solid start for Capps, who will race Jim Campbell to begin eliminations. Don Schumacher Racing’s 14-race winning streak in Funny Car is also on the line and Capps, a 66-time NHRA winner, hopes to extend that streak on Sunday in Gainesville.

“I’m just a small link and I just didn’t want to mess up,” said Capps, who has three wins at the historic facility. “I’ve got my first Camping World hat (for a No. 1 qualifier) and it’s great. It’s been fun and we’re excited, but tomorrow is raceday. We’ve got a great crowd here, and I’m feeling good and I don’t want the dream to end, so hopefully we can finish the job on Sunday.”

Alexis DeJoria qualified second thanks to her pass of 3.914 at 324.28 and Tim Wilkerson took third on the strength of his 3.917 at 326.32.

Greg Anderson and Erica Enders battled for the top position in Pro Stock, and the two four-time world champs swapped spots on Saturday, with Anderson going 6.525 at 211.36 in his Race Star Wheels/Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro.

It gives the veteran his 107th career No. 1 qualifier and plenty of momentum heading into race day, where he will meet Fernando Cuadra Jr. in the opening round.

After going winless last season, Anderson – a 94-time event winner – looks to start this season on a good note and win in Gainesville for the fifth time.

“It feels great,” Anderson said. “It’s been a long five months with no racing and that drives us crazy. This is what it’s all about, racing at the Gatornationals, and so far my car has just been flawless. We got the spot we wanted and we’re going to come out tomorrow – on my birthday – and see if we can get a blue (winner’s) Camping World hat.”

Enders, the defending and back-to-back Pro Stock champion, finished in the second spot thanks to her 6.528 at 210.77 and Matt Hartford jumped to third in the final qualifying session after going 6.532 at 209.62.

A terrific opening weekend got even better for Angelle Sampey in Pro Stock Motorcycle, as she improved on her run from Friday with a pass of 6.742 at 200.00 on her Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki.

It gave the three-time world champion her 52nd career No. 1 qualifier and Sampey will open eliminations against Michael Phillips.

Sampey’s fastest career run also sent her into the Denso Auto Parts 200 mph club, a significant achievement on her new four-valve Suzuki.

“It is amazing to feel the love and support from everyone at Vance & Hines,” said Sampey, who has three career Gatornationals victories. “I’ve always been on a mission and it feels like mission accomplished already. But there’s still so much more ahead this weekend with this Suzuki four-valve that Vance & Hines developed. I’m just the lucky rider who gets to be on this bike and I’m loving it.

“I’m still learning the motorcycle and it’s been a struggle at times, but I’m still going.”

Defending world champ Matt Smith qualified second with a 6.768 at 199.82, and he went a weekend-best 200.74 in the final qualifying session. Joey Gladstone took the third spot after going 6.783 at 198.50.

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