Amy Faulk's '97 Trans Am was the baddest ride in Stock Eliminator. Her F/Stock Automatic T
Pontiac provided the winners at the 1998 NHRA Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., this past March. The '98 Gators was a performance fest where both track and national records came crashing down. Poncho pilots brought plenty of excitement to Funny Car, Pro Stock, Competition Eliminator and Stock Eliminator. And in each class, a Pontiac did some serious damage.
The professional ladders were filled with fast Firebirds-two of which took home the gold. Cruz Pedregon's Nitro Funny wore a Firebird shell and also broke the national ET record during qualifying. Pedregon clicked off a 4.873 at 311 mph with his '98 Bird to capture the pole position and then carried his momentum into eliminations where he ultimately defeated John Force's Ford in the final.
Mineshaft weather conditions helped the Pro Stock contingent forge the quickest ladder in NHRA Pro Stock history. Jeg Coughlin grabbed the No. 1 position with a 6.89 at 200.04 mph, which gave him membership in the Speed-Pro 200 mph Pro Stock Club. Kurt Johnson was also added to the list of Speed-Pro 200 mph members, when he ran 200.13 in his round-one win over the Dodge of Scott Geoffrion. Both Coughlin and Johnson received $1,000 for their 200-mph efforts. Warren Johnson, driving the familiar GM Performance Parts Pontiac Firebird, followed his son, K.J., to the winner's circle to also move into the second round. W.J. qualified a disappointing fifth, but showed his prowess during eliminations. The Sugar Hill, Ga.-based runner blasted to a new NHRA Pro Stock mph record of 201.20, while defeating the Ford of Robert Patrick Jr. W.J. then danced through the record field, running consecutive 6-second runs at over 200 every pass. In the final, W.J. was matched against the defending Pro Stock world champ Jim Yates. W.J. defeated Yates with a national record-setting 6.873 at 200.66 mph. He collected $25,000 from the MBNA World Record Club, while Pedregon pocketed $50,000 for his Funny Car record.
High Performance Pontiac magazine was represented by Carol Yacavone and her 400-cube L/SA
The red-hot Pontiac-pounding action continued in Stock Eliminator. Considering the popularity of the LT1 engine, it wasn't surprising to see that the four top qualifiers in Stock drove late-model Firebirds. Amy Faulk was No. 1 on the list with her pretty F/SA Trans Am that clocked a quick 10.91. That's 1.23 seconds under the F/SA index of 12.15! Faulk was followed closely by Gary Russell (1.21-under) and Woodro Josey (1.16-under), both driving lighter D/SA Firebirds. Bernie Emling was the fourth qualifier behind the wheel of his E/Stock stickshift Firebird entry.
In total there were nine LT1-powered Birds (of the 11 Pontiacs in Stock). This made for a literal LT1 war in class eliminations as the best in the business locked horns. Two memorable races were the grudge matches in F/SA between Amy Faulk and Pat Joffrion and the tight race between Gary Russell and Woodro Josey. No. 1 qualifier Faulk strapped a perfect .500 light on Joffrion and took a win, while Russell outran Josey for the D/SA class title.
Like Stock, Competition Eliminator was packed with powerful Ponchos. Seven of the 32 qualifiers drove Pontiac models, though it was the Jerry Haas-built Grand Prix of Rob Slavinski that ran .64-under his 8.91 C/EA index to become the pole winner. Slavinski ran a consistent race and advanced to the final before he was defeated by Mike Saye, driving an Olds Cutlass.
NHRA D/S national record holder Bernie Emling had his F-body flying in Gainesville. Emling
Maspeth, N.Y.'s John Rodnite launched wheels-up in his heavy N/SA LeMans. The Pontiac is m
If there is one guy who can make an LT1 Bird fly, it's Gary Russell of East Sparta, Ohio.