The Mello Yello Drag Racing Series' 44th annual Amalie Oil Gatornationals turned out to be a celebration of an NHRA lifer.
Victories at the Gators by Johnny Gray (Pro Stock) and Antron Brown (Top Fuel) completed a double century of event wins for team owner Don Schumacher.
Schumacher was a pioneering Funny Car driver who claimed his first event win as a driver in 1970 at the U.S. Nationals. Five of Schumacher's 200 titles came from inside the cockpit of a dragster.
After taking a break from racing to focus on the family electric business, Schumacher returned to the sport in 1998 to campaign a Top Fuel rail dragster for his son, Tony.
Now Don Schumacher Racing operates as drag racing's prototypical superteam, fielding entries in all of the NHRA's pro categories out of an impressive race shop in Brownsburg, Ind.
DSR drivers have won 22 NHRA season championships, including seven by Tony Schumacher. The younger Schumacher has scored 70 of DSR's 200 event wins in his U.S. Army-sponsored Top Fuel dragster.
But at Gainesville, Fla., Schumacher went down in a first-round defeat to Khalid al Balooshi, opening the door for Brown to emerge as the Top Fuel hero for DSR. The African-American star clocked the fastest time and speed of the weekend (3.761 seconds/318.77 mph) to defeat Clay Millican (3.813/319.67).
"It wasn't just Johnny and me who brought Don that 200th win, it was all of us together at DSR that made it happen," said Brown, who has driven 20 of DSR's winners. "I just feel incredibly blessed to be a part of this whole organization."
Brown took over the Top Fuel points lead from Schumacher after the third event of the NHRA season. It marked a huge turnaround for Brown and his Matco Tools team after he suffered a frightening, fiery crash on Feb. 17 at the season-opening Winternationals.
"Everything that Don has been orchestrating in all the years he's been in drag racing has been about building the quickest, the fastest and absolutely the safest cars," Brown said. "I believe he's done that, especially with the way I was able to walk away from that accident at Pomona."
Schumacher is credited with developing the roof escape hatch that is now mandatory in NHRA Funny Car. His team also created an enclosed canopy for Top Fuel cars that was tested in real-world conditions for the first time in Brown's Pomona accident.
Schumacher, who will be inducted May 2 into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala., was overcome by the achievement. His 200 wins as an entrant ranks second only to John Force Racing's 218.
"It's a tremendous reward," he said. "I can't say what this personally feels like. When we won both championships in November [Brown in Top Fuel and Jack Beckman in Funny Car], my mother passed away on the day of the banquet the next day. I haven't had joy really since then.
"I am not someone who ever counts things like that," he added. "I never thought it would happen or even considered it. Thanks to all of my drivers. They do an incredible job day in and day out."
Gray, 60, whose win Sunday at the Gatornationals was his fourth in the Funny Car category, has announced he will retire from full-time competition at the end of the season.
His 4.053 sec/315.49 mph run defeated Del Worsham at 4.100/303.50.
"It was awesome to be part of this," Gray said. "Don has been absolutely great to me. It's an awesome feeling for Antron and I both, but it's also an awesome feeling for Ron Capps, who won the last race, and everybody back down the line who contributed to this, starting with Don winning his first. Just to be a part of it, to be part of his organization is really unbelievable."
Pro Stock produced the best race of the day as Allen Johnson used a quicker reaction time to defeat his teammate Jeg Coughlin. Johnson's MOPAR Dodge Avenger (6.535 sec/212.59 mph) crossed the line about 20 inches ahead of Coughlin's similar machine, clocked at 6.615/212.25.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hector Arana Jr. scored his first win in more than a year to kick off the 2013 season for the two-wheelers.