Third Pep Boys Top Fuel All-Star Callout set for Gatornationals

There are changes to the Saturday scheduling for this year’s 55th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, held in just a couple of weeks on Gainesville Raceway’s drag strip. The third annual edition of the Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout that began in 2022 at this race, is scheduled to take place during Saturday’s qualifying sessions.

The Top Fuel Callout pits eight top-notch racers against one another in a unique shootout. It includes a hefty total purse of $130,000, a special Callout trophy (from artist Cold Hard Art), a belt similar to those doled out to boxers and bragging rights, of course. This year’s field, led by top seed Steve Torrence, a four-time NHRA Top Fuel champion, also includes reigning titleholder Doug Kalitta, two-time champ Brittany Force, three-time champ Antron Brown, together with speedsters Mike Salinas, Justin Ashley, Leah Pruett and Shawn Langdon.

As top seeded driver, Torrence makes the first selection of who he wants to race, while Kalitta, next in the seeding, chooses second, followed by Force and Salinas. Ashley, Pruett, Brown and Langdon are the fifth through eighth seeds. Whoever makes the quickest run in the first round selects their semifinal opponent, thereby locking in the other matchup.

One wrinkle in this event is Leah Pruett’s determination to start a family with husband Tony Stewart, owner of the Tony Stewart Racing Nitro squad that includes reigning, four-time Funny Car champion Matt Hagan and Pruett. Since she’s decided to sit out the season in order to enhance her abilities to attain pregnancy, Stewart is driving her dragster in 2024. There is the chance that Pruett wouldn’t race in the shootout if Stewart, who makes his Top Fuel debut at the Gatornationals, is not deeply qualified in the field after Friday’s pair of qualifying attempts.

If Pruett, using a separate dragster from the one Stewart will be campaigning for the full, 21-race season, doesn’t race in the Callout, the final spot would go to Ocala, Fla. resident Josh Hart, who won the Callout last year at his home track, bumping Brown and Langdon to sixth and seventh, respectively. Under those circumstances, Stewart would be free to use Saturday’s pair of qualifying sessions to try and improve his standing on the 16-car ladder.

Should Stewart run well on Friday, Pruett would then take part in the Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout, with Stewart possibly not making any qualifying attempts on Saturday. Confusing? Sure, but Pruett and Stewart’s announcement of their family intentions at last December’s PRI Show was bound to put some wrinkles into the 2024 proceedings of this Callout.

Because of these changes that may or may not occur, depending on how well Stewart does on Friday, NHRA decided to place the autograph session for all eight scheduled Callout participants on Friday, at 12:30PM at the Pep Boys display within the Manufacturer Midway. The first-round Callout selections will be made at 10AM ET inside the Top Eliminator Club on Friday.

The first round of this third annual Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout takes place on Saturday at 1:20PM; the semifinals are slated for 2:45PM with finals taking place at 4:25PM. A special Callout broadcast airs on Saturday, March 9 at 7PM on FS1.

With all four NHRA Mission Foods NHRA Drag Racing Series categories and nearly every Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series class performing at the Gatornationals, the professional start of the 2024 season, a Top Fuel Callout winner has the opportunity to double up by earning their Wally trophy on Sunday.

In 2023, the winners of the 54th Gatornationals were Salinas in Top Fuel, Hagan for Funny Car, Pro Stock’s Troy Coughlin Jr. for Elite Motorsports and champion-in-waiting Gaige Herrera, who won his first race in Pro Stock Motorcycle racing for Vance & Hines Motorsports.

By Anne Proffit

PEP BOYS NHRA TOP FUEL ALL-STAR CALLOUT SCHEDULE (ET):

 

Friday, March 8:

12:30 PM – Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout autograph session at Pep Boys display

Saturday, March 9

10:00 AM – Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout first-round selections in Top Eliminator Club (Get your TEC Tickets Today!)

12:45 PM – Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout opening ceremonies

1:00 PM – First round for Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout

2:45 PM – Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout for round two. This will be conducted at the top end. The winning driver who makes the quickest run in the first round earns the right to select their semifinal opponent.

4:25 PM – Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout final round

 

7:00 PM – Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout show airs on FS1

 

About Anne Proffit 1246 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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