As Pro Stock racer Alex Laughlin sees it, Gainesville owed him one. And through a twisted sense of reimbursement, fate delivered to him his fourth career NHRA victory at the Amalie Oil Gatornationals. But clearly, Laughlin had to work for it.
Laughlin left on final round opponent and Elite Motorsports associate Aaron Stanfield and won a double tire-shake-plagued battle, winning with an off-pace 7.068 elapsed time at 204.26.
“I kind of got robbed from the win here last year and that one was extra special because it was the 50th. I wanted it so bad and ended up hurting the motor on the burnout and Bo (Butner) was on a single to get the win,” Laughlin said. “I went over and told Aaron today, “Man, I really want you to win a Pro Stock race, just not this one.”
And he said, “Hey, man, I feel the same thing.”
“I said, ‘Either way, it’s a good weekend for both of us.’”
Goodness was not exactly the way to describe the turmoil Laughlin experienced ramping up to and during the final run.
“My radio took a dump up there on the starting line and they were trying to fix it,” Laughlin recalled. “And I said, ‘You know what, I got it, we’ll be fine.’”
“I was amped. I said I wasn’t going to be .00 but I said I was going to be close to it, and I was .12.”
The only advantage of Laughlin’s quicker reaction time was a quicker opportunity to deal with the two-wheel earthquake inside the cockpit of the Havoline-sponsored Camaro.
“It rattled its head off, let’s go with that,” Laughlin said. “My shift light, I swear was whipping from door to door. It was just shaking so hard and I pulled second gear and it took it. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Then the shift light came on for third, fourth, fifth. I looked over, couldn’t see him and I had the win light on the wall spotted going down there. I’m like, ‘Come on, please. Come on, please. Please, come on.’
“And it went ‘bing’ and it lit up and I just went freaking nuts. It was weird because I didn’t even get to celebrate with my crew on the radio or anything because it didn’t work.”
The experience of driving through a tire-rattling experience came in handy for Laughlin, who rated an edge over his opponent in this unenviable experience.
“Aaron hasn’t been through it, I don’t recall, maybe he shook, and I’m just lucky that I’ve been racing for several years now,” Laughlin explained. “I’ve been through it a lot and just got lucky. Just did the best I could with the experience that I had, and it did took it and the win light came on and what a freaking weekend.”
Ironically, Laughlin’s first career Gatornationals victory came on the same weekend as he won his first national event at St. Louis back in 2016.
“More than anything, I just needed this,” Laughlin said. “This year just with how awful of the year it’s been. Sponsors have been pulling funding. It’s been tough. We’ve been scraping by. Had a completely brand-new crew this weekend that we shuffled around, and the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing, but we were just trying to find a routine, and we’ve got it and gosh dang it, it just paid off. I can’t believe it.”
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