April 2019 Articulate

Greater Gainesville celebrates 50 years of Gatornationals.


Written By: by Shelby Clayton Sullivan, photography courtesy steve gruenwald

I can remember my almost-white, light-up Pocahontas tennis shoes vibrating on the steaming pavement as crowds of people with bright orange earplugs hurried past with their hands full of mustard-dripped hotdogs and sodas. My granddad lifted my oversized headphones and yelled “Let’s go watch!” as he cracked peanuts from his shirt pocket.

My brother and I trotted off behind him, mouths watering, gazing up at the waffle cakes dangling just out of reach in a passerby’s hand.

“What’s that smell, Granddaddy?” I shouted.
“Huh?”
“What’s that smell?” I yelled again.
“Rubber,” he replied matter-of-factly, his squinted eyes set intently on the track.

It has been 21 years since my first Gatornationals experience, and I can as soon recall the overwhelming scents of the raceway as I can the pulse of 10,000 horse power engines beating on my chest.

The immersive experience has drawn the attention of thousands of drag racing fans over the past decades, and this year was no different. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway welcomed more than 70,000 fans, many of whom came from across the nation – and some from overseas With visitors filling up Greater Gainesville’s hotels, restaurants and RV parks, Gatornationals is not only an extraordinary event for spectators, but it’s also an incredible contribution to our local economy.

Jessica Hurov, the tourism manager for Visit Gainesville, Alachua County’s visitors and convention bureau, understands the significant impact of this thrilling event.

“The 50th anniversary of Gatornationals at the Gainesville Raceway is an incredible milestone for our community,” Hurov said. “Since 1969, Alachua County has hosted race fans from across the Southeast and the country as they enjoy the racing, the weather, the dining and the southern hospitality that is synonymous with Gainesville.”

This year, the raceway had another record-breaking year, with more than 70,000 attending over the multi-day race weekend. Race fans filled local hospitality, dining and shopping venues, hotels, restaurants, breweries, bars and retail stores, contributing more than $10.3 million to Greater Gainesville’s economy, Visit Gainesville estimated.

Research shows that more than 50 percent of attendees are from outside Alachua County, which creates significant sales tax and “bed tax” on hotel rooms revenue – money that funds tourism development.

Research shows that more than 50 percent of attendees are from outside Alachua County, which creates significant sales tax and “bed tax” on hotel rooms revenue – money that funds tourism development.

Gatornationals is an important part of Greater Gainesville’s thriving tourist economy. Tourism provides more than 9,200 local jobs and pays over $306 million in annual compensation to workers in the hospitality sector, Visit Gainesville reports. The area has over 2.1 million overnight every year, and lodging revenue in the county surpasses $100 million annually.

“One of my favorite facts about tourism is that visitors rank the friendliness of the people in Alachua County as the highest-rated aspect of their visit,” Hurov said.

 While Greater Gainesville remains rooted in southern hospitality, our ever-expanding community continues to offer more attractions for our guests each year. With this exciting growth, we can only expect events such as Gatornationals to continue to draw large enthusiastic crowds, audiences we’re eager to welcome. 

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