Gainesville IHRA Champ Don Lampus Jr. Ready to Beat NHRA''s Best

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 10) -- Rookie Top Fuel pilot Don Lampus Jr., the driver of the ExpressAutoParts.com dragster, has learned enough in his brief NHRA drag racing career that he has formed a solid gameplan heading into the 31st annual Mac...

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 10) -- Rookie Top Fuel pilot Don Lampus Jr., the driver of the ExpressAutoParts.com dragster, has learned enough in his brief NHRA drag racing career that he has formed a solid gameplan heading into the 31st annual Mac Tools Gatornationals March 16-19 at Gainesville Raceway.

"Don't race the Winston champion in Round 1," Lampus said with a laugh. "That's the plan."

Lampus, a reigning Top Fuel champion himself after capturing the IHRA title in 1999, has just five national events on his NHRA resume. What's impressive is that he's easily qualified for all five events. What's uncanny is the fact that the positions he's earned on the elimination ladders have always pitted him against the NHRA's reigning champ early on Race Day.

In the three NHRA events he competed in last season, Lampus raced two-time Winston champion Gary Scelzi twice and 1999 champ Tony Schumacher once. In both of his races this season, he's been paired against Schumacher.

"You have to laugh a little bit," Lampus said. "I always said I wanted to come to the NHRA and race the best drivers in the world. It would be nicer if I could see them later in the day, like in the final round. Seriously though, we know every driver on this circuit is capable of beating any other driver. We have to learn how to win no matter who it is in the other lane.

"Our main goal from this point forward is to qualify well enough to put this ExpressAutoParts.com dragster in the top half of the field. If we do that, we'll fix the problem of racing the better drivers in Round 1 because they'll be in the top half of the ladder as well. Plus, we all saw how critical lane choice was in Phoenix. If we qualify in the top half of the field then we'll have the advantage of picking the lane we like. It's a big plus."

Lampus has never been to Gainesville Raceway but he knows that the experience of crew chief Mike McLaughlin and the rest of the ExpressAutoParts.com Racing team will give him a solid racecar that will be dialed in perfectly to the power-producing, sea-level track.

"Mike and I have discussed our strategy," Lampus said. "We want to put down a nice 4.7-second pass right out of the trailer in Round 1 to get us solidly in the field. Then we're really going to step on it and try to run in the 4.6-second range. We both think that it will take a good 4.6 pass to earn a top-half spot. Obviously, I'd like to win this race. But we're still at a point where our goals are to win one round at a time. If we do that, wins will come."

Qualifying highlights of the 31st annual Gatornationals will be broadcast at 8 p.m. (ET) Saturday on ESPN2. Same-day coverage of the elimination action will start at 5 p.m. (ET) Sunday, also on ESPN2.

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