Gainesville: preview

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - There's nothing quite like the electric atmosphere produced when a pair of richly-tuned, nitro-burning Top Fuel dragsters pop and crackle at the starting line, awaiting the green light to flash at one of the NHRA's premier ...

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - There's nothing quite like the electric atmosphere produced when a pair of richly-tuned, nitro-burning Top Fuel dragsters pop and crackle at the starting line, awaiting the green light to flash at one of the NHRA's premier speedplants.

The explosive blast that thunders from two 6,000 horsepower dragsters marching side-by-side down the quarter-mile dragstrip is guaranteed to provide an extreme shot of adrenaline to even the most conservative attendees.

One blink and it's over. And speedy Gainesville Raceway, site of the sport's first 300-mph run in 1992, does well to uphold its reputation as one of NHRA's performance smorgasbords.

Legions of fans who crave 320 mph blasts that last less than five seconds have been flocking to this Florida destination to get their nitro fix for more than three decades. That pilgrimage will continue in 2001 -- NHRA's 50 Anniversary season -- as the famed track hosts the 32nd annual MAC Tools NHRA Gatornationals, March 15-18.

While fans bring a huge appetite for a sensory experience second to none, the awesome atmospheric conditions generated at the sea-level facility prompt NHRA teams to crave record-setting performances. Competitors in each of NHRA's five professional categories will have their machines tuned to the max, seeking times and speeds not yet witnessed in the world of drag racing. Doug Kalitta, Jerry Toliver, Warren Johnson, Dave Schultz and Randy Daniels are the defending winners of the $2 million race, the third of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Kalitta earned the Top Fuel victory here one year ago, defeating Tony Schumacher in a spectacular side-by-side finish. Kalitta and Schumacher are both top favorites for the Winston championship in 2001, and have their sights set on a rematch. Defending Winston champion Gary Scelzi, along with '99 MAC Tools Gatornationals winner Mike Dunn and '98 winner Kenny Bernstein are also among the top threats. Rookie sensation Darrell Russell, driving for four-time MAC Tools Gatornationals winner Joe Amato, won the season-opening event in Pomona, Calif. and has established himself as a top contender for Winston Rookie of the Year.

Toliver powered his WWF Racing machine to the Funny Car victory here last year, holding off Ron Capps' Don Prudhomme-owned Camaro in a tire-smoking pedal match. Both drivers are key players in one of the most competitive Funny Car lineups in NHRA history. Other top challengers include 10-time Winston champion John Force, a six-time winner at 'The Swamp,' and Bruce Sarver, who claimed victory at the Pomona season-opener. Scotty Cannon, Whit Bazemore, Chuck Etchells, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Tony Pedregon are among the favorites in the 6,000 horsepower category.

Five-time Winston champ Johnson showcased a dominating Pro Stock performance at the MAC Tools Gatornationals in 2000, setting low elapsed time and top speed en route to defeating Troy Coughlin in the final round. While Johnson looks to duplicate the effort in his brand new GM Goodwrench Pontiac Grand Am, other top favorites include Pomona winner Kurt Johnson, defending Winston champion Jeg Coughlin, Richie Stevens and Team Mopar's Darrell Alderman.

Schultz defeated Tony Mullen in the all-Suzuki final last year. It was one of the late Fort Myers, Fla. riders last victories. Schultz, a six-time Winston champion and winner of 45 NHRA national events, passed away in early February due to complications from his battle with colon cancer. Several two-wheel competitors hope to earn the victory in honor of the great rider, including defending Winston champion Angelle Seeling, three-time champ Matt Hines and Team 23's Antron Brown.

Daniels dominated Pro Stock Truck competition last year at Gainesville Raceway, setting all event performance-bests in his Bailey Trucking Chevy S-10 on his way to defeating fellow S-10 driver Greg Stanfield in the final round. Daniels enters the event looking for his second-straight victory for the 2001 campaign, as he earned the victory at Pomona's season-opener. His top challengers include two-time Winston champ Bob Panella, Stanfield, Scott Perin, Todd Patterson and Mike Coughlin.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying begins at 11 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. on March 16 and continues at 11 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. on March 17. Final professional eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on March 18. TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 32nd annual MAC Tools NHRA Gatornationals. Call (800) 884-6472, or Ticketmaster for ticket information. ON TV: ESPN2 will provide two hours of eliminations coverage on March 18 at 5 p.m. (ET). In addition, ESPN will televise two hours of qualifying highlights on March 17 at 3 p.m. (ET). ON THE WEB: NHRA news, photos and driver information available at www.nhra.com.

-NHRA

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Bob Panella , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Todd Patterson , Mike Coughlin , Chuck Etchells , Scotty Cannon , Don Prudhomme , Greg Stanfield , Jerry Toliver , Tommy Johnson Jr.