Gainesville Top Fuel notebook (TOP FUEL)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761 MAC TOOLS GATORNATIONALS TOP FUEL NOTEBOOK --No surprise: It came as no surprise to Kenny Bernstein that Gary Scelzi drove the Team Winston Dragster to victory in his...

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761

MAC TOOLS GATORNATIONALS TOP FUEL NOTEBOOK

--No surprise: It came as no surprise to Kenny Bernstein that Gary Scelzi drove the Team Winston Dragster to victory in his professional debut last month at the Chief Auto Parts Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

Scelzi replaced the late Blaine Johnson in the car owned and tuned by Alan Johnson. Blaine Johnson suffered fatal injuries in a qualifying crash last August at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

"The mechanical side was in great shape with Alan," Bernstein said. "He's got a tremendous handle on the race car.

"Scelzi is a fine driver. He's got tons of experience. I'm not surprised at all. They're one of the teams we have to target."

Scelzi, from Fresno, Calif., moved to Top Fuel after more than a decade in the Federal-Mogul Dragster and Federal-Mogul Funny Car categories.

--Staying power: Joe Amato had the strongest car at the season-opening Chief Auto Parts Winternationals, making an unprecedented three consecutive passes in the 4.50-second range during eliminations in the Keystone Automotive Warehouse Dragster, including an NHRA-record run of 4.564 seconds.

But Kenny Bernstein said event winner Gary Scelzi poses more of a threat to the field right now in the Team Winston Dragster tuned by Alan Johnson.

"Joe's car is running really well," Bernstein said. "But is their longevity going to hold up? I fear the longevity with Alan's team more than with Joe's right now because Alan has proven it."

Indeed. Johnson tuned his younger brother, Blaine, to a solid lead in the NHRA Winston point standings last season before Blaine's death at the U.S. Nationals.

Five-time NHRA Winston champion Amato never has finished better than fifth in his three seasons with crew chief Jimmy Prock.

--Top gun: Top Fuel driver Bob Vandergriff Jr. will reach speeds that even his Jerzees Dragster can't touch during a flight in an F-18 fighter jet March 5 at Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Fla.

Vandergriff will exceed the sound barrier -- 750 mph at sea level -- during the flight. His career-best speed in the Jerzees Dragster is 307.58 mph.

The flight will be preceded by classroom training March 3 and water survival training March 4 at Cecil Field. Vandergriff, 1994 NHRA Winston rookie of the year, will perform several burnouts for military personnel at the base, and his car will be on display.

--Love this place: Central Florida is one of Kenny Bernstein's favorite places, for more than just his outstanding record of performance at Gainesville Raceway.

Sure, Bernstein loves Gainesville because of his three Funny Car victories and two milestone performances at Gainesville Raceway. In 1986, Bernstein became the first Funny Car driver to break 260 mph with a speed of 260.11. In 1992, he became the first drag racer to break 300 mph with a speed of 301.70.

But the main reason he loves Central Florida is due to fond memories spent there while building one of his many businesses.

"It's always been a favorite of mine because I spent a lot of time down there in the late 1970s building one of my restaurants," Bernstein said. "It's a place I enjoy very much."

The area's world-class golf courses also are a draw. Bernstein is an avid golfer.

--Performance prediction: The strong performance by many Top Fuel drivers at the season-opening Chief Auto Parts Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., will continue at the Mac Tools Gatornationals, Kenny Bernstein said.

"I don't think it will be much different than Pomona," Bernstein said. "I think you could see mid (4).50's at 317 or 318 with probably not a whole lot of trouble, with three teams doing it."

The low elapsed time at Pomona was the national record of 4.564 seconds by Joe Amato in the Keystone Automotive Warehouse Dragster, and the top speed was the national record of 316.90 mph by Shelly Anderson in the Parts America Dragster.

Anderson thinks a speed barrier could be hurdled soon, maybe even at Gainesville.

"I know my dad is aiming for 320 mph this year, as soon as possible," Anderson said, referring to her father and team owner, Brad Anderson.

Bernstein recorded the fastest speed in NHRA history, 318.69 mph, last October at the Chief Auto Parts Nationals near Dallas. The speed wasn't an NHRA national record because he didn't back it up with another speed within 1 percent at the same event, required by NHRA rules.

--Schedule: Winston pro qualifying starts at 11 a.m. March 7 and continues at 3 p.m. that day. Qualifying ends with sessions at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. March 8. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. March 9. Federal-Mogul competition starts at 8 a.m. March 6.

--Tickets: Tickets are available for the Mac Tools Gatornationals. Call NHRA Ticket Information at (800) 884-6472 for ticket information.

--On TV: The Nashville Network (TNN) will televise 90 minutes of live, final-round competition from the Mac Tools Gatornationals at 4:30 p..m. (EST) March 9. TNN also will show one hour of live, first-round racing during its "NHRA Today" show at 11 a.m. (EST) March 9.

--On the Web: The NHRA home page on the World Wide Web at http://www.goracing.com/nhra/ offers more information about NHRA Winston Drag Racing, including qualifying and eliminations results, news, point standings, statistics and driver biographies.

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Jack Durbin indy500@freenet.tlh.fl.us Motorsport News International jackd@motorsport.com (Moderators for "rec.autos.sport.info") Homepage http://www.freenet.tlh.fl.us/users/indy500/index.html

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Bob Vandergriff , Shelly Anderson