Atlanta: pre-race notes

* FIVE-TIME WINSTON CHAMP JOE AMATO ON HIS ROOKIE DRIVER DARRELL RUSSELL: "I think Darrell's done a great job," said Amato, who drove to a record 52 Top Fuel victories. "He's steady and he doesn't seem to panic under pressure. We put him right to...

* FIVE-TIME WINSTON CHAMP JOE AMATO ON HIS ROOKIE DRIVER DARRELL RUSSELL: "I think Darrell's done a great job," said Amato, who drove to a record 52 Top Fuel victories. "He's steady and he doesn't seem to panic under pressure. We put him right to the test (at the season-opener, which he won). He's proven he's got the credentials and the mindset to win. We've got to give him a good car with steady performance, and that's the key to how well he'll do the rest of the year.

"I'm happy. He's adapted to the media and the circus that is NHRA Winston Drag Racing. He's like a sponge in that he soaks in all the advice you give him. They say it takes 40-50 laps in the car (to get comfortable) and that's why we were so conservative (on the setup) in the beginning, to make sure the car went down the track. We figured the quicker he got the laps without (losing traction and) smoking the tires, the quicker he would learn and get a feel for the car. That will play a bonus down the road."

* 10-TIME WINSTON CHAMP JOHN FORCE BRINGS HEART DEFIBRILLATOR ON THE ROAD: The legendary John Force is aware of the stress imposed by the racing lifestyle. Because of this, the Yorba Linda, Calif., resident recently purchased two Heartstream FR2 semi-automatic heart defibrillators. One of the Automatic Electronic Defibrillators (AED) will remain at his Southern California shop facility, and the other will travel with the race team should it be needed on the road.

The defibrillator has long been used by hospitals and Emergency Medical Technicians, but only recently became available for use by laymen. In the event of what doctors would call a heart episode, the AED, properly used, administers an electrical shock to the heart muscle. Eight members of Force's crew and office staff were trained and certified to use the equipment.

"I look at this like another piece of safety equipment," said Force. "You hope you never need it, but if you do, it's there. Bottom line, it could save lives so why not (have access to it)?"

* DEAN SKUZA READY FOR 2001 CAMPAIGN: Skuza certainly has shown that he's capable of hanging with the top drivers in the class. He grabbed top qualifier honors at the CSK race in Phoenix after a career-best pass of 4.805 seconds. To date, it's the quickest Funny Car pass of the year. He's quick to credit two basic changes to his team for their success this year.

"Adding John Stewart was big," Skuza said. "Everyone knows he's the best clutch guy in the sport. (Co-crew chief) Lance Larsen has always known how to make huge amounts of horsepower but if you can't get it onto the track then it's useless. Together these two guys are perfect.

"We also have a lot more money this year. Mopar really stepped up the primary sponsorship dollar amount we had been working with in the past and the money we're getting from our major associate, Cornwell Tools, is almost enough to run a team on by itself.

"It's the first time in my career that we've had everything we need. I mean, I've got engineers from Chrysler calling us to see when we want to go to the wind tunnel again. Everyone up there wants us to beat Force. It's the same with Cornwell. Sure it's business because we all know how much ink the guy that does knock off Force is going to get, but it's also personal. These guys are race fans and they're tired of seeing him win everything.

"In my negotiations with Cornwell they must have mentioned beating Force 100 times. They said they want to systematically dismantle John Force Racing. I was like, 'Wow, these guys are talking my language.'"

Team Mopar currently finds itself in seventh place in the Winston championship points standings, 176 points behind Force but just 86 points (or slightly more than four rounds of action) out of third place.

"This is the best chance I've ever had to finish high up there in the points, maybe even at the top," said Skuza, who has six Top 10 finishes in eight years of professional competition. "I hope this run we're on continues in Bristol. I really felt like we should have won in Gainesville and we had another great chance in Vegas until our blower let go. I think we'll win some races this year, it's just a matter of when."

* GREG STANFIELD CONTINUES TO IMPRESS AS PRO STOCK TRUCK SEASON CONTINUES: Four of the 14 scheduled Pro Stock Truck events have been contested and Greg Stanfield has put his DBP Enterprises Chevy S-10 in three final rounds. His win at the recent Mac Tools Gatornationals moved him into second place in the Winston standings and only seven behind leader Randy Daniels.

"I think the luck finally went our way," Stanfield said after his first victory of 2001. "Starting off this year we struggled a little bit, and we were pretty discouraged but we've come full circle and put our Chevy S-10 in the winner's circle. We're pretty happy.

"It's just a matter of getting everything working together at the right time and playing off our opponents' mistakes. My philosophy on the points race is if you keep winning these trophies, the championship will take care of itself. Randy, Bobby (Panella), they're both very, very tough. It's going to get interesting. We're going to keep working hard and try to keep up with them."

* "FAN NIGHT" TO BE HELD AT ATLANT DRAGWAY: On Wednesday May 2, 2001, the day before the start of the 21st annual Advance Auto Parts NHRA Southern Nationals, the NHRA will be hosting a "Fan Night" at Atlanta Dragway. Gates will open at 5:30 p.m. for the autograph session as fans get an opportunity to meet some of their favorite drivers and get an up close look at some of the race vehicles that will be on display.

WPUP-FM out of Athens, Ga., will be broadcasting live from the track and will hold an NHRA trivia contest. Eight lucky listeners will win the chance to race down Atlanta Dragway in Pontiac's that evening and win a pair of tickets to that weekend's racing action. Live music and drinks also will be available at the event.

Each fan in attendance at "Fan Night" also will receive a coupon good for discounts on Thursday-Saturday tickets.


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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Randy Daniels