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COMMERCE, Ga. - In April, the lush scenery of northeastern Georgia offers a surreal setting for the pageantry and tradition of golf's most prestigious tournament, The Masters. In May, the same region of the Peach State gears up for a different...

COMMERCE, Ga. - In April, the lush scenery of northeastern Georgia offers a surreal setting for the pageantry and tradition of golf's most prestigious tournament, The Masters.

In May, the same region of the Peach State gears up for a different kind of power driving featuring masters of the most extreme sport: NHRA Winston Drag Racing.

And you can forget all that hush-hush stuff.

NHRA Winston Drag Racing is loud.

There will be no need for marshals to display the familiar 'Quiet' signs on the quarter-mile strip located approximately 75 miles north of metropolitan Atlanta. In fact, earplugs are the accessory of choice as the echo of nitro thunder reverberates throughout the tall Georgia pines, temporarily overpowering even the tremendous roars produced by thousands of frenzied drag racing fans.

A crushing 320-yard drive by golf phenom Tiger Woods is one of the most awesome spectacles in sport, but barely compares to the brilliant flash and overall sensory experience created by two Top Fuel dragsters blasting side-by-side down the dragstrip at speeds exceeding 330 mph in less than five seconds.

There will be plenty of 330 mph action as NHRA teams battle for NHRA Winston championship glory at the 21st annual Advance Auto Parts NHRA Southern Nationals, May 3-6, at Atlanta Dragway.

Gary Scelzi, John Force, Jeg Coughlin, Angelle Savoie and Randy Daniels are the defending winners of the $2 million race, the seventh of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Scelzi drove a consistent hotrod to the victory over Top Fuel rival Tony Schumacher one year ago. Both drivers remain front-runners in the category. Scelzi will try for his third-straight victory at the Georgia quarter-mile, as he also won here in 1999. Schumacher is looking for his first win since the U.S. Nationals last season. Other top contenders include two-time Atlanta winner Kenny Bernstein and Larry Dixon, who won here in '96. Force was quick in defeating Ron Capps for the Funny Car title here last year, his sixth Atlanta victory overall. While Capps looks for revenge alongside new teammate Tommy Johnson Jr., Force hopes to hold his own against a talented crop of newcomers. Early-season winners Bruce Sarver and Del Worsham, who claimed his first Funny Car victory here as a rookie in 1991, will also be among the top challengers. Whit Bazemore, Tony Pedregon, Scotty Cannon and Chuck Etchells will also be gunning for a victory in the ultra-competitive category.

Last year at this event Coughlin capped his impressive early season winning streak by claiming his sixth Pro Stock victory in seven starts. The defending Winston Series champ enters the race this season hoping for a return to championship form after a disappointing first round loss in Bristol, Tenn, which came on the heels of two straight victories. While he's struggling to find a consistent tune-up for his Jeg's Mail Order Chevy Cavalier, five-time Winston champion Warren Johnson, from nearby Buford, Ga., has been winning races in his GM Goodwrench Pontiac Grand Am. Johnson, along with son Kurt, have a combined five victories at the Georgia facility and are the definite pre-race favorites. Other top contenders include two-time Atlanta winner Mark Osborne, '98 runner-up Bruce Allen and '97 winner Jim Yates.

Savoie will go for her third straight Atlanta victory in Pro Stock Motorcycle this season. The defending series champ is the heavy favorite, after claiming her first victory of the season last month at Houston Raceway Park on her Team Winston Suzuki. Three-time bike champ and current points leader Matt Hines, who won here in 1998, leads the remaining challengers. Antron Brown, who has been quick on his Team 23 Suzuki this season, is another rider who sits poised for victory.

In Pro Stock Truck, Randy Daniels will go for his third straight Atlanta victory as well, as he tries to distance himself from the competition and increase his Winston points lead. Two-time defending champ Bob Panella, who set the national speed record at 182.40 mph recently at Houston, is among the top challengers, as is Greg Stanfield, new national record holder for elapsed time at 7.395 seconds.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying is set to begin at 2:30 and 5:45 p.m. on May 4 and will continue at 10:30 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. on May 5. Final professional eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on May 6.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 21st annual Advance Auto Parts NHRA Southern Nationals. Call (800) 884-6472, or Ticketmaster for ticket information. Tickets are also available at nhra.com.

* TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise two hours of eliminations at 5 p.m. (ET) on May 6. ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 4:30 p.m. (ET) on May 5.

ON THE WEB: NHRA news, photos, driver information and live timing and scoring available at www.nhra.com. -NHRA

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Bruce Sarver , Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Randy Daniels , Chuck Etchells , Scotty Cannon , Greg Stanfield , Bruce Allen , Tommy Johnson Jr.