Gainesville: finals report

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - John Force scored his 94th career NHRA Funny Car victory at Saturday's rain delayed Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway, the fifth race of the NHRA's 50th anniversary season. Larry Dixon, Jeg Coughlin, Matt Hines...

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - John Force scored his 94th career NHRA Funny Car victory at Saturday's rain delayed Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway, the fifth race of the NHRA's 50th anniversary season.

Larry Dixon, Jeg Coughlin, Matt Hines and Greg Stanfield also won their respective categories at the $2 million race, the fifth of 24 races in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Force's second victory of the season came when Dean Skuza lost traction off the starting line, allowing Force's Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to finish at 5.310 seconds at 273.27 mph as Skuza's Team Mopar Dodge R/T coasted to a 10.728 at 79.11.

Force continued his march towards 100 NHRA victories, needing just six more to reach the century mark. Although Force ran an elapsed time considered sub-par, he and crew chief Austin Coil were betting that Skuza would beat himself. "We had a round table meeting in the trailer and we all said the same thing," Force said. "They said were going to let them beat themselves and that's our only hope. The decision was to stay with your hand and if they can step up and run an 88, they are going to win it. They know we can run that too and maybe the odds are that they are going to push it. We went with the most odds of what we can do and what they would do and they did and they lost."

Force strung together three wins over Chuck Etchells, Al Hofmann and Ron Capps before beating Skuza in the final round. The win is the second of the season for Force and he now takes over first place in the NHRA Winston Funny Car points standings, 70 points ahead of Bruce Sarver.

Dixon won his 11th career national event as his Miller Lite dragster covered the quarter-mile in 4.661 at 313.95 to defeat Gary Scelzi's Team Winston dragster which ran a 4.727 at 313.95. The last time these two drivers faced each other in a final round was the 2000 AutoZone Nationals in Memphis. Dixon suffered a spectacular crash and lost to Scelzi due to crossing the centerline last year. "Memphis was our race and we lost it," said Dixon, the 1995 NHRA rookie of the year. "To be able to beat Scelzi in the final, what a big deal that is. It may be the first time I have ever beat him in a final."

Dixon entered Gainesville in third place in the NHRA Winston Top Fuel points but now leaves in second, five points behind Mike Dunn. This win marks the second time Dixon has won the Mac Tools Gatornationals since1995. "There are so many great memories here and it is nice to keep them going," said Dixon. "The tracks (that were special) for me growing up in drag racing is Pomona, Indy and then there is Gainesville. To be able to have won at all of those is amazing. For a kid growing up in the sport this is the best." Dixon defeated Bobby Baldwin, David Grubnic and Tony Schumacher en route to his final round showdown with Scelzi.

Coughlin earned his 22nd career Pro Stock victory in his Jeg's Mail Order Chevrolet Cavalier with a pass of 6.935 at 199.40, edging out Mark Osborne's Team Mopar Dodge R/T's pass of 6.928 at 199.58. After winning the first six of seven races in 2000, Coughlin has struggled early in 2001. "We just stumbled a little this year," said Coughlin, the 1998 NHRA rookie of the year. "We had some off-season things that didn't pan out for us and we came out struggling a little bit. I think the new Chevy Cavaliers gave us a shot in the arm. We have a great group and some great harmony amongst everyone on the team right now. That's really important right now."

Coughlin has now won two races in a row after winning the SummitRacing.com Nationals in Las Vegas two weeks ago. The two wins have placed Coughlin second in the NHRA Winston Pro Stock points chase, 12 behind five-time champion Warren Johnson. Coughlin beat Tom Martino, Warren Johnson and Kurt Johnson before meeting Osborne. "Warren and Kurt with their experience combined has to be over 50 years," said Coughlin. "They should certainly not be struggling like they did today. Obviously Team Jeg's took advantage of their woes a little bit."

Hines picked up his first win of the season and the 27th of his career in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. Hines' Eagle One Suzuki was quicker off the starting line than Craig Treble's, running a 7.290 at 180.50 to a 7.287 at 182.72 in an all Suzuki final.

The win pushed Hines into the lead of the NHRA Winston Pro Stock Motorcycle points standings, 23 ahead of Angelle Savoie. "Taking over the points is a big deal," said Hines, the youngest NHRA competitor to win an NHRA Winston championship. "Angelle was able to get the first win of the year (in Las Vegas) with their new cylinder head over there. They came out here with their six speed and we just made it happen. We ran her head up in the semi-finals and I just ran around her at the top end." Hines defeated Clarence Markham, Reggie Showers and Angelle Savoie before meeting Treble in the finals.

Stanfield won his second career Pro Stock Truck title, holding off fellow Chevy S-10 driver Randy Daniels for the victory. Stanfield covered the distance in 7.492 at 181.23, edging Daniels, who posted a run of 7.503 at 180.62.

Stanfield used a better reaction time and superior performance to beat the current leader in the NHRA Winston Pro Stock Truck points standings. "I think the luck finally went our way today," said Stanfield. "The truck was consistent all weekend long. It's just a mater of getting everything working together at the right time and playing off your opponents mistakes." Stanfield defeated Joe Pigford, Bart Price and defending Winston champion Bob Panella before beating Daniels in the finals. The win places Stanfield second behind Daniels in the NHRA Winston Pro Stock Truck standings, just 7 behind.

The next NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series event is the Inaugural Mac Tools NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, April 27-19 at Bristol Dragway in Bristol, Tenn.

-NHRA

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bruce Sarver , Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Warren Johnson , Al Hofmann , Dean Skuza , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Reggie Showers , Randy Daniels , Joe Pigford , Chuck Etchells , David Grubnic , Craig Treble , Greg Stanfield , Tom Martino , Austin Coil