Gainesville NHRA Teams Ready to Assault Records

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - What do you get when one of the smoothest quarter-mile sections of pavement on the East Coast plays host to some of the quickest and fastest race cars on the planet? Some might call it a hot rod frenzy, guaranteed to provide...

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - What do you get when one of the smoothest quarter-mile sections of pavement on the East Coast plays host to some of the quickest and fastest race cars on the planet?

Some might call it a hot rod frenzy, guaranteed to provide performance perfection.

Area natives will say, 'The boys must be racin' again down at The Swamp.' Hard-core followers of NHRA Winston Drag Racing know the experience as simply, 'The Gators.'

Whatever the definition, 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 continues in 2000 with the 31st annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 16-19, at historic Gainesville Raceway.

This time, remember to bring your ear-plugs.

While fans bring an appetite for a sensory experience second to none, NHRA teams 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. At speedy Gainesville Raceway, home of the sport's first 300 mph run, anything is possible.

Consider last season's earth-shaking performances: Tony Pedregon posted the quickest time in NHRA history for a Funny Car at 4.779 seconds. John Force unleashed a pair of 324.05 mph runs that continues to stand as the national record speed in Funny Car. Warren Johnson was clocked at a record 6.866 seconds, 201.37 mph in his GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird.

Mike Dunn, Force, Johnson, Angelle Seeling and Mark Osborne are the defending event winners of the $1.9 million event, the third of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Dunn, from Wrightsville, Pa., denied Doug Herbert a shot at becoming $100,000 richer when he crossed the finish line just in front of Herbert's Snap-on Tools dragster here last year. Herbert, from Cherryville, N.C., was a candidate for the lucrative Winston No Bull Challenge bonus. Two-time Winston champion Gary Scelzi leads the Top Fuel charge this season, with defending series champ Tony Schumacher, Joe Amato, Kenny Bernstein and Doug Kalitta close on his heels.

Yorba Linda, Calif.'s Force topped his record-setting weekend here last year by defeating upstart Cory Lee in the final. Force is looking to defend his title, while a host of tough competitors, including Jerry Toliver, Tony Pedregon, Whit Bazemore and Scotty Cannon, try to make sure a new winner takes center stage on the podium.

Johnson, from Buford, Ga., has a strong winning history at Gainesville, including last year's triumph -- a masterful final round performance over son Kurt. Johnson will be seeking his ninth career victory at the Florida quarter-mile, while Jeg Coughlin, Richie Stevens, Tom Martino and Mark Pawuk chase a Pro Stock victory as well.

Seeling, from New Orleans, opened the Pro Stock Motorcycle season with authority here one year ago, defeating John Smith in a close final round affair. Team Winston Suzuki rider Seeling, three-time defending series champion Matt Hines and Team 23 rider Antron Brown are all top challengers for the bike victory in 2000.

Abingdon, Va.'s Osborne drove his Chevy S-10 to the Pro Stock Truck victory over Team Mopar's Todd Patterson in a showdown between rival manufacturers last year. Two rivals will take center stage again this season, when fellow Chevy drivers Bob Panella and Brad Jeter resume their heated battle. Steve Johns, Rob Slavinski and Greg Stanfield are also among top contenders.

Be part of something big

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Antron Brown , Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Bob Panella , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Brad Jeter , Mark Pawuk , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Todd Patterson , Scotty Cannon , Greg Stanfield , Tom Martino , Cory Lee , Jerry Toliver