Gainesville overview

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761 YOUNG DRIVERS COULD MAKE BIG BREAKTHROUGH AT GAINESVILLE GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Top Fuel youth movement at the Mac Tools Gatornationals started as a distant rumble...

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761

YOUNG DRIVERS COULD MAKE BIG BREAKTHROUGH AT GAINESVILLE

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Top Fuel youth movement at the Mac Tools Gatornationals started as a distant rumble when 28-year-old Larry Dixon beat the late Blaine Johnson for the title in 1995.

It became louder when 33-year-old Johnson beat Scott Kalitta in a wild final in 1996.

Well, the youth movement should be heard loud and clear this year at Gainesville.

An exceptional group of young, experienced drivers and talented rookies will aim for victory at the 28th annual, $1,831,950 Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 6-9 at Gainesville Raceway. The race is the third event of the 22-event, $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1997.

The sudden infusion of young drivers into the winner's circle recently at Gainesville bucks a trend that started in the early 1980s at this event, one of the most tradition-laden on the circuit. Before Dixon's win in 1995, Darrell Gwynn was the only Top Fuel driver younger than 39 to win a Top Fuel title at this event since 1981. Gwynn was 27 and 28 when he won in 1989 and 1990.

Gary Scelzi could be the leading contender for victory in Top Fuel among the 30-something set this year. Scelzi, 36, from Fresno, Calif., has shown uncanny driving skill by winning the first two races of the season in his Team Winston Dragster. Scelzi replaced Johnson, who suffered fatal injuries in a qualifying crash at the 1996 U.S. Nationals.

Shelly Anderson, 31, also is a strong favorite for victory at Gainesville. Anderson, from Ontario, Calif., opened the season with an NHRA speed national record of 316.90 mph and a career-best time of 4.617 seconds in the Parts America Dragster.

Another driver to watch isn't even eligible to vote yet. Cristen Powell, a 17-year-old senior at Jesuit High School in Portland, Ore., qualified No. 7 in the Royal Purple Motor Oil Dragster and suffered a narrow loss in the quarterfinals to Kenny Bernstein in her Top Fuel debut at the Chief Auto Parts Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.

Despite the increase of young talent in Top Fuel, two veterans appear easily capable of national records and a victory at Gainesville.

Five-time NHRA Winston champion Joe Amato, 52, set an NHRA elapsed-time national record of 4.564 seconds and made two other 4.5-second passes in the Keystone Automotive Warehouse Dragster at Pomona. Defending NHRA Winston champion Bernstein, 52, suffered a close semifinal loss to Amato in the quickest race in NHRA history. Bernstein also was runner-up to Scelzi in the Budweiser King Dragster at the ATSCO Nationals in Phoenix.

Defending NHRA Winston Funny Car champion John Force will aim for his sixth consecutive victory at this event in the Castrol GTX Pontiac Firebird. Warren Johnson and defending NHRA Winston champion Jim Yates will continue their battle in Pro Stock.

The Pro Stock Motorcycle season starts at this event. Defending NHRA Winston and event champion Dave Schultz, 48, is another racer who will face a tough challenge from younger competitors such John Myers, 38; Matt Hines, 24; and Angelle Seeling, 26.

--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 Gainesville Raceway 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. -30-

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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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , John Force , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Scott Kalitta , Darrell Gwynn , Shelly Anderson