Gainesville: pre-event notes

* THREE-TIME WINSTON CHAMP GARY SCELZI SUPPORTS USE OF HANS DEVICE: The motorsports world was shocked by the loss of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. The unfortunate tragedy has brought attention to safety issues in motorsports, particularly the use...

* THREE-TIME WINSTON CHAMP GARY SCELZI SUPPORTS USE OF HANS DEVICE: The motorsports world was shocked by the loss of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. The unfortunate tragedy has brought attention to safety issues in motorsports, particularly the use of the HANS device. Three-time Winston Top Fuel champion Gary Scelzi began using the HANS device last October at the 2000 Matco Tools SuperNationals at Houston Raceway Park. "I'm no different from any other racer because safety is the number one concern," said Fresno, Calif.'s Scelzi. "Ultimately, safety is the responsibility of the driver who straps himself into the racecar. I was the first NHRA Winston Drag Racing driver to wear the HANS device. I first became aware of it during a feature on ESPN's RPM 2Night. There was a story on there about how CART and Formula 1 were making it mandatory for all their drivers, and that got my attention. They talked about what it was designed to do to reduce the whiplash motion that goes on in a rapid deceleration, and I though it was a no-brainer that I should give it a closer look. To me, using the HANS in a Top Fuel dragster is a no-brainer, and I've told other drivers that. Some say it's bulky and uncomfortable, but so is a seven-layer firesuit. So are arm-restraints. So are neck rolls. But you know what, we all use them because they work. The HANS should be no different."

* RON CAPPS LOOKS FORWARD TO GAINESVILLE: Ron Capps performed consistently in 2000. A performance that landed him second in the NHRA Winston Funny Car point standings. Despite being only one of two drivers to qualify for every event, Capps earned only one win in seven final round appearances. With the addition of Tommy Johnson Jr. as the driver of the second Skoal Racing Funny Car for the Don Prudhomme-owned team, the duo figures to make several trips to the winner's circle.

"The good thing is that we know this Skoal Racing Chevy Camaro is a good hot rod," said 35-year old Vista, Calif., resident Capps. "We feel great about how both cars running. We can't wait until Gainesville. (The Phoenix race) was just a precursor of what we'll see there. We know how good the air can be and we know how good the track is. There will be national records set. I just hope it's us. That's a big race and one that you work hard to win." The quickest Funny Car field in NHRA history was set during the Phoenix event. Whit Bazemore's top qualifying effort of 4.805 seconds led competitors, while Gary Densham's 4.961 mark anchored the first four second Funny Car field in NHRA history.

"Right now we feel good about everything that's going on," Capps added. "We just need to keep plugging away and keep focused on what we're doing. Tommy and I are both happy with the way the program is going."

* WJ MAKES TELEVISION DEBUT: Five-time NHRA Winston Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson stars in the new 30-second television commercials for Pontiac Grand Ams. The spots were filmed in January and previewed at the season-opening event in Pomona, Calif.

Johnson plays the stern professor who instructs a classroom of free-spirited students about Pontiac's Driving Excitement. The contrast between the straight-faced teacher and his tattooed students sets up the humorous situations.

"Acting is definitely not my forte and I'm not giving up my day job," said Johnson. "That was the first time I had ever been involved in a project of that magnitude, and I was amazed at the size of the film crew and the intensity of the work.

"We shot some scenes in a dozen takes, while others required 30 takes with different camera angles and dialogue. After two days of shooting, I had no idea what the final product would look like. It's like a drag race: You prepare as hard as you can, but once the action begins, you're just along for the ride. I had a great time. It's taken me 25 years to create my persona of the 'Professor' of Pro Stock, and it all came down to 30 seconds on a TV screen."

* NHRA'S 50 GREATEST DRIVERS: #44 DAVE SCHULTZ: Dave Schultz, long regarded as one of drag racing's most intense competitors, didn't get to be drag racing's most successful Pro Stock Motorcycle racer by accident. In his 23-year career, which ended with his untimely death from colon cancer on Feb. 11, 2001, he was one of an increasingly rare breed of individuals in motorsports who could build, tune, maintain, and race with equal amounts of success. Throughout his career, those skills, coupled with a tenacious dedication and an unwavering will to win, helped Schultz amass 45 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series event wins and six NHRA Winston championships. Though he got his start racing on four wheels, in a Super Stock Mustang in the mid-1960s, it didn't take long for Schultz to adapt to motorcycle racing. He was quick to jump on the bandwagon when Pro Stock Motorcycle became an NHRA eliminator in 1985, and won his first national event at the Winston Finals that year. In 1987, Schultz posted four wins and claimed his first national championship. Three more wins and another points title followed in 1988. For Schultz, second-best was never good enough. No component was overlooked and no stone is left unturned in his never-ending quest for performance. Schultz's bikes were the first to feature an onboard computer, full fairing, lowered steering head, dual eight-inch brakes, vacuum pump, and air in the frame. His greatest technological achievement might have come in 1999 when he led a team of designers and engineers to produce a highly detailed and realistic replica of the popular Suzuki Hayabusa bodywork. With the new body, Schultz recorded a 192-mph pass, the second-fastest run in the history of the class, at the 2000 Englishtown (N.J.) event. Schultz took on his toughest foe in August 2000 when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Just days after completing a series of draining chemotherapy treatments, he mounted his Sunoco Suzuki at Houston Raceway Park and won the 45th -and no doubt most rewarding -- national event title of his career. A man of tremendous faith, Schultz refused to let his illness interfere with his goals. Indeed, when it came to winning, Schultz proved that where there is a will, there is a way.

* BERNSTEIN NAMES NEW CREW CHIEF FOR MAC TOOLS GATORNATIONALS: After a lengthy conversation discussing the direction of the Budweiser King racing team, Kenny Bernstein and Mike Green have decided to end their relationship. Tim Richards assumed the role as crew chief immediately on the Budweiser King team and his first race will be the 32nd annual Mac Tools Gatornationals. Johnny West will remain as assistant crew chief. "Mike Green put forth a tremendous amount of effort," said Bernstein. "I genuinely enjoyed working with Mike this past year-and-a-half. Mike is actively seeking other employment as a member of a Top Fuel or Funny car team, and we wish him every success. "Tim Richards brings many years of success and experience as a crew chief for Joe Amato and Chuck Etchells and we are looking forward to his new leadership role." Tim's wife, Kim, will also join the Bud King team as a member of the crew.

* GLIDDEN AMONG HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES: Ten-time Winston Pro Stock champion Bob Glidden and longtime NHRA employees Bob and Eileen Daniels will be among those honored March 15 in Gainesville during the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Glidden, an 85-time NHRA national event winner, and the Danielses, who spearheaded the development and growth of Indianapolis Raceway Park for more than 30 years, head the class of 2001.

Other inductees are Leo Mehl, longtime head of Goodyear's racing operation; Tom Hanna, a noted car-body designer and builder; the Kentucky Moonshiners Top Fuel team of Frakes, Funk & English; supercharger pioneer Gene Mooneyham; championship Funny Car mechanics Dale Emery and Fred Miller; and chassis pioneers Don Long and the late Al Swindahl.

The annual Hall of Fame banquet and ceremony will be televised nationally on SpeedVision and ESPN2.

-NHRA

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Series NHRA
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Chuck Etchells , Gary Densham , Bob Glidden , Don Prudhomme , Tim Richards , Tommy Johnson Jr.