Gainesville pre-race quotes, notes, schedule

34th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, the third of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in four categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade championships. Sportsman competitors in seven...

34th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, the third of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in four categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade championships.

Sportsman competitors in seven categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series championships.

WHERE:
Gainesville Raceway, Gainesville, Fla. The track is located on 11211 North County Road 225 in Gainesville. Traveling south on I-75 take exit 78 and turn left onto US 441 S. Go approximately 12 miles and turn left on County Road 121. In approximately .3 miles turn right onto CR 231. In approximately .3 miles turn right onto 156th Ave. In 3.8 miles take right fork onto CR 225, then travel 2.7 miles to the track. Traveling north on I-75 take exit 74, Williston Rd, turn left to Waldo Rd. and go north. Turn left at NE 53rd Ave. and make the immediate right onto CR 225, and go 3.5 miles to the track.

WHEN:
Thursday through Sunday, March 13-16.

SCHEDULE:

THURSDAY, March 13
Gates open at 7 a.m. Sportsman qualifying and time trials begin at 8 a.m.

FRIDAY March 14
Gates open at 7 a.m. Sportsman qualifying, time trials and eliminations begin at 7:30 a.m.
    Professional Qualifying Sessions at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

SATURDAY, March 15
Gates open at 7 a.m. Sportsman eliminations begin at 7:30 a.m.
    Professional Qualifying Sessions at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, March 16
Gates open at 7 a.m. Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
    Final Eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

TELEVISION:
Sunday, March 16, ESPN will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 3 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, March 16, ESPN2 will televise 150 minutes of final eliminations at 9 p.m. (ET).

WHAT TO EXPECT:
As the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series makes its cross-country venture to the East Coast for the first time in 2003, its crop of young stars hope to continue riding a hot streak toward reaching the ultimate goal of being crowned an NHRA POWERade champion. Larry Dixon, who earned nearly $200,000 at the season-opening Winternationals, hopes to become the first Top Fuel competitor to win at Gainesville Raceway for the third consecutive season. Brandon Bernstein, a leading candidate for the 2003 Auto Club Road to the Future award, hopes to win his second straight event in his rookie campaign. Tony Pedregon dominated eliminations at Pomona Raceway with four runs in the 4.7-second, 320-mph range and he will be aiming for a repeat performance in Gator Country. Pedregon's boss, 12-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force, hopes to best the Funny Car category for the eighth time in Florida in an effort to rebound from a lackluster start to the season. In Pro Stock, Jeg Coughlin is hoping to take home the Gatornationals crown for the second time in three years and avoid a slow start for the second consecutive season. Warren Johnson, the winningest Pro Stock driver in NHRA history, hopes to find the winner's circle at Gainesville Raceway for a record 10th time. The Pro Stock Bike category will make its 2003 debut at Gainesville. Craig Treble won four events last season and is poised to repeat in Gainesville and begin a charge towards his first NHRA POWERade championship. However, the hot story in the Pro Stock Bike category will be the two-bike team of three-time champion Angelle Savoie and Antron Brown. The duo has combined for 38 career PSB victories.

FAST FACTS:
Defending Funny car champion John Force can tie Pro Stock driver Warren Johnson for the longest career qualifying streak with 303 consecutive NHRA events by qualifying for the 16-car field at the Mac tools Gatornationals. Force has not posted a DNQ since the season finale of 1987 at Pomona, Calif...Force teammate Tony Pedregon has the dubious distinction of having won more races than any other Funny Car driver who has not yet won a series title. He is fourth on the all-time win list behind Force (106), Don Prudhomme (35), Kenny Bernstein (30) and his brother Cruz (22)....Larry Dixon is trying to become the first Top Fuel driver to win three consecutive Gatornationals title in NHRA history. Shirley Muldowney, Don Garlits, Eddie Hill and Darrell Gwynn all won the historic race back-to-back, but never three times in a row... Force has won the Gatornationals a record seven times in Funny Car ... The Mac Tools Gatornationals is the first of 15 events for Pro Stock Bike competitors in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

QUOTABLE:

Brandon Bernstein, driver of the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster, who defeated Larry Dixon in the final round at the Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals outside of Phoenix to win in his second professional start - "We know we have a car that can perform. My dad (Kenny), the team and I have every expectation to be right in the middle of the Top Fuel battle. This team is the same team that won the 2001 championship. It's the same team I've worked elbow-to-elbow with the past couple of years. Personally, I'm very comfortable and relaxed in the car and haven't really experienced any butterflies. We're just trying to stay focused and do our job in the cockpit. Dad's there to help us accelerate through the learning curve, so we don't look at our goal this year any differently as we have through the years Dad was driving. It's all about going rounds."

Whit Bazemore, driver of the Matco Tools Dodge Stratus R/T, on how he will benefit by the hiring of three-time Top Fuel champion Gary Scelzi to drive a third Funny Car for Schumacher racing - "I'm going to help Gary win his first race in Funny Car and he's going to help me win my first championship."

Mark Pawuk, driver of the Summit Racing Pontiac Grand Am, who suffered through a tough 2002 season, recording an 0-12 record in eliminations and posting 11 DNQs. Pawuk hired 10-time Pro Stock champion Bob Glidden as a consultant on the Ohio-based team - "It's nice to have Bob around and everyone is having fun. In the past I have been a little hard on myself, so I have decided to keep it light around here this year, keep a positive attitude and just do the best we can."

Richard Hartman, team-owner of the Colhart Motorports Top Fuel dragster that will be driven by Josh Starcher, an 18-year-old high school senior who will be making his NHRA debut at the Gatornationals - "As a team, all of the guys are looking forward to running (at Gainesville). Josh has nearly 70 runs under his belt and Gainesville is a great track to kick off our NHRA schedule. We'll look to be competitive right out of the box. We have a lot of decisions to make over the next few weeks in regards to our schedule. Josh still has to graduate from high school in June and we're still searching for the right sponsorship program."

TICKETS: For tickets call NHRA at (800) 884-6472, or call Ticketmaster at (904) 353-3309. Tickets also available at nhra.com.
    GENERAL ADMISSION (includes pit pass) - Thursday: Adult, $12; Junior (6-12 years), free. Friday: Adult, $29; Junior (6-12 years), $10. Saturday: Adult, $47; Junior (6-12 years), $10. Child (5 years-under), admitted free with paying adult in general admission and pit access areas each day.
    RESERVED SEATS (includes pit pass) - Friday: Adult, $39; Junior (6-12 years), $20; Child (5 years-under), $10. Saturday: Adult, $57; Junior (6-12 years), $22; Child (5 years and under), $12. Sunday: Adult, $55-$62; Junior (6-12 years), $20-$24; Child (5 years and under), $10-$14. Call NHRA for four-day passes and Top Eliminator Club tickets.

-nhra-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Antron Brown , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Bob Glidden , Don Garlits , Brandon Bernstein , Darrell Gwynn , Josh Starcher , Richard Hartman