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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761 PRESEASON TESTING CREATES ANTICIPATION FOR RECORDS AT FIREBIRD CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Preseason test sessions sometimes create hype that's hard for race teams to match...

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761

PRESEASON TESTING CREATES ANTICIPATION FOR RECORDS AT FIREBIRD

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Preseason test sessions sometimes create hype that's hard for race teams to match during the early weeks of the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series season.

Teams have little to lose during test sessions, letting it rip because no NHRA Winston points are up for grabs. The cool weather of January also creates perfect air that may not return during the season. It all adds up to prime conditions for performance when the money isn't on the line.

But when drivers produce big numbers during preseason tests at Firebird International Raceway, it's almost certain those performances will be matched or even bettered during the ATSCO Nationals. That's because the test sessions and the race are separated by only four weeks, creating a good change for matching weather conditions. Teams also have one race in their tool chests, giving them a much better understanding of their car's setup.

Take last year, for example. Kenny Bernstein made a strong pass of 4.708 seconds during testing in January in the Budweiser King Dragster. He returned one month later to Firebird and set an NHRA elapsed-time national record of 4.664 seconds en route to the first of his four victories in 1996.

Conditions should be ripe for many NHRA national records at the 13th annual, $1,392,050 ATSCO Nationals, Feb. 20-23 at Firebird International Raceway. The race is the second event of the 22-event, $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1997.

Preseason testing reached a new level of performance in mid- January at Firebird.

Six-time and defending NHRA Winston Funny Car champion John Force produced a run of 4.867 seconds, 294.11 mph in the Castrol GTX Pontiac Firebird. Force's time was quicker than his NHRA national record of 4.889 set in July 1996. But all runs during testing are unofficial and can't be counted as national records.

Five Top Fuel drivers recorded times in the 4.60-second range. Five-time NHRA Winston champion Joe Amato was quickest at 4.613, 307.16 in the Keystone Automotive Warehouse Dragster. That pass was quicker than Bernstein's track record of 4.664 and just a tick slower than the NHRA national record of 4.592 set last season by the late Blaine Johnson.

Johnson's replacement, Gary Scelzi, showed that he will be an immediate contender for the NHRA Winston championship with a best run of 4.637, 309.91 in the Team Winston Dragster. It was the first full pass in a Top Fuel dragster for former sportsman driver Scelzi.

Reigning NHRA Winston champion Bernstein wasn't far behind at 4.656, 304.15 in the Budweiser King Dragster.

While no Pro Stock cars tested at Firebird, expectations also are high for peak performance from that category. Defending NHRA Winston champion Jim Yates and Troy Coughlin each made 6.8- second passes, with Yates at 6.885 in the McDonald's Pontiac Firebird at Houston and Coughlin at 6.897 in the Jeg's Performance Pontiac Firebird at Gainesville, Fla.

--Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 2 p.m. Feb. 21 and continues at 6 p.m. that date with the first night qualifying session of the season. Qualifying ends with sessions at noon and 4 p.m. Feb. 22. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. Feb. 23. Federal-Mogul sportsman competition starts at 10 a.m. Feb. 20.

--Tickets: Tickets are available for the ATSCO Nationals. Call Firebird International Raceway at (800) DRAG-INFO or (602) 268-0200 for ticket information. Tickets also can be purchased from Dillard's. To order through Dillard's, call (800) 638-4253.

--On TV: ESPN2 will televise two hours of same-day, final- round competition from the ATSCO Nationals at 7:30 p.m. (MST) Feb. 23. ESPN2 also will televise Friday-night qualifying for the first time with a two-hour, same-day show starting at 7:30 p.m. (MST) Feb. 21. -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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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Troy Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi
Teams CIP