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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Mac Tools NHRA Gatornationals
Fact Sheet

By NHRA Communications

WHAT: 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.

PURSE: Cash and contingency awards of more than $2 million.

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).

SATELLITE: Friday, March 14, 8-8:30 p.m. (ET) - Galaxy 11KU / Transponder 13 (uplink freq.: 14260, vertical; downlink freq: 11960, horizontal)

Saturday, March 15, 8-8:30 p.m. (ET) -Telstar 4KU / T 10B (uplink freq.: 14284, vertical; downlink freq: 11984, horizontal)

Sunday, March 16, 9-9:30 p.m. (ET) - Galaxy 11KU / 13 (uplink freq.: 14260, vertical; downlink freq: 11960, horizontal)

2002

WINNERS: Larry Dixon, Top Fuel; Tony Pedregon, Funny Car; Darrell Alderman, Pro Stock, and Craig Treble, Pro Stock Bike.

2002

REWIND: Larry Dixon continued his dominance of the Top Fuel category, advancing to the final round for the third straight event, picking up his second victory of the season. His 18th career win tied him with Shirley Muldowney on the all-time Top Fuel win list. The eventual POWERade champion also completed his first career grand slam (No. 1 qualifier, low E.T., top speed and event winner). Two NHRA legends competed at the Mac Tools Gatornationals with Muldowney advancing to the second round before falling to Dixon, and Florida native Don Garlits returning to action on the drag strip but failing to qualify for eliminations. Tony Pedregon visited the winner's circle at Gainesville for the first time in his career, defeating first-time Funny Car finalist Gary Scelzi for the win. Points leader John Force lost in the first round at the Gatornationals for only the sixth time in his storied career and remained stuck on 99 career victories. Three-time Pro Stock champion Darrell Alderman earned a victory for the first time in nearly five years, defeating Jeg Coughlin in the final. Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden ended his brief comeback in the category he once dominated, resigning his position as driver for the team owned by Steve Schmidt. Craig Treble kicked off the Pro Stock Bike season with a win in what would prove to be a career-best season for him, defeating Angelle Savoie in the final of the two-wheel category. The Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson made it's Pro Stock Bike debut but failed to qualify for eliminations.

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. 

2003 POINT

STANDINGS: Top Fuel -- 1. Larry Dixon, 210; 2. Brandon Bernstein, 152; 3. Clay Millican, 132; 4. Tony Schumacher, 130; 5. Cory McClenathan, 124; 6. Doug Kalitta, 116; 7. John Smith, 106; 8. Melanie Troxel, 103; 9. Darrell Russell, 88; 10. Doug Herbert, 85.

(as of 2/26/03)

Funny Car-- 1. Ron Capps, 184; 2. Tony Pedregon, 174; 3. Gary Densham, 132; 4. Whit Bazemore, 131; 5. Johnny Gray, 128; 6. Frank Pedregon, 105; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 104; 8. Bob Gilbertson, 102; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 91; 10. John Force, 89.

Pro Stock-- 1. Greg Anderson, 188; 2. Warren Johnson, 154; 3. Allen Johnson, 127; 4. Troy Coughlin, 125; 5. Bruce Allen, 110; 6. (tie) Jeg Coughlin, Kurt Johnson, and Darrell Alderman, 107; 9. Mark Pawuk, 87; 10. Ron Krisher, 85.

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 Motorsports 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."

STORY

IDEAS: Passing the Budweiser Torch - Last season Kenny Bernstein ended a driving career that saw him etch his name into the NHRA record books numerous times. The first driver to eclipse the 300-mph barrier and the only driver to ever win championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, Bernstein handed the keys to the famed Budweiser dragster to his son Brandon for the 2003 season. After earning the Division 7 Top Alcohol Dragster crown in 2001, the younger Bernstein spent the entire 2002 season as a crewmember on his father's team, learning the intricacies of a nitromethane powered dragster. All eyes will be on the 30-year-old as he tries to fill the legendary shadow left by his father.

The next Force? - Who will it be? Will there be another? Maybe not, but someone will be the driver to eventually dethrone the king. Force, winner of 12 NHRA POWERade championships and the last 10 in a row, didn't clinch the 2002 crown until the semifinals of the last race of the year. His teammate, Tony Pedregon presented him with quite a challenge. Tony's brother Cruz, is the only other driver other than Force to win a Funny Car title since 1990. Del Worsham, who finished No. 3 in last season's standings, joins T. Pedregon as one of the young drivers aiming for the top. The 32-year-old racing veteran has 11 career wins and is a favorite to knock off Force. Whit Bazemore is another candidate to replace Force as the Funny Car champ. The outspoken Indianapolis resident won back-to-back races (Bristol, Tenn., and Atlanta) which placed him among the top three, before a slump took him out of contention. 

World's Fastest Couple -- Rhonda Hartman-Smith and her husband John Smith, who also serves as his wife's assistant crew chief, compete against each other in separate dragsters to create an unlikely rivalry in Top Fuel. The couple travels with their young daughter Megan to each NHRA national event. Rhonda's father, Virgil, is the team owner and also works on both cars, making each race weekend a family affair.

Multi-Car Teams - Funny Car champ John Force unveiled the first three-car team in 2001 and since then, all teams have been searching for strength in numbers. Don Schumacher unveiled a four-car team for 2003, including three Funny Cars and one Top Fuel dragster. Don Prudhomme fields a three-car operation, including two Funny Cars and one dragster and Chuck Worsham fields a two-car Funny Car team. In Pro Stock, the Coughlin family fields two Chevy Cavaliers, while Mopar has a four-car team.

Scelzi Could Join Distinguished List - Gary Scelzi, a three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion, is seeking his first Funny Car victory at the Mac Tools Gatornationals. With a victory, the 25-time TF winner could join an elite list of drivers who have earned national event victories in both nitro categories. With a win, Scelzi would become the 13th member of that exclusive club, joining Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, Jim Head, Mark Oswald, Frank Hawley, Ed McCulloch, Gene Snow, Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr., Mike Dunn, Tom McEwen and Scott Kalitta. During his career, Scelzi has amassed a 228-92 career record in eliminations, ranking him in the top 10 among active drivers for highest winning percentage (.713). Additionally, with that much sought after victory, Scelzi would become the only driver in NHRA history to earn victories in the four quickest categories -- Alcohol Funny Car, Alcohol Dragster, Top Fuel and Funny Car. Scelzi has three national event victories each in Alcohol Funny Car and Alcohol Dragster.

Youngster makes TF debut at Gators - Josh Starcher, an 18-year-old from Fairmont, W.V., will make his NHRA debut in Top Fuel competition at the Mac Tools Gatornationals. The high school senior is a two-time Division 1 Jr. dragster champion (1996, '98) and hopes to continue that success in the pro ranks. Team co-owner and crew chief Richard Hartman is the brother of Top Fuel driver Rhonda Hartman-Smith, and is searching for a major sponsor so the Charlotte-based team can race the full schedule.

Safety Safari-- These men and women are a team of professionals dedicated to making the sport safe for the competitors and keeping the action on the track moving for the fans. Spend the day or a few hours with this crew and watch as they take care of preparing the race track for competition, responding to crashes and cleaning up oil and debris on the racing surface.

Regarding Weather -- In drag racing weather plays a vital role as crew chiefs examine data and tune their race cars for maximum performance. Most teams have sophisticated weather stations on board their team transporters so they can access up-to-the-minute weather information as well as forecasts. 

ABOUT 

THE TRACK: Gainesville Raceway opened in 1969 and showcased the first Gatornationals in 1970. Long considered one of the fastest tracks on the NHRA circuit, it was from this legendary launch point that drivers clocked the first 260-, 270- and 300-mph Top Fuel runs into the record books. It also was from this starting line, during the 2000 Mac Tools Gatornationals, that eight of 10 national records were set in the professional categories.

TRACK 

RECORDS: Top Fuel-4.510 seconds by Mike Dunn, March 1999; 326.79 mph by Dunn, March 2001

Funny Car-- 4.779 seconds by Tony Pedregon, March 1999; 324.05 mph by John Force, March 1999

Pro Stock-6.821 seconds by Ron Krisher, March 2002; 203.37 mph by Krisher, March 2002

Pro Stock Bike - 7.156 seconds by Matt Hines, March 2002; 193.85 mph by Hines, March 2002

NATIONAL

RECORDS: Top Fuel-- 4.477 seconds (June 2001, Joliet, Ill.), 332.18 mph (Oct. 2001, Reading, Pa.) by Kenny Bernstein

Funny Car-- 4.731 seconds (Oct. 2001, Reading, Pa.) by John Force; 326.87 mph (Feb. 2002, Pomona, Calif.) by Gary Densham

Pro Stock-- 6.750 seconds (Oct. 2001, Reading, Pa.) by Jeg Coughlin; 204.91 mph (Feb 2003, Pomona, Calif.) by Warren Johnson

Pro Stock Bike - 7.049 seconds (May 2002, Englishtown, N.J.) by Angelle Savoie; 

194.10 mph (May 2002, Englishtown, N.J.) by Matt Hines

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.

INTERNET: The latest NHRA press releases, interview transcripts and quality images of race cars and driver headshots can be obtained at nhra.com/media/welcome.html. 

NHRA DRIVERS ANXIOUSLY AWAIT MAC TOOLS GATORNATIONALS

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - When you ask an NHRA racer what he or she thinks about Gainesville Raceway, they usually come up with similar answers: Smooth track, orange groves and sunshine. While they are answering, you might want to sneak a peak at their hands. See those fingers crossed? Gainesville has the potential to be one of the best performance tracks on the circuit. 

If the weather is good, the racing can be great. If...

"The track is one of the finest on the circuit," two-time Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin said. "Given the close to sea level conditions we have and the amount of power the Pro Stock cars can make, we can see some outstanding performances if the weather cooperates and it doesn't get too hot. Both lanes are typically in real good shape and the fans are great. It's one of the best events on the schedule."

Coughlin will be aiming to improve on his 2002 runner-up finish at the historic drag strip when the NHRA makes its way back to Gainesville Raceway for the 34th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 13-16. The race is the third of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Coughlin won the race in 2001 and is looking forward to repeating the Sunshine State victory.

"We definitely enjoy racing in Gainesville," Coughlin said. "Over the years we have seen some real good performance numbers there which just makes it more exciting. The weather can be crisp and cool and there is always a lot of good energy at Gainesville."

The Pro Stock Bike category will make the first of 15 appearances on the national event racing schedule in Gainesville. Veteran racers know what the Gainesville track can produce, but that doesn't mean rookies can't get equally as excited.

Pro Stock Bike rider Andrew Hines made his professional racing debut at the Mopar Mile-High Nationals in Denver last year. He qualified for the last seven events of the season, earning him a Rookie of the Year nomination. He isn't a rookie anymore, but he still hasn't gone down the Gainesville Raceway track. And he certainly hasn't done it on a Harley-Davidson, the bike he is slated to ride come March.

"I've only been there three times, so I don't know too much about the track," said Hines, the younger brother of three-time Pro Stock Bike champ Matt Hines. "But I do know that Gainesville could be one of the fastest tracks we race on. I made my career-best runs in Sonoma last year and I think if I had been more experienced in Sonoma, I would have gone even faster. It would be nice to reset those performance numbers in Gainesville on a Harley. From what I hear about that track, it can be done."

Pro Stock's Kurt Johnson has 10 years of racing experience and 23 national event victories, but has yet to drive his ACDelco Chevy Cavalier to a victory at Gainesville. 

"Gainesville has always been a great place for us to race," Johnson said. "Coming from Minnesota back in 1976 I remember crossing that state line and seeing all of the sunshine and orange trees and it has since been one of my favorite places to race. It is a nice, flat race track with a great capacity crowd. It is such a great place to race and it is one that I have never won before so I am going to be putting my best efforts toward winning it this year."

SAVOIE HEADS TO GATORNATIONALS WITH COMPETITIVE GOALS

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Angelle Savoie is a three-time NHRA Pro Stock Bike champion. Those titles increase expectations at the start of each NHRA POWERade season. This year the winningest female in NHRA history wants two things to happen at the Mac Tools Gatornationals.

First, she wants to be competitive. She wants to be a thorn in another racer's side. That's nothing new.

Second, she wants to avoid looking like a rookie on the starting line during the first of 15 national event races for the two-wheel category. That's something entirely new.

"I am going to be with a new team with a new motorcycle underneath me. There are going to be a lot of changes all at once," Savoie said. "There are going to be a lot of new faces on the starting line and because everything is going to be new, I am sure I will be full of butterflies before the first race. I will be so proud once we get through that first race. We just need to learn how to jell and how to communicate with each other, especially on the starting line.

"That is my biggest fear right now. We just need to get comfortable with each other and get into the groove of having a new team out there. I am anxious for that to happen."

Savoie and the rest of the two-wheel category will join the Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock ranks for the first time this year when everyone meets at Gainesville Raceway for the 34th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 13-16. The race is the third of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Savoie and longtime crew chief George Bryce earned 22 national event wins and three category championships together before parting ways during the off season. When the announcement of the team breakup was made, it looked as though Savoie would not be competing in 2003.

Shortly after that announcement, however, Savoie and fellow racer Antron Brown decided to join forces and create a two-bike team. They will field two Team 23 Suzukis this season, although the name will likely change when new sponsorship is secured. Savoie suffered through a similar off season before the 2002 season as well. She didn't get a primary sponsor until May last year but says this season is different.

"I am really optimistic this season because of all of the changes I am going through," Savoie said. "A little change is good sometimes. We have so many things in the works as far as sponsors go, which is different. Last year we didn't have anything in the works. This year we have several meetings lined up and we have people asking a lot of questions."

Racing down the quarter-mile strip starts March 14, but racing to get the team together will continue into the early part of the season.

"I called George (Bryce) just to talk to him a few days ago and he was in the dyno room working on one of the engines," Savoie said. "We are still trying to get our dyno room built. Everybody is going to be a step ahead of us. We can't dyno anything right now, we are just trying to get two engines put together so Antron and I can go racing at Gainesville. This entire team is working to put everything together at the last minute but I already know that we are headed in the right direction."

Savoie said the excitement of the new team has made her even more anxious to get to the track. During the off season, the Team 23 organization opted to start building their own engines instead of buying them from Vance & Hines Motorsports. Crew chief Mark Peiser is leading the way on the new program.

"I am going to want to win every race and I am thrilled that we are doing this on our own," Savoie said. "This team is going to be able to grow together and be competitive every weekend. That is one of the most important goals. I want to at least be competitive out there. I don't want to get up to the starting line and have someone underestimate us just because I am not with Star Racing anymore or that this team doesn't buy engines from Vance & Hines. We are doing what Star and Vance & Hines did 20 years ago. We are trying to keep this category from being the Star Racing versus Vance & Hines show. We have to start somewhere."

With so many victories to her credit, Savoie said she doesn't have to prove anything. She believes the team is going to win, but she has to be patient.

"This is crazy because it feels like I am going to my first race ever," Savoie said. "I am pumped up about the season all over again. This is exactly how I felt during my first season. Except this time I know I don't have to prove anything. If we don't win a race this season, so be it. But I really think both Antron and I will be very competitive.

"I have already decided my success on the track is not going to affect how much fun I have this year. I could let the track performance beat me up pretty bad, but I am not going to let that happen. I have a lot of faith in Mark and Antron and I am smart enough to know that it will take a little bit of time to make it all happen. Everything looks great and I am very excited for this season to start. I plan on having a lot of fun this season."

MAC TOOLS GATORNATIONALS GENERAL INFORMATION

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on March 14 and 15. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. March 16. 

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 34th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals. Call (800) 884-6472, or call Ticketmaster for ticket information.

ON TV: ESPN will televise two hours of qualifying coverage of the Mac Tools Gatornationals at 3 a.m. (ET) on March 16. ESPN2 will televise 150 minutes of final eliminations coverage at 9 p.m. (ET) on March 16.

ON THE WEB: NHRA media department press releases and photos are available on the Internet at www.nhra.com.

NHRA Communications

 

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