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Force wins No. 7 at Gatornationals

By KEITH NIEBUHR

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 22, 2001


GAINESVILLE -- John Force's good fortune in Gainesville continued at the 32nd Gatornationals. So did Gary Scelzi's so-called jinx.

Force, a 10-time NHRA Funny Car champion, claimed his seventh Gatornationals title by beating Dean Skuza after Skuza's tires smoked at the starting line.

Scelzi, a three-time Top Fuel champion, had his bid for a first Gatornationals win ruined by losing a neck-and-neck race with Larry Dixon in the final.

"We were not on our stuff today," Force said.

It didn't matter.

Despite having a car that struggled most of the afternoon, Force eased to his second win of the season and 94th of his career after each of his four competitors lost traction at the starting line and never recovered.

He needed only a subpar quarter-mile time of 5.310 seconds to beat Skuza in the final.

He improved to 17-6 against Skuza, 5-1 in final-round meetings.

Force began the day second in points but moved into the lead by reaching his 143rd NHRA final.

Bruce Sarver, who had been No. 1 in the standings, was upset in the first round by Frank Pedregon. "Our motto was, let them beat themselves, that's our only hope," Force said. "Because we were screwed up."

Scelzi, the Top Fuel champion in 1997, '98 and 2000, reached his first Gatornationals final and had hopes of ending a seasonlong winless streak.

His car performed well during the first three elimination rounds, including a semifinal win against Kenny Bernstein when Scelzi finished in 4.682 seconds.

But in the final, Dixon outdid Scelzi's 4.727 by finishing in 4.661 with a top speed of 313.95 mph to win for the second time in Gainesville and 11th time overall.

The win allowed Dixon to move into second place in the standings, five points behind Mike Dunn, a second-round loser.

"It was a whole team deal," Dixon said. "You've got to have everybody on and everybody did their job today. It was just a great day. To be able to come here and win really means a lot."

Before Saturday's loss, Scelzi was 13-5 against Dixon, 4-1 in final-round matchups.

In the other professional categories, Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock), Matt Hines (Pro Stock Bike) and Greg Stanfield (Pro Stock Truck) emerged with titles.

Coughlin (6.935 seconds, 199.40 top speed) edged Mark Osborne in the final. Hines (7.290, 180.50) defeated Craig Treble. Stanfield (7.492, 181.23) topped Randy Daniels.

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