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Scelzi has Top Fuel's best start

Gary Scelzi is ready to put an end to his so-called Gainesville jinx.

The three-time Top Fuel points champion never has reached the final at Gatornationals but had a first day of qualifying to remember. On his first run, Scelzi finished the quarter-mile in 4.576 seconds and had a top time of 322.58 mph _ bests in Top Fuel. He followed that run by clocking a 4.59, the day's third-best time, in the other lane.

"It's a great way to start," Scelzi said. "This one has eluded us for whatever reason. I think we should've won this race the last two years, but mechanical problems got us.

"We tested at Phoenix after the last race and I think we're seeing the results. We had two good runs today. I think by tomorrow we'll see some of the other guys come around and they'll be right there, too."

Scelzi had a car he thought was capable of winning in 2000, but mechanical problems contributed to a semifinal loss to Tony Schumacher.

AN OLDIE BUT GOODIE: During testing of its Suzuki Pro Stock Motorcycle last week in Orlando, Antron Brown's team noticed that the bike's new engine was not working properly, so the team replaced it with the same one he used during the 1999 season.

The move paid off.

After one day of qualifying, Brown, fourth in last season's points standings, was first after clocking a 7.249 quarter-mile with a top time of 187.91 mph. Angelle Savoie, last season's points champion, was second at 7.252.

A new engine was expected to arrive and be installed Friday night. Brown said he expects times to be faster today as cooler temperatures move into the area, and he hopes the change will help him maintain his qualifying lead.

WHAT'S IN A NAME?: If Savoie's name is unfamiliar, that's because she married during the off-season. The 15-time winner and New Orleans native formerly was known as Angelle Seeling.

Last year, she became the first female to win the Pro Stock Motorcycle title and second to win a championship in any professional division. Shirley Muldowney won Top Fuel titles in 1977, '80 and '82.

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: The World Wrestling Federation has become a major player in drag racing. The company, co-owner of the fledgling XFL, sponsors two Jerry Toliver-owned Funny Cars. They are driven by Toliver, who has four career victories, and rookie Tony Bartone.

WWF wrestler Perry Saturn was in attendance Friday and spent several minutes signing autographs.

BIG DEAL: The NHRA announced a deal with Goodyear that, effective immediately, will make the tire company the sole supplier for its Top Fuel and Funny Car divisions. The length of the contract was not released.

_ KEITH NIEBUHR

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