SCELZI CLINCHES SPOT IN COUNTDOWN, LANDS IN SEMIS IN BRAINERD BRAINERD, Minn. (Aug. 12, 2007) - He may have lost to Kenny Bernstein on a holeshot in the semifinals, but Gary Scelzi was a happy man today in Funny Car eliminations at the Lucas Oil...
SCELZI CLINCHES SPOT IN COUNTDOWN, LANDS IN SEMIS IN BRAINERD
BRAINERD, Minn. (Aug. 12, 2007) - He may have lost to Kenny Bernstein on a holeshot in the semifinals, but Gary Scelzi was a happy man today in Funny Car eliminations at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. After barely qualifying the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger R/T in 16th place, the four-time NHRA world champion disposed of No. 1 qualifier Mike Ashley in the opening round with a stout 4.841-second elapsed time at 317.19 mph, then sent packing Tommy Johnson Jr. with another forceful pass, a 4.819/311.77, before meeting Bernstein in the semifinals.
Bernstein had already dismissed Scelzi's DSR teammate Jack Beckman in the second round on a holeshot advantage, and he did it again to Scelzi in the semifinal. Bernstein used a .066 reaction time (.000 is perfect) to edge Scelzi (.095 reaction time) at the finish stripe by six feet with a 4.825/312.86, despite Scelzi's quicker 4.808-second elapsed time at 322.65 mph.
Scelzi fell to seventh in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car point standings, but clinched a spot in the new Countdown to the Championship after he defeated Johnson in the second round. One race remains to solidify the top eight for the Countdown before the next phase kicks in at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend.
"I'm telling you," said Scelzi, whose former crew chief Mike Neff was replaced by Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler (also tuning the MTS Dodge driven by Jack Beckman) after Neff announced he was leaving to join John Force Racing in 2008 as a driver, "there was a lot of drama here. My God. Honestly, I tried to prepare myself for the worst, and that would have been not qualifying, and then it almost happened.
"Todd and Phil changed this car from front bumper to rear bumper and everything in between and put it exactly like Beckman's car. And there were a lot of differences, which I was surprised at. The hard parts are the same, but they're doing some things differently. And they really had to do that, so the cars would be similar. I can't say enough about them."
Neff remains with DSR in an advisory role and was at this event. "I can't say enough about Mike Neff coming over here every round and giving his advice," said Scelzi, "and telling Todd what he thought and Todd and Phil taking his advice. It was great. I wish we could have done this before.
"And even before the semis, Mike (nicknamed Zippy) came in here and he pumped his fist to me. I miss him beating on the hood because Todd just sets the barrel valve and walks off. Zippy even gave me an extra pump for the Bernstein deal. It didn't work.
"Bernstein has just been incredible on the tree. And I went in thin and we just got beat.
"We had a hell of a race car, we had a hell of a race, and I'm really excited about going to Reading and the rest of the year. I think we can really do some damage. We clinched the spot in the Countdown and I was really worried about that with all the changes we're making. It very easily could have gone the other way.
"It turned out a lot better than I thought it would. Everybody seems to be getting along and the transition may not be as bad."
Next up is the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., Aug. 17-19.