Brainerd: Gary Scelzi preview

With first Funny Car win under his belt, Scelzi is ready to tackle Brainerd BRAINERD, Minn. (Aug. 13, 2003) - Oakley Dodge Stratus driver Gary Scelzi returns to Brainerd International Raceway this weekend for the first time in Fuel Funny Car ...

With first Funny Car win under his belt, Scelzi is ready to tackle Brainerd

BRAINERD, Minn. (Aug. 13, 2003) - Oakley Dodge Stratus driver Gary Scelzi returns to Brainerd International Raceway this weekend for the first time in Fuel Funny Car competition and the first time since a major Top Fuel crash here in 2001 resulted in his making a life-changing decision.

The three-time Top Fuel champion has one victory at this track located in Northern Minnesota, in 1998, and was No. 1 qualifier in 1999. Following his first Funny Car win at Infineon Raceway on Aug. 3 and a productive testing session this week (4.78 at 322 mph) at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., Scelzi is ready to forge forward and continue on a winning path for the rest of the season. Putting his Brainerd history behind him is part of the initial plan.

"When I crashed in the first round here In 2001, that was the deciding factor for me to switch to Funny Car," he says. "I decided I had had enough of Top Fuel dragsters. That was my third major crash and that's when I said to myself, You know what, I'm going to make a change. We knew we were losing Winston as a sponsor and I made my mind up in the following race in Indy. In fact, I told (crew chief) Alan Johnson in Indianapolis that if he races I'll race with him, but only if he has a Funny Car. That's how much that accident played on me."

And the rest of the story has been well-documented. Scelzi drove a Funny Car for Alan Johnson in the first seven races of the 2002 season, then the pair split. Scelzi then joined Don Schumacher Racing for the entire 2003 season driving a new Dodge Stratus Funny Car sponsored by Oakley. It's been a tough first part of the year except for a national record-setting 328.06 mph run in Joliet, Ill., and other speed records, but it has now turned around with Scelzi's dramatic first Funny Car victory at Infineon Raceway.

"It's the momentum that I think we need to finish the season," the Fresno, Calif., resident says. "We felt that we had a winning car since we pulled into the gates at the first race at Pomona and we had talked about this several times. But to do it is big. There are a couple of guys on the team who have never won a race and (crew chief) Mike Neff and I had been telling these people, Hey this is a great team, we can win races and everybody is doing a great job. But when you actually do it they know you're not lying to them. I think you're going to see a pretty upbeat bunch when we pull into the gate at Brainerd this weekend."

Despite the wicked winters the Brainerd track has endured over the years, it has weathered well, and it's a hot spot for racing-deprived fans, Scelzi believes. "Brainerd can be good if it's cool and it can be tricky if it's not. It probably has the wildest crowd of anywhere we go or it's in the top three. The people here don't get motorsports and they have cold winters, so they come out in droves to the campgrounds. We call it 'The Zoo.' We always try on Saturday night to get on the golf carts to go through and see the fans and say hello to them and thank them for coming. It's kind of a ritual that we used to do and I'm looking forward to doing it again this year."

Getting back on the saddle at Brainerd after the 2001 crash is a non-issue as a result of the momentum the Funny Car team this year is experiencing as it heads to the Rugged Liner NHRA Nationals this weekend. "I think we have a mental advantage just for ourselves," says Scelzi, now eighth in POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car points. "The other teams knew that we could win at any given time even though we hadn't done it yet. I think we earned a lot of respect from everybody throughout the year before the win. So I don't think that's going to change. I think everybody is going to race us just as hard as they did before. But I believe in our minds we know that we can win. And we're going to come here and try to strut our stuff and try to win another one."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Gary Scelzi , Don Schumacher , Mike Neff