Englishtown: Matco Tools - Funny Car pre-race notes

Funny Car favorites favor Matco Tools. ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. (May 14) -- When industry giant Matco Tools went looking for frontrunners in the Funny Car bracket, it didn't take long to choose the tried-and-true duo of Whit Bazemore, Gary Scelzi, ...

Funny Car favorites favor Matco Tools.

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. (May 14) -- When industry giant Matco Tools went looking for frontrunners in the Funny Car bracket, it didn't take long to choose the tried-and-true duo of Whit Bazemore, Gary Scelzi, and Scotty Cannon. Between them these three drivers have nine world championships and 62 national event wins, numbers that speak volumes about their combined abilities to drive some of the quickest and fastest race cars in the world.

The outspoken Bazemore is the standard-bearer for the Matco Tools race team. The 38-year-old Indianapolis resident has driven the company's Matco Tools "Iron Eagle" Funny Car for just a year and a half but has already run four of the five quickest elapsed times and three of the four fastest top speeds in NHRA history. His 325.69-mph personal-best speed mark is the current NHRA national record and his career-best e.t. of 4.732 seconds is just one-thousandths of a second off the world record.

To many in the world of professional drag racing, Bazemore is the heir apparent to 11-time Funny Car champion John Force; a driver Bazemore clearly out-performed during the second half of the 2001 season. With the continued support of Matco Tools and team owner Don Schumacher, the considerable talent of crew chief Lee Beard, and the a little bit of racing luck, Bazemore could carry Matco Tools to the hallowed ground of a POWERade series championship very soon.

"This race team has a lot in common with Matco Tools," Bazemore said. "Matco Tools has over 1,400 independent business people who work extremely hard to make their company a leader in the industry, which the numbers have proven over the last several years. We have a smaller team assembled that makes this car go down the race track in 4.7 seconds at 325 mph but they're every bit as aggressive as the rest of the Matco Tools team across the country.

"Matco has been great to work with and race for because motorsports, and specifically drag racing, is such a huge part of their marketing program. Because of that the whole company is behind you, which certainly keeps us motivated at all times. You normally don't see that from a sponsor. I'm proud to fly their colors."

Three-time series champion and former NHRA Rookie of the Year Gary Scelzi has visited the winner's circle an incredible 25 times in his five-year career but always behind the wheel of his Foxen Canyon/Matco Tools dragster. This year, one of drag racing's most prolific Top Fuel racers made the switch to Funny Car and is now seeking glory behind the wheel of Alan Johnson's White Cap/Matco Tools Toyota Celica.

The popular 40-year-old from Fresno, Calif., has found success in the past at Englishtown's Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. He was a finalist in Y2K and earned low qualifier honors in both 1999 and 1998. Now he hopes to parlay his local knowledge into a Funny Car fiesta complete with a Matco Tools winner's circle celebration.

"Me and Matco Tools go way back," Scelzi said. "They've brought me a lot of luck and I've done my best to bring them some wins. Now we're into a new chapter of racing with Matco Tools and our White Cap Toyota Celica so it's time to write some more history between us. I would love to meet up with [Matco Tools vice president] Eric Mullenmeister on Sunday when he's handing out the trophies at the other end of the track. Then we'd all be very happy. It could happen, let me tell you, I'd keep an eye on this race car this weekend."

Racing under the umbrella of Don Schumacher Racing as a teammate to Bazemore is six-time IHRA Pro Modified world champion Scotty Cannon. Easy to recognize by his patented Mohawk haircut, Cannon has become a fixture on the NHRA tour since claiming Rookie of the Year honors in 1999. His 27 national event wins in IHRA competition -- still a record for the Pro Mod class -- proves he knows how to win when the pressure is on. Now he hopes to carry that winning attitude to the NHRA's Funny Car class and put his Oakley/Matco Tools flopper on the podium with regularity.

"I always wanted to be a Funny Car driver," the 39-year-old Cannon said. "It took me a while to get over here [to the NHRA] but this is something you just don't jump into. I feel I was respected when I came because of my background. After all they don't give out six championship trophies and write you the check when you arrive at the gate. You have to earn it and I did that.

"I now feel the Oakley/Matco Tools team has a better chance of winning and going for the championship than ever before because of our new situation and having a multiple-car team to learn from. My motivation is still 100 percent and my excitement level has gone up a few notches."

Between Cannon, Scelzi, and Bazemore all fighting to put Matco Tools in Funny Car finale the excitement level of this weekend's 33rd annual Matco Tools SuperNationals presented by Racing Champions should reach new heights.

-mt-

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