Gainesville: Bazemore, Scelzi eliminations summary

Bazemore, Scelzi go to the semis in Gainesville The Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car team continues it move to the front. In the third race of the 23-event 2003 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, Gary Scelzi and Whit Bazemore advanced to the ...

Bazemore, Scelzi go to the semis in Gainesville

The Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car team continues it move to the front. In the third race of the 23-event 2003 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, Gary Scelzi and Whit Bazemore advanced to the semifinals and Scotty Cannon had a good first-round run against Tony Pedregon as Cannon's team continues to solve its teething problems.

Bazemore defeated Cruz Pedregon in the first round with a track-record-breaking top speed of 324.32 mph and a 4.827-second pass versus Cruz's 5.203/218.07. In the second round he easily ousted Johnny Gray with a 4.880/319.82 against Gray's 5.567/181.08. But it was Del Worsham in the semifinals who sent Bazemore home packing when a clutch disc failed on Bazemore's Dodge, causing him to smoke the tires and lose with a 5.315-second pass to Worsham's 4.997/306.33.

WHIT BAZEMORE, MATCO TOOLS IRON EAGLE DODGE STRATUS R/T: "We're disappointed because we really felt like we had the car to beat today. Things were really going our way and for some reason a clutch disc came apart and we smoked the tires. Stuff's going to happen. It just proves in this sport you don't win the race until it's over. Things can be looking really good for you and going perfectly and then, boom, you get beat. Just one of those things. Gary did a great job today on the Oakley Dodge team. A Schumacher car has beaten Force in the last two races in early rounds, so we feel good about that. We just have to keep doing what we're doing and solving our problems each race and addressing things and making our car better. We're doing all those things, and that's what makes the team good and that's why we have a good team."

WHO WAS YOUR BIGGEST COMPETITION TODAY? "They all are. There are no easy runs. We take our loss in the third round (against Del Worsham) as a perfect example. We had a considerable performance advantage going into that round but at the same time we know what that team is capable of, so you can't take them lightly. You let your guard down and you're going to get beat. You have to be on the edge all the time. We don't have a 10th of a second advantage on the field yet. Hopefully, we'll work hard and we'll find that. Then you can operate with a little bit bigger margin for error. Right now we have both our Dodges tuned up as aggressively as we think we can get away with. Right now in Funny Car that's what it takes to win. You have to be right on the edge and not go over it. And we had a part malfunction which caused our tune-up to be over the edge at half-track and we smoked the tires. There's no room for error, so we got beat."

ON LOOKING FORWARD TO THE NEXT RACE: "If conditions are good in Vegas then I think we're on to a good performance here. We're just trying to realize our potential and our potential is huge, it really is. If it all falls together when the stars line up, watch out, because we had a great car at the end of the 2001 season and a tremendous team and I feel we're back where we were at that time with our team. We're just working through our problems. We have unlimited potential and our intent is to realize it."

LEE BEARD, CREW CHIEF, WHIT BAZEMORE'S MATCO TOOLS IRON EAGLE DODGE STRATUS R/T: "We have a great race car and Whit's doing a fantastic job of driving. I couldn't be happier with the team and the performance of our car. We're having some little inconsistencies in our clutch still. The reason the thing smoked the tires is that it pretty much disintegrated a clutch disc and when it does that it causes the clutch to instantly lock up. So we're going to have to get involved a little closer on what we're putting in the thing quality-wise. We do put a tremendous effort into that area, but obviously we're still having a small percentage of misfires. They bite you obviously at the worst time. It's tough to have a guy beat us with a 4.99 (Worsham in the semis) when we're sitting on a race car that's been running pretty consistent 4.80s and real big mile per hour. It's a little frustrating, but we've got a long season ahead of us and we know we have a good car. They're not going to beat us with those chump runs every race. You have a small percentage of those things happen to you. Over the course of 100 runs you're going to maybe have that happen four or five times. We just have to hope and pray we can go the next 100 runs without having it happen. We're not depressed. We came in here and ran good in qualifying and left here with the track record for speed at 324 mph, a shot right there in the first round. It wasn't like it was a bad weekend for us. We look at it that anytime you can get to the semifinals, which are down to the final four cars, you had a good weekend. Obviously winning is a great weekend. That's where we're at."

Scelzi may have struggled to qualify this weekend, making it into the field only in the last qualifying session, but his performance in eliminations was impressive for a man who's new to a full-time Funny Car ride. For the first time in his NHRA career, Scelzi found himself facing the 12-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force in the first round. It wasn't the quickest run down the quarter-mile for Scelzi, but his 4.905 at 313.91 mph was good enough to beat Force's 4.973/296.54. When asked if he was nervous at the start of the match-up, he responded that he thought he was going to throw up a Dodge Dakota! In fact, he claims he wasn't nervous at all.

In the second round he faced Dean Skuza, and cleanly disposed of him with a 4.924-second pass at 313.58 to Skuza's 6.379/141.84. In the semis he found himself against another member of John Force's team, Gary Densham. They launched with identical reaction times, .058, but by the one-eighth mile it was all over for Scelzi when his new red Dodge dropped a cylinder. Although he made it to the line with a decent 4.933/308.95, Densham's solid 4.870/321.19 was too good to overcome.

GARY SCELZI, OAKLEY "GRAB LIFE BY THE HORNS" DODGE STRATUS R/T: "I think that just shows the strength of this Oakley team, how well we did. We got way behind in qualifying, we got the car in the show, we didn't make any mistakes. We got in here and we beat John Force in the first round. We raced the race track and not John Force. We beat him. So many people hand him races because he's a champion. We showed him that we're going to play and we're going to play all year long. I think that shows the depth of this team. I wasn't lying in the beginning. And then second round we won and in the semis we were actually beating Gary Densham and we had a cylinder go out. We think we may have an ignition problem. It misfired a couple of times, then it put a hole out. But we were running plenty fast enough to beat him and we were actually ahead. We know it's not going to be easy, but we know that this team has a lot of depth and we're very excited. Like Dodge says, we're going to grab life by the horns and we're doing that."

WERE YOU NERVOUS GOING AGAINST FORCE? "You know what, I really wasn't. I'd raced Bernstein, I've raced Amato, I'm a several time champion. The problem was we had to wait so long and I try to keep myself calm until I get in the car because you don't want to go on a roller coaster on adrenaline. Fortunately, I've been around this thing long enough it doesn't bother me. In fact, if anything, I was probably too relaxed racing Force. My goal and our team's goal is to win races and to go rounds. We did that. Beating Force came early. I'd probably be more excited if I'd beat him in the semis or the final. It's all good. I respect the man; he's great, but we got a good team and we can race him and that makes me feel good. This wasn't a bad weekend. We went the first round in Pomona, second round in Phoenix, semis here, let's go to Vegas."

MIKE NEFF, CREW CHIEF, GARY SCELZI'S OAKLEY "GRAB LIFE BY THE HORNS" DODGE STRATUS R/T: "We are happy. We got off to a bumpy start. We never like to go to the last qualifying session not qualified, but we hung in there and did what we had to do and got it pretty solid into the show and made a respectable run first round. We were fortunate enough to beat Force and anytime you can do that, that's a huge accomplishment. We were able to go to the semis. Anytime you can go to the semis I consider that a good day. Unfortunately, in the race against Densham we put a cylinder out at two seconds and it killed us. We were on a good run, fast run of the day for us; just unfortunate to have that happen. We feel we could have easily won that round and possibly went on to win the race, but overall I'm really happy. Gary is doing a fantastic job and so is my crew. I'm just proud to be part of Schumacher Racing."

ANY PARTICULAR WORRIES GOING AGAINST FORCE? "No. I was nervous going up for the last qualifying session, but once we got a good run in I was fine for today. You're really just racing yourself. You're trying to go as good as you can, so it really doesn't matter who's in the other lane."

WHAT'S IT GOING TO TAKE TO WIN FOR THIS TEAM? "Well, we're going to stay here and test. We've got some blower stuff we need to test that's kind of been a weak link in our program for a while, and we know it. And hopefully we'll get a good blower on there that will go eight runs or four runs and we're not having to change that. We had to change blowers from the second round to the semis. It changes your setup. It's something different. It makes it a lot easier for something to go wrong. It's just a lot easier to leave all the same parts on there if you can. If we can get that part of our program straightened out, there would be one last thing I've got to change on Sunday. I think we're close, I think we're right there."

NOTE: Gary Scelzi's Oakley "Grab Life By The Horns" Dodge Stratus R/T won the Hedman Headers Best Engineered Vehicle Award today.

-dsr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Gary Densham , Cruz Pedregon , Don Schumacher