Las Vegas: Gary Scelzi preview

Scelzi and Oakley Dodge look to cash in at The Strip. LAS VEGAS (April 1, 2003) -- The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is where Gary Scelzi tested a Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car when he was first hired by that team to drive full time. The...

Scelzi and Oakley Dodge look to cash in at The Strip.

LAS VEGAS (April 1, 2003) -- The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is where Gary Scelzi tested a Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car when he was first hired by that team to drive full time. The old drag strip at the Speedway is also where he won the last divisional race in an Alcohol Dragster before it was bulldozed to make way for The Strip. Those races were held at night and the drivers were paid in cash. The awards are now doled out by check, but Scelzi is still looking to cash in this weekend.

The three-time Top Fuel champion would love to have his first Funny Car win under his belt in the Oakley Dodge Stratus R/T Funny Car. If he should win the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals in Vegas, the 25-time Top Fuel winner would join an elite list of drivers who have earned national event victories in both nitro categories. He would become the 13th member of that exclusive club.

"It's frustrating and it's not frustrating that we haven't won yet," he said. "It's frustrating because I know how good this team is. But I know that sometimes it takes time and you can't force it. You have to take what it gives you. And if you start to force it then it gets you all screwed up mentally, because then you're saying, God, why haven't we won yet? You have to let nature take its course, so to speak. And when it happens, hopefully it will come in a flood. And we'll just keep going to finals and winning and going rounds."

In only his first full season of Funny Car competition, Scelzi and the Oakley Dodge team led by Mike Neff, with the Schumacher Racing brain trust of Lee Beard, Dan Olson, Wes Cerny and Phil Shuler on hand, have demonstrated their talent and resiliency. Scelzi has qualified for each of the first three rounds, had gone down the track in each run until Gainesville, eliminated 12-time NRHA champion John Force in their first meeting, and leapfrogged from 11th into seventh place in the point standings after reaching the semifinals in Gainesville.

The team isn't sitting on these laurels, however, continuing to test at every opportunity in its ultimate quest to win. "We're really happy with the way things went in testing on Monday after Gainesville," said Scelzi, who posted a 4.82-second pass at 319 mph that day. "We're going to stick with our game plan in Vegas of running the car with what we know goes down the race track. It's back to basics, no surprises. We're going to run the car like we know how to run it, try to get down the race track on the first run and give Mike something to play with. And, in the evening run, if we're in the show solid, we'll go ahead and try to go for the No. 1 qualifying position on Friday afternoon.

"We feel very confident going into Las Vegas with all the data we have acquired and the tune-up we're going there with," added the Fresno, Calif., native. "Vegas is full of excitement. Most of the time we have more fans in Vegas from California than we do at the California races. It's normally a big turnout for me by my friends and fans from California."

As for his personal performance on the track, there are no concerns. "I am really satisfied," he said. "I feel my reaction times are as good as anyone's. And a lot of that comes because I have a consistent race car that I know will go down the race track. And when you have a car that goes down the race track, like we did in eliminations in Gainesville, all that does is build confidence in the driver. It also builds a fear in your competition. They can see it. And I know that people are paying attention to us right now."

Nitro Qualifying at The Strip begins on Friday, April 4, at 3:30 p.m. and again at 6:30 p.m. On Saturday, April 5, qualifying is at noon and 3 p.m., with final eliminations beginning at 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 6.

-dsr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Gary Scelzi , Don Schumacher , Mike Neff