Madison: Gary Scelzi final summary

Scelzi wins second career Funny Car title at Gateway Event marred by death of Darrell Russell MADISON, Ill. (June 27, 2004) - Gary Scelzi had a heavy heart as he stepped into his HEMI-powered Oakley Dodge Stratus for the Funny Car final ...

Scelzi wins second career Funny Car title at Gateway
Event marred by death of Darrell Russell

MADISON, Ill. (June 27, 2004) - Gary Scelzi had a heavy heart as he stepped into his HEMI-powered Oakley Dodge Stratus for the Funny Car final round against John Force. He had just been informed that his friend Darrell Russell had suffered a fatal crash in the second round of Top Fuel.

It was Scelzi's third final round of the 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, his fifth semifinal round of the year, and his seventh career match-up with the 12-time NHRA champion, of which he's won four.

Scelzi's history against Force gave him the edge, not to mention that his No. 1 qualifying run demolished the track records for speed and elapsed time here at Gateway International Raceway: 4.724 seconds at 329.50 mph. To top it off, Scelzi had just posted this quarter-mile's fastest speed ever in the semifinal round of 330.23 mph.

Stalwart and steady, Scelzi clicked off a .073 reaction time to Force's .083. The pair was side by side for 330 feet, until Force lost traction, smoking the tires and pedaling to the finish, as Scelzi blasted to his fourth outstanding pass of the day to win his second Funny Car title since Sonoma, Calif., last year with a 4.827-second pass at 325.30 mph to Force's losing 5.321/210.28.

"That was a big one for us," said crew chief Mike Neff. "We needed to seal the deal here and get ourselves the win, get the monkey off our backs and it feels good. We're definitely making progress. The HEMI-powered Oakley Dodge is running better than it ever has. It feels good to roll into the Western Swing with some momentum.

"We changed our clutch around and some other things probably four or five races ago. It was a new learning curve for us and the more runs we make, the better we get; we're just getting a little better all the time. We should be able to continue to keep getting better than we are."

The three-time Top Fuel champion and national top-speed record holder of 330.55 mph first disposed of Tony Pedregon with a 4.840/324.67 pass, then dismissed Jerry Toliver with a 4.837/315.49, and scorched the quarter-mile in the semifinal with a 4.758/330.23 win over Cruz Pedregon.

Scelzi is now fourth in the Funny Car point standings, just 89 points out of first place, which was taken over by John Force today.

Unfortunately, Scelzi's success today was overshadowed by the tragic event. Scelzi remembered Russell, whom he had recommended to Joe Amato to drive his Top Fuel Dragster, in the winner's circle with tears in his eyes. "There are no guarantees in life, and there are no guarantees that you can make a living doing something you love every day. Darrell Russell loved what he did and it's unfortunate and sad and it really bothers me, but I've got to say he was doing what he loved. I've been in this position before several times and I keep coming back. So, if that's our destiny and that's what God's got laid out for us, so be it. It's a tragic shame, but Darrell touched a lot of people and that's all I can say. He died doing what he enjoyed."

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Cruz Pedregon , Jerry Toliver , Mike Neff