SCELZI SINGS IN MEMPHIS, WINS HIS THIRD OF THE YEAR MILLINGTON, Tenn. (Sept. 16, 2007) - Gary Scelzi was singing anything but the blues at the O'Reilly Mid-South NHRA Nationals today at Memphis Motorsports Park. He was singing a song of praise...
SCELZI SINGS IN MEMPHIS, WINS HIS THIRD OF THE YEAR
MILLINGTON, Tenn. (Sept. 16, 2007) - Gary Scelzi was singing anything but the blues at the O'Reilly Mid-South NHRA Nationals today at Memphis Motorsports Park. He was singing a song of praise after winning his third Funny Car national event of the season and moving into the No. 4 spot in the Countdown to Four playoffs.
His praise was not only for his Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger R/T crew, led by crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler, but for the new Countdown format. Well, sort of.
Scelzi jumped from No. 7 into No. 4 after defeating his teammate Jack Beckman in the final round. All three Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car drivers are now seeded in the top four, with two events remaining before the final four battle it out to the finish in the last two season events.
The Fresno, Calif., native has the distinction of never having lost this season once reaching the final round. En route to his encounter with Beckman, he disposed of Gary Densham, Del Worsham and Tommy Johnson Jr.
The incredibly close final between two teammates was a true testament to the tuning abilities of Okuhara and Shuler, as both are responsible for each of those cars. Capps and Beckman launched with near identical reaction times (.066 for Scelzi, .061 for Beckman). Beckman hung on to the lead until just before the finish, as Scelzi nipped him by a mere seven inches or one thousandth of a second to snatch the victory with a 4.886-second elapsed time at 314.61 mph to Beckman's 4.892/310.55.
"I really miss (former crew chief) Mike Neff beating on that hood," said Scelzi in the winner's circle, "because Mike and I were very close and Mike got me a championship and got me 10 wins... and that's special. And that meaning is never going to go away. But Todd Okuhara took over the helm and took this crew and changed everything on that race car. We had stupid things bite us ever since he's taken over, but I knew that this car was going to win, and trust me when I say this, this car is going to win a lot more. It runs well.
"We lost the No. 1 qualifying spot, I feel, by stupid things happening and hopefully that's behind us. It's very hard to win these races, but when these guys put the effort in, and it comes down to a thousandth of a second for all these teams working together, the MTS guys, the Brut guys, the Mopar/Oakley guys, it means a lot because we're working as a team.
"And, it's hard to do when you've got an operation as big as Shumacher's. We made some changes, we think it's for the better, and right now it's starting to pay dividends.
"First round in Indy we were the fourth quickest car of the session and we happened to race the third quickest car of the session. And this car has been running really, really well, but there's been stupid things happening. This breaks, that breaks, this is different, and we've been chasing it since we started, but Todd's made some big changes and the car runs really hard in the middle.
"Everything we've been looking for it's doing, but dumb things happen. We won first round (today), that was a big deal. Second round, it didn't rattle, it had a vibration in it, and it's had this vibration and it broke the blower studs just like it did on Friday night qualifying and lost all the boost. Well, thank God, Del (Worsham) smoked the tires because we were getting our butt kicked and Del had problems. So we got that lucky round. We always talk about it and we happened to get it.
"Then the semis beating Tommy and then in the final beating Jack. Our tune-ups are very similar and the cars run very similar. I mean, it's scary how similar they are. I never saw him the whole way down there, but that doesn't mean that you're ahead. So when I saw the win light on the wall I got on the radio to make sure.
"It was a great relief for Todd and Phil because everybody knew each other's tune-up, they ran identical. Fortunately we were the ones to win and I appreciate Beckman and (other teammate Ron) Capps' guys. We're all working so well together and we have three Schumacher cars in the final four right now. Now we need to stay there by the time we get to Vegas.
"It's a big relief," to move into the top four, said Scelzi. "That was our first step. We've got to get into fourth. Unfortunately, we have two more races left. We want to be as high as we can because I don't want to give away anything going into Vegas and Pomona, because if the car that's in the lead goes the same amount of rounds as you, you're still going to be a loser. We need to get into first place. We need to get as far as we can to get as much as we can when we roll into Vegas (the final race counting towards the Countdown to Four).
"We're in fourth now, but, if you look at how bunched up everything is, this is doing exactly what NHRA wanted to happen. I'm not a big fan of what happens after Vegas, but I like where we're headed right now. I wish we could do this all the way to the end, but I didn't make the rules. We're going to play by them, and right now it's pretty damned exciting, so they're looking like heroes.
"I don't think we had a prayer under the old system and it does make it exciting.... We need to go to the semis and the final rounds from here on out. That's how we're going to separate the players and that's what we need to do."
Said team owner Don Schumacher: "Great job by the teams. I have never been a fan of the Countdown, but I have three teams in the top four right now, I have three teams in the top eight, my son Tony (Schumacher) is still leading the points over in Top Fuel, and Angelle (Sampey) is still in the hunt in Pro Stock Motorcycle. We're just going to keep working our tails off and see what we can get done."