Phoenix: Gary Scelzi preview

One down, 23 to go, for one happy Scelzi. Gary Scelzi is one happy man. Yes, he lost on a holeshot in his first race for Don Schumacher Racing. But he's smiling. His crew is smiling. Crew chief Mike Neff has a grin on his face, and even the ...

One down, 23 to go, for one happy Scelzi.

Gary Scelzi is one happy man. Yes, he lost on a holeshot in his first race for Don Schumacher Racing. But he's smiling. His crew is smiling. Crew chief Mike Neff has a grin on his face, and even the Schumacher Racing brain trust of Neff, Dan Olson, Lee Beard, Wes Cerny and Phil Shuler are giving each other high fives.

Why? Because they all know they're moving in the right direction with Scelzi's Oakley Time Bomb Dodge Stratus Funny Car, as they head to Firebird Raceway in Phoenix this weekend for the second round of the 2003 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

"We're 10th in points, which is great," says Scelzi, three-time Top Fuel champion and in his first full season in Funny Car. "It's hard to be 10th in points. What saved us was our qualifying effort at Pomona and we just had a miscue first round. I got beat on a holeshot. But it wasn't like I was eating a sandwich on the starting line. My 60-foot time was my best, at .900, and I was already three hundredths ahead at that point. But it smoked the tires and I pedaled it. I hadn't had to pedal it yet, so it was a good learning experience for me."

As the relatively new kid on the Funny Car block, Scelzi learned more than that at Pomona. "I learned that I think I can go down any race track," he says. "I made four solid runs in a row. And knowing what I did wrong on the one run where it got out of the groove, I think that I can drive this Dodge pretty much anywhere we go. I think I'm comfortable enough to win a drag race right now. I don't have the laps I had in the Top Fuel dragster, but I feel that I'm good enough to win."

So does Neff, one fifth of the Schumacher Racing technical brain trust: "We couldn't be happier right now; going down the track four times in qualifying in Pomona, improving each time; that's exactly what our goal was. Gary is doing a great job, my crew is doing an outstanding job. I couldn't be any happier than I am right now with the way things are going so far."

The CSK Nationals at Firebird Raceway are next on the agenda, the dragstrip where January test sessions were productive. "Firebird is where we did all our testing, so we should have a lot of data from all the research that we did there," Scelzi comments. "I think that Phoenix is going to be one of the more difficult race tracks for a driver to keep the car in the groove. But I seemed to do OK there during testing. Mike's tune-up is a little bit forgiving. And that's what we need to have. If we can go to Phoenix and qualify well early and have a little bit of racing luck on Sunday, we could bring Oakley their first win.

"Hopefully the red Oakley body (which was damaged in Pomona) will be back on Wednesday and we'll be running the red body," Scelzi adds, "and we should have our spare Dodge Stratus ready for Phoenix, which may not be painted."

Firebird Raceway is one of Scelzi's favorite spots. "It was in 1997," he remembers. "It was only the second pro race I'd been in and I won it. I won my first two pro starts in Top Fuel. I won in Pomona, then came right back to Phoenix and won there. It was pretty exciting because we didn't qualify very well and I think people thought the Pomona win was a fluke. Then during eliminations we found our problem and came on really strong against Kenny Bernstein in the final. I believe we ran a 4.63 to his 4.64. It was pretty memorable and pretty exciting."

In 2002, Scelzi ran a limited Funny Car season for his former crew chief Alan Johnson, qualifying seventh and losing in the first round at Firebird.

Pro qualifying at Firebird Raceway begins on Friday, Feb. 21, with sessions at 1 and 4 p.m.; 1 and 4 p.m. again on Saturday, Feb. 22; with eliminations beginning at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 23.

-dsr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Gary Scelzi , Don Schumacher , Mike Neff