Three-Time Champ Scelzi Switches Gears POMONA, Calif. - After three NHRA Top Fuel championships, 25 career victories in 38 final rounds (both in the top five all-time for Top Fuel), a category-record nine victories in 2000, a 222-87 record ...
Three-Time Champ Scelzi Switches Gears
POMONA, Calif. - After three NHRA Top Fuel championships, 25 career victories in 38 final rounds (both in the top five all-time for Top Fuel), a category-record nine victories in 2000, a 222-87 record in elimination rounds, all in just 113 career races over the last five years, Gary Scelzi is calling it quits.
In Top Fuel that is.
The 41-year-old- Fresno, Calif., driver is making the move to the Funny Car category and joining teammate Bruce Sarver, and team-owner and crew chief Alan Johnson, to form yet another formidable two-car team in what is becoming arguably the most competitive class on the circuit.
Scelzi will make his debut in a nitro-powered Funny Car at the 42nd annual K&N Filters Winternationals, Feb. 7-10, at historic Pomona Raceway. The $1.9 million race is the first of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
After so much success in only five years, averaging a win once almost every four starts, one must wonder why Scelzi would elect to 'hang 'em up' and go to a category that is becoming more competitive with each passing season. He does have experience in full-body vehicles. He collected three victories behind the wheel of an Alcohol Funny Car in a seven year span (1990-96) and hopes to be a contender in his new category.
"We had some great success in Top Fuel and it was a blast," said Scelzi. "But these Funny Cars kept popping into my head. I loved the days when I raced the Alcohol cars and the way things finished this past year it just seemed like a perfect time to write a new chapter."
Scelzi will try and repeat something at Pomona he accomplished in Top Fuel back in 1997. He won his first race in his professional debut, an achievement attained by only two other drivers in NHRA history (K.C. Spurlock and Darrell Russell). Not only did he go on to win his first event, he became the first professional rookie to win his first two events after his victory in Phoenix, and became the only professional rookie to capture the series title. It was a sign of the success that was to come.
"It's a little different situation this time around," said Scelzi. "There were no surprises when I moved to Top Fuel. Alan had the power combination for the dragster already and the car fit me perfectly. Alan doesn't have a lot of experience with Funny Cars, and after my test sessions, it's obvious that my experience in an Alcohol Funny Car makes no difference."
The move to Funny Car may not be as smooth as his transition to Top Fuel appeared to be. At the pre-season test session in Phoenix in January, Scelzi experienced some problems with the handling of the Firebird he was driving. The car had been fitted for Sarver and had to be adjusted to fit Scelzi's body size. Despite the complications, Scelzi covered the distance in 4.92 seconds at more than 313 mph for his best pass of the session.
"We're going to test in Las Vegas before the season gets underway," said Scelzi. "I got to admit, it's a lot different driving one of those (Funny Cars). There's a lot going on behind the wheel. It's one helluva ride."