Scelzi reaches the semifinals, ends first full Funny Car Season sixth in points
POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 9, 2003) - Gary Scelzi ended his first full season of NHRA Funny Car competition with an impressive run to the semifinals in today's final eliminations of the Automobile Club of Southern California Finals.
Driving his super-fast Oakley Time Bomb Dodge Stratus to No. 4 in qualifying, he eliminated Ron Capps in the first round with a 4.817/323.66 pass against Capps' 8.607/95.19, which moved him ahead of Capps into sixth in the point standings. He also leaves Pomona with his sixth track record of the year of 328.38 mph.
In the second round he faced 12-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force against whom he's enjoyed a winning record this season of 3/1. He extended this record to 4/1 when he defeated Force with a 4.751/326.16 pass when Force red-lighted.
The semifinal round matched Scelzi with Cory Lee for the pair's first face-off this season. It wasn't pretty, as Scelzi smoked the tires and resorted to pedaling to try to stay in the game, while Lee had problems of his own as he barely skimmed the centerline. He avoided a disqualification and made it to the finish line first with a 5.303/266.53 to Scelzi's 5.700/185.33.
"Not bad, we made it to the semifinals," Scelzi said. "We locked up sixth place. That's what we really wanted to do. We got that handled. We should have won the race, but we got a big jump on next year's combination. It's going to be great.
"The car shook in the semis. I pedaled it and saved it, but my head hit the cage so hard when it shook it kind of disoriented me a little bit. I saw him ahead of me. He was on the throttle. I figured he was marching away, the party's over. Why stay on the gas? Plus my bell was rung a little bit. I just shut off thinking that I didn't need to take the chance of clipping the wall or anything. Then he shut off. And it was too late to get back on it.
"All in all, sixth is good for our first full year. We know a lot of changes that we want to make. Nothing performance-wise; we're where we need to be.
"We've got a car that I believe is going to be the first one to run over 330 mph and I think everybody else believes it too," added Scelzi, who set the national top-speed record this year of 329.18 mph. "Then to knock out the champ (Force) four times this year says a lot. I want a couple of weeks off and I'm ready to go, but I need two weeks of rest."
Scelzi, a Fresno, Calif., native won one race this season, reached four semifinal rounds and nine quarterfinals, placing sixth in the point standings with 1159 points. He wraps up his season thus:
"I'm extremely pleased with (crew chief) Mike Neff and these guys. I couldn't be happier. Don (Schumacher, team owner) has been a racer's friend, especially here as of late - (giving us) anything we need, anything we want. He's understood the situations that we've been in. He's given us a lot of support and I thank him for that. Don is known for being pretty demanding, but he's worked with us extremely well, especially in the latter part of the season. I think he knows what he's got in his hands. He's got a team that's going to run for the championship in 2004."