TREVOSE, PA (Jan. 10, 1998) 1997 NHRA Top Fuel champion, Gary Scelzi, was awarded the prestigious National Al Holbert Memorial/Eastern Motorsport Press Association Driver of the Year Award today. Gary not only captured the Top Fuel championship in 1997, he was named Winston Rookie of the Year as well. This marks the first time that EMPA has awarded their Driver of the Year Award to a drag racer.
Scelzi became the first rookie in NHRA history to win the first two races of the season when he won at Pomona and Phoenix. By the season's mid-point, Gary had won four events.
As driver of the Winston Top Fuel car, Gary had been told to forget about rookie of the year honors since Winston sponsored the award. But Gary had his sights set on the Top Fuel championship. The battle for the championship went to the final race at Pomona. Gary had only to make a qualifying pass at the last race to gain the crown.
When it came time to be crowned champion at the NHRA banquet, Gary was surprised to see his picture on the screen as the rookie of the year was announced. "I didn't know until the banquet, when they started showing pictures of me" Gary said. "I was OK with not being rookie of the year, I was the Winston champion".
Scelzi traveled from his home in Fresno, CA. to accept the award at the Eastern Motorsports Press Association's annual convention near Philadelphia.
David Reininger - Motorsport News International