Sonoma: Gary Scelzi preview

Scelzi back home in California SONOMA, Calif. (July 31, 2003) - Fresno, Calif., is just a stone's throw from Infineon Raceway, where Oakley Time Bomb Dodge Stratus Funny Car driver Gary Scelzi calls home. But if you think Scelzi has a home-track...

Scelzi back home in California

SONOMA, Calif. (July 31, 2003) - Fresno, Calif., is just a stone's throw from Infineon Raceway, where Oakley Time Bomb Dodge Stratus Funny Car driver Gary Scelzi calls home. But if you think Scelzi has a home-track advantage here at the track once known as Sears Point Raceway, well, you'd be wrong.

While the three-time Top Fuel champion has won here in Alcohol Funny Car and Alcohol Dragster, he's yet to enjoy a victory in Top Fuel or Fuel Funny Car at this dragstrip nestled in the straw-colored hills of Sonoma, Calif. But now, as a member of Don Schumacher Racing full-time in the Funny Car class and after qualifying No. 1 last week in Seattle, Scelzi is encouraged by the strides his crew chief Mike Neff and the rest of the team have made this season.

"This year has been bumpy, but it's been good," says Scelzi, who was low qualifier only once at Infineon in Top Fuel (2000), has 25 Top Fuel career wins, and is looking for his first Funny Car victory. "It looks like this season is finally turning the corner for us and it looks like we've got good performance and consistency coming our way."

The Fram-Autolite NHRA Nationals this weekend will complete the three-race West Coast swing for the NHRA pro competitors and Scelzi is buoyed by the results. "We ran very well in Denver, despite qualifying No. 16. We were No. 1 qualifier last week, so maybe this is the one that's going to break through for us," says the fastest Funny Car driver on the planet, who set the NHRA Funny Car top speed record of 328.06 mph in Joliet, Ill., this season.

Infineon Raceway is not a track where lane choice is expected to be as critical as it was in Seattle, says Scelzi. "This is a facility that is just absolutely phenomenal. Bruton Smith has spared no expense. There will be no problem with lane choice because both lanes are equal, fast, smooth, ground. It's had a year to season . The alcohol cars ran extremely well here a month ago. It's a track where we can let the Oakley Dodge perform to its potential."

It's also an event where Scelzi, 11th in Funny Car point standings, will have countless friends, family and fans supporting him, which could cause some stress "I've got a lot of fans, a lot of family, a lot of friends who are going to show up at this event," he says. "Sometimes it is frustrating, especially if you don't have performance. It makes the pressure even more, if that's possible. But, it's also good to have them with me because they're supportive."

Scelzi loves to visit the Sonoma/Napa area, but he says he's not a wine fancier. "Everybody wants to go to Infineon because the wives can take the wine train and they can go to Sonoma and all the little towns and little shops and antique places," he says. "But I'm probably the only Italian who doesn't drink wine. Everybody I know is into wine or, even if they're not, they like to go to Sonoma to do the wine tasting. And I've just never acquired a taste for it."

Born and raised in Fresno, Scelzi owns three businesses with his family there: a truck body manufacturing company, an oil company and a propane company.

"I make my living driving the race car," he says. "But I'm still actively involved in the business with my two brothers, Mike the oldest and Jim the middle brother. They're the ones who got me started in racing and it's been very good for our customers. They relate to me, they follow me and we've gotten a lot of major customers because of my racing."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Gary Scelzi , Don Schumacher , Mike Neff