TOPEKA, Kan. - Three-time NHRA Winston Top Fuel champion Gary Scelzi is entering unfamiliar territory. The 23-time event winner is defending his third series crown in four years of Top Fuel competition, yet he is still seeking his first victory...
TOPEKA, Kan. - Three-time NHRA Winston Top Fuel champion Gary Scelzi is entering unfamiliar territory.
The 23-time event winner is defending his third series crown in four years of Top Fuel competition, yet he is still seeking his first victory of the 2001 season. His 23 career wins in 34 final round appearances ranks among the all-time leaders in the Top Fuel category, establishing Scelzi among the elite names in the 50 year history of the NHRA.
It is becoming the most competitive Top Fuel season in NHRA history, about as quickly as one of the technically sophisticated machines navigates a quarter-mile dragstrip. Five different winners have emerged in only eight races, as the top three contenders for the Winston series are separated by only five points.
The 40-year old Scelzi is among those trying to put together a championship run and will be looking to add to his win total and turn his season around when he competes in the 13th annual Advance Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, May 24-27, at historic Heartland Park Topeka.
Scelzi is the defending Top Fuel winner of the event which occurs on the motorsports rich Memorial Day weekend. The $1.9 million race, the ninth of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series, will be televised by ESPN.
Last year in Topeka Scelzi earned his seventh victory of the season, breaking the longstanding single-season win record for the Top Fuel category. It was a crucial victory for Scelzi, who went on to win his third Winston crown in his Alan Johnson-tuned dragster. This year Team Winston and Scelzi have experienced a variety of problems, so far thwarting their hopes for a repeat championship performance.
"This weekend is a good chance for Team Winston to pick up the pace on this slow start," said Scelzi. "We are sixth in the Winston points and we're not too happy about it. We have been testing and we have made some significant changes that really worked well. Needless to say, we are entering this race with a lot of confidence in hopes of picking up that first win."
For Scelzi to turn his season around he will need to improve his win percentage during elimination rounds. After the first eight races of the year he has an 9-8 (.529) won-loss record in eliminations. Last year Scelzi posted a 54-14 record to lead all Top Fuel competitors en route to the title.
Scelzi, who did not lose in the second round all of last season, has already lost four times during the second round of competition and his two first round losses this year are almost half of last years season total of five. Entering the Topeka race, Scelzi trailed points leader Mike Dunn by 169 points in the Winston standings.
"As long as we can keep it under 100 points back, we are still a threat at any time," said Scelzi. "We have had some clutch management problems but we think we have them handled. We're a little gun-shy on power, which shouldn't be a problem for Alan Johnson to fix. I am looking forward to Topeka where we get to turn the wick up and see if our problems are solved."