Baytown: Gary Scelzi preview

Two-timer Scelzi aims for Houston Funny Car win BAYTOWN, Texas (April 13, 2004) - Houston Raceway Park has been good to Gary Scelzi. He's won here twice during his stellar NHRA Top Fuel career, in the fall events of 1997 and 1998, both times as...

Two-timer Scelzi aims for Houston Funny Car win

BAYTOWN, Texas (April 13, 2004) - Houston Raceway Park has been good to Gary Scelzi. He's won here twice during his stellar NHRA Top Fuel career, in the fall events of 1997 and 1998, both times as low qualifier. The three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion was also runner-up to Larry Dixon at the fall race here in 1999 and continues to hold the Top Fuel elapsed-time track record of 4.480 seconds, set in '99.

Now that he's switched classes and has his first full season of Funny Car competition under his belt driving the HEMI-powered Oakley Dodge Stratus for Don Schumacher Racing, Scelzi is ready to back up these successes with a first Funny Car victory here this weekend at the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals.

Scelzi won one Funny Car event last year, reached four semifinals and eight quarterfinals to finish sixth in points. His most significant achievement was establishing a national top-speed record of 329.18 mph in Joliet, Ill., which still holds, and producing six of the top nine fastest Funny Car speeds in NHRA history.

The Fresno native is the odds-on favorite to break the 330-mph barrier this season with his HEMI-powered Oakley rocket ship. Whether the newly-resurfaced Houston Raceway is capable of delivering that record is up for discussion.

"From what I understand the race track is really good," he said. "I've heard all different rumors. I'm told by a reliable source that the race track is really good, that it's smooth and has good bite.

"The weather is going to make the difference," he continued. "I know they've been getting torrential downpours in Texas last week, but I don't know how it will affect Houston. It looks like the weather is going to be in the 80-degree range, which is not really suitable for world records. But the race track should be good. We should still be able to run pretty quick and pretty fast."

Scelzi's 2004 season so far sees him sixth in points, 112 out of first place, following a second-round loss at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last week because of a clutch malfunction. "I'm looking forward to racing in Houston. I think we've got one of the top running cars. If we could just get a little bit of luck I think everyone will realize what we've got for them.

"I was pretty discouraged after Sunday in Vegas, but when you look at points I'm a little over two rounds out of second place and not that far out of first, and we're only four races into it. Like (crew chief) Mike Neff says, there's no reason to panic yet.

"We've got a good race car. It's not like we have to go find performance. We've got performance, so I'm not really concerned. Sometimes we get so caught up in the moment that if you don't win or end up out in the late rounds, you think the world's over. That's not the case."

NHRA Pro Nitro qualifying is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 16, and 12 noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 17. Eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 18.

ESPN2 will air qualifying coverage at 10 p.m. ET on April 17. Eliminations will air on April 18 at 5 p.m. ET, and will be repeated on April 23 at 3 p.m. ET.

-dsr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Gary Scelzi , Don Schumacher , Mike Neff