Baytown: Skuza's Dodge Stratus working out kinks

BAYTOWN, Texas -On the average an everyday person can be expected to purchase or trade in their personal vehicle once every five to six years while a race car is usually updated every couple of seasons. Dean Skuza recently unveiled a new 6,000 ...

BAYTOWN, Texas -On the average an everyday person can be expected to purchase or trade in their personal vehicle once every five to six years while a race car is usually updated every couple of seasons. Dean Skuza recently unveiled a new 6,000 horsepower Dodge Stratus R/T after being in the same Funny Car for eight years.

Skuza will bring his Stratus R/T into the Lone Star State for the first time at the 15th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals, April 11-14, at Houston Raceway Park. The $1.9 million race is the fifth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Skuza's old Avenger body was designed in the early 1990s, prior to the performance levels now achieved by the nitromethane-burning vehicles. The Stratus was developed by Mopar project engineers and they turned to the famed Roush Racing group to design the vehicle's body.

"(The Stratus) is going to amplify our program by 1,000 percent," said the 35-year-old Skuza. "The Avenger body was designed in 1992 when the performance max was high 290 speeds and low five-second runs. When I look at what we were able to do with that body over the years, especially last year when we were able to run some four-seventies with it at 315 and 318, I feel really good. That's amazing. I'm really proud of what we accomplished with the Avenger body given the circumstances."

Skuza hopes the Stratus' improved aerodynamics and engineering innovations will lead to improved performance on the drag strip. That would be a welcomed change in a 10-year career that has produced two wins in 12 final round appearances. His first career win came at Houston back in 1997 with his other victory coming in 1998 at Reading, Pa. Despite driving to only two victories, Skuza is always considered a threat during eliminations and his winning personality has made him a fan favorite.

"People look at the 10-year career and there's only two wins -- believe me, that's not where I thought I would be at this point," said Skuza, from Brecksville, Ohio. "It's difficult out here. Now that we've come to the level of adequate funding and we have this new body and a team that has stuck together for several years, I really kind of feel like we're just starting. The body is like the last piece of the puzzle and the last ingredient that we need as a team to start winning on a regular basis."

With the competition among the Funny Car competitors so intense, any edge or advantage is a bonus in a category where each contestant knows that to be the champ, you have to stop the champ. That would be 11-time NHRA POWERade Funny car champion John Force.

After a first round loss at the 2002 season-opener in Pomona, Calif., then a DNQ (did not qualify) at Phoenix, Skuza made some progress to his ultimate goal of becoming 'the man' by defeating Force in the first round of eliminations at Gainesville, Fla. He followed that up with another first round matchup against Force at Las Vegas, this time with the champ prevailing.

"(Force) is something else, I'll tell you," said Skuza. "To be very, very honest, and I can't speak for the entire Funny Car category, but I think we secretly hope (Force's crew chief) Austin Coil is going to get lost (forget his tune-up). But that never happens. All we can do is try and do our best to knock him off. I really want to be the one to do it, as does every other Funny Car driver out there. The guy that finally knocks him off can write his own ticket."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Dean Skuza , John Force , Austin Coil