Brainerd: Gary Scelzi preview

Scelzi in championship hunt, heads to Brainerd BRAINERD, Minn. (Aug. 11, 2004) - I guess you could call Gary Scelzi a yuppie these days. He's been upwardly mobile in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car point standings recently and...

Scelzi in championship hunt, heads to Brainerd

BRAINERD, Minn. (Aug. 11, 2004) - I guess you could call Gary Scelzi a yuppie these days. He's been upwardly mobile in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car point standings recently and he's celebrating a young 44th birthday today as the series heads to the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway this weekend.

In the last six events, the Fresno native and driver of the HEMI-powered Oakley Dodge Stratus, has reached the semifinal round five times, the final twice, and won in St. Louis. These results have moved him into fourth in the points rankings and right in the middle of the Funny Car battle among John Force, teammate Whit Bazemore and Del Worsham.

This weekend's Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals could be pivotal in Scelzi's quest to win his first Funny Car championship in only his second full season in that class after collecting three Top Fuel championships from 1997 to 2001. He's just 181 points behind leader Force, 35 back of Bazemore and 21 short of third-place Worsham.

The No. 1 qualifier at this event last year sees this track in Northern Minnesota as less of a challenge than it was at first in 2003, based on track surface and expected weather conditions.

"It could be hot or it could be cold," he said. "It's a major unknown. It was re-paved last year and it was very iffy then. We didn't know If we were going to run well or run at all because of the oil leaking out of the asphalt.

"But they washed the track several times," he recalled. "They got the oil from seeping out, and by Saturday, on the last qualifying run, it was an extraordinary race track. And on Sunday the times were fabulous. So I think Brainerd is going to be a good race track no matter what the weather. If it's hot, it will be just like any other race track when it's hot; it will be slippery.

"But it's smooth and it's got very good asphalt, so the only factor we have to contend with is weather; the race track is a good facility."

With track surface not a concern, Scelzi and crew chief Mike Neff will focus on their game plan. "The first thing we need to do is implement the same plan we've had all year: qualify well and be very smart racers on Sunday," said Scelzi, who holds the national Funny Car top-speed record of 330.55 mph and was the first Funny Car driver to break the 330-mph barrier.

"We will need to go down the race track as quick and as fast as we possibly think the race track will hold and not smoke the tires. That's going to be the key to winning this championship. I think we've done a fairly good job of that so far this year to put us in this position. We all have got to be on our game - the driver, crew chief, team. No stupid mistakes from here on out."

Scelzi is in a position to battle for the crown not only with John Force but also with his teammate Whit Bazemore. "No question about it," he said. "We want one of Don Schumacher's Funny Cars to win the championship. If it's not me, then I certainly don't want another team to win it. I want Bazemore to win it. The only way I can aid in that is to knock John Force out and let two Schumacher Funny cars battle for the championship. Whit needs to do that as well.

"We have to beat John Force, that is the key. There are team cars involved there. We know what the rumors are and when it gets down to crunch time, John is the lead car there and he's going to win the races when he's got to face his teammates. And that's a known fact."

Pro qualifying begins on Friday, Aug. 13, at 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., and continues on Saturday, Aug. 14, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 15, at 11 a.m.

On Saturday, Aug. 14, ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 8 p.m. (ET). On Sunday, Aug. 15, ESPN2 will televise three hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET). On Sunday, Aug. 15, ESPN2 will televise NHRA 2Day, a 30-minute weekly news magazine show, at 11:30 a.m. (ET).

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Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Don Schumacher , Mike Neff