Bristol: Gary Scelzi preview

Bristol on Scelzi's Hit List BRISTOL, Tenn. (April 27, 2004) - Except for qualifying No. 1 of the Top Fuel Dragsters and reaching the semifinal round at the now defunct NHRA All-Star Invitational in 2000, Gary Scelzi can't say much about his ...

Bristol on Scelzi's Hit List

BRISTOL, Tenn. (April 27, 2004) - Except for qualifying No. 1 of the Top Fuel Dragsters and reaching the semifinal round at the now defunct NHRA All-Star Invitational in 2000, Gary Scelzi can't say much about his history at Bristol Dragway.

Since the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series began competing here in 2001, the driver of the HEMI-powered Oakley Dodge Stratus Funny Car hasn't been able to include a victory on this dragstrip among his 25 Top Fuel wins and one Funny Car triumph he's had in his short pro Nitro NHRA career (since 1997).

But that's about to change, he believes, as the tight battle for the 2004 Funny Car crown comes to this track nestled in a valley among the hills of Tennessee this weekend for the O'Reilly NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. After five events, Scelzi finds himself right in the mix of championship contenders. He's ninth in points, just 17 out of fifth, 50 out of second and 135 away from first place.

"We're a little over three rounds out of second place," said the three-time Top Fuel champion in his second full season of Funny Car competition. "Sometimes you can make that up in one race. But the drivers in between probably won't fall off that far, but you never know. The good news is - and that tells you just how tough this Funny Car class is this year - nobody is running away with it.

"I'm not really concerned about anybody getting away from anybody just yet," he added. "We're probably five races away from being concerned about that. And in that amount of time we hope that we're still right in the middle of it all."

A Fresno (Calif.) native and the NHRA national Funny Car top-speed record holder of 329.18 mph, Scelzi enjoys his visit to the Bristol Dragway, but doesn't feel that it's the right time of year to see the 330-mph barrier being broken here. "Bristol is such a beautiful place. I always brag about Bruton Smith-owned race tracks - because obviously there's no lack of expense for everything to be perfect.

"Although the temperatures are normally in the high 80s here, the race track doesn't get to show its full potential. But it is a smooth race track and it is a tricky race track at times. Sometimes the first 300 feet of the track are real tricky, especially when the temperatures get up there and the track is over 115 degrees.

"There will be decent numbers. There will be low 4.80s (elapsed time) in Friday night qualifying, possibly high .70s, but that's probably going to be the max you're going to get, because the conditions won't be optimum. With the trees around the area, it's like being in a forest. The trees put out oxygen so the air is actually pretty good.

"But it's the wrong time of the year for national records. We're getting into the summer months now, so you're not going to see anything great. We'll probably see track records being broken, though."

NHRA recently ruled that the new D2096 Goodyear tire is now mandatory for use in the Fuel classes. "We also have the variable of the new Goodyear tire," said Scelzi, who recently tested the new tire, which replaced the D1486. "We really don't know how good or how bad we're going to be. All the teams are going to be on the new tire this weekend and hopefully we're pretty close on our setup now, but that's one thing that could throw us a curve.

"I think (crew chief) Mike Neff and the team learned a lot in Houston (the previous race) with the clutch setup that we're going to run and it should open our window up for variables. The Friday night qualifying session is at 8 o'clock and it should be cooler and we'll be able to let the big HEMI eat."

Nitro qualifying is on Friday, April 30, at 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and continues on Saturday, May 1, at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Final eliminations on Sunday, April 2, begin at noon.

ESPN2 will air qualifying coverage on May 1, at 7:30 p.m. ET. Eliminations are scheduled for 4:00 p.m. ET on May 2, with repeat coverage on May 3 at 3:00 p.m. ET and May 9, at 5:00 p.m. ET.

-dsr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Gary Scelzi , Mike Neff