Columbus: Gary Scelzi preview

Scelzi in crowded championship chase mix COLUMBUS, Ohio (June 8, 2004) - Gary Scelzi is in the midst of a six-car battle to move up in the Funny Car standings, as the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series visits National Trail Raceway this weekend,...

Scelzi in crowded championship chase mix

COLUMBUS, Ohio (June 8, 2004) - Gary Scelzi is in the midst of a six-car battle to move up in the Funny Car standings, as the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series visits National Trail Raceway this weekend, outside of Columbus, for the 10th round of 23 events in the 2004 championship chase.

Scelzi and his Mike Neff-tuned HEMI-powered Oakley Dodge Stratus continue to be the team to beat for national top-speed records after the Fresno native demolished his own top-speed record of 329.18 mph at Route 66 Raceway with a blistering 330.55-pass, backed up by a 330.15-mph run for a new national record.

It's his first Funny Car championship, however, that he's aiming for and it's been a rocky road this season for the three-time Top Fuel champion who is in his second full season of Funny Car competition. One semifinal round reached and a runner-up finish mixed in with several early-round losses sees Scelzi in seventh in the Funny Car point standings. He's been as high as third this season.

A strong result this weekend at National Trail could change the complexion of the title chase for Scelzi, who has drivers Eric Medlen, Gary Densham and Tim Wilkerson in his sights to beat, in order to boost him up in the rankings, as well as Phil Burkart Jr. and Tony Pedregon behind him to keep at bay.

"It's important to keep our heads above water," said Scelzi, the 2003 Sonoma event victor and winner of nine rounds so far this year, as the NHRA circus heads into another back-to-back three-race swing beginning in Columbus. "We need to go rounds, we need to win a race or two. And then we need to evaluate where we're at after these three races."

"We need to come out swinging right now, that's what we need to do," he declared. "We don't need to fall any further behind; we need to make some gains. Because you're either going to come out of here right in the middle of it or you can come out way behind. Before we get into the Western Swing (July 16-Aug. 1) we need to be right in the middle of this thing; otherwise we could lose sight of our goal."

First on the agenda is to win this Sunday. "National Trail is historically a real tricky race track," said Scelzi, winner here in 1997 and No. 1 qualifier in 2000 in the Top Fuel class. "It's been re-paved. They extended the concrete pad and I understand it's pretty smooth. As I've said before of other re-paved quarter-miles this season, it's going to be a green race track because it is all new. It's probably going to take until Saturday for the track to come in.

"Weather is always an issue here too because of the humidity; it can rain at any time. Sometimes it can be hot and humid; sometimes it can be overcast and humid. We're hoping for overcast, because that always makes the track tighter."

Pro Nitro qualifying is scheduled for 4 and 7 p.m. on Friday, June 11; at 12 and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 12. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 13.

On Saturday, June 12, ESPN will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 7 p.m. (ET). On Sunday, June 13, ESPN2 will televise three hours of eliminations at 3 p.m. (ET). Also on Sunday, June 13, ESPN2 will televise NHRA 2Day, a 30-minute magazine show at 11:30 a.m. (ET).

GARY SCELZI QUICK FACTS:

Holds national Funny Car top-speed record of 330.55 mph

Was first Funny Car driver to break the 330-mph barrier

Qualified sixth at 2003 Pontiac Excitement NHRA Nationals, lost to Ron Capps in second round

Seventh in 2004 Funny Car points after nine events

Age 43, born and raised in Fresno, Calif., where he lives with wife Julianne and sons Dominic and Giovanni

Is a three-time Top Fuel Dragster champion

Won his first Top Fuel crown as a rookie

Has one Funny Car win, 25 Top Fuel wins

Sixth in 2003 Funny Car points, his first full season in that class

Is the only NHRA driver to have won in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Gary Scelzi , Gary Densham , Tim Wilkerson , Phil Burkart , Eric Medlen , Mike Neff