Commerce: Gary Scelzi preview

Summer in Atlanta on Scelzi's mind, not Tony Schumacher COMMERCE, Ga. (May 11, 2004) - Gary Scelzi no longer has Tony Schumacher on his mind as his fiercest rival, now that the duo are Don Schumacher Racing teammates and are not vying for the...

Summer in Atlanta on Scelzi's mind, not Tony Schumacher

COMMERCE, Ga. (May 11, 2004) - Gary Scelzi no longer has Tony Schumacher on his mind as his fiercest rival, now that the duo are Don Schumacher Racing teammates and are not vying for the same championship. What the driver of the HEMI-powered Oakley Dodge Stratus Funny Car is thinking about are the hot, slippery, and perhaps even wet, conditions that may prevail this weekend at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.

In his exceptional Top Fuel career, in which he won three NHRA championships, Scelzi defeated Schumacher in the final round at Atlanta Dragway in 2000, his last victory at this track. Today the pair are good friends, as Scelzi aims to win his first Funny Car title here en route to his first NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car crown.

His 2000 win was the second of Scelzi's two Top Fuel triumphs on this quarter-mile. The first was in 1999 against Doug Kalitta. He was also runner-up to Kenny Bernstein here in his rookie year, 1997.

In 2002, Scelzi switched to Funny Cars and is enjoying his second full season with Don Schumacher Racing this year. He's won one Funny Car event and established the national top-speed record of 329.18 mph last year, a record which no one has yet come close to breaking. Scelzi is the odds-on favorite to demolish his own record in 2004 with the first 330-mph Funny Car pass in NHRA history.

"Atlanta Dragway has been very good to me," said the Fresno native. "Tony Schumacher and I had an extremely heated rivalry back the last time that I won here. We genuinely didn't like each other. So that made for big play on television and the fans and the media loved it.

"Actually, now that we don't race against each other Tony and I get along very well," he laughed. "Our kids play together. The rivalry was mutual and now we're both really good friends. We're both on the same team, and we're both on the same page. And I think both of us understand each other a little bit better too."

All former hostilities aside, Scelzi is now focused on regaining the performance with which he and crew chief Mike Neff began the 2004 season. "This year in Funny Car I don't really have any rivalries," said Scelzi, eighth in Funny Car point standings after six races. "We're just trying to make the car go down the race track consistently.

"Atlanta is one of those race tracks that is very difficult. Normally this is where we run into the summer conditions where the race tracks are hot, slippery and extremely tricky. You don't see the big numbers. You don't see the big E.T.s, you don't see the big speeds.

"Right now the forecast looks for 80-degree weather, but it also looks like rain. Who knows what's going to happen? Who knows if we're going to lose qualifying runs or if we'll get everything in, like we ended up doing in Bristol.

"It's also a race track where you don't know who's going to win because of the track conditions. You have to be really on top of your tune-up and especially your clutch program, because when the temperatures get to 80-85 degrees with high humidity you can't swing for the fence. So it's a lot of mental control for the crew chiefs.

"We're getting to the time of year where it is a control situation for the crew chiefs to not get carried away, but also not to be weak. You don't want to go up there and be too conservative because nobody else will be.

"It's going to be a big challenge for Mike Neff and the Hemi-powered Oakley Dodge," Scelzi continued. "We're still working hard on our program. It looked better in Bristol and I think we're going to continue to show progress at every event from here on out.

"We're on the right track. I guess we'll just have to see what cards are dealt to us," he added.

Pro Nitro qualifying is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 14, and again at 12 noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 15. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 16.

ESPN will air coverage of qualifying on May 15, at 8 p.m. ET. Eliminations are scheduled to air on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. ET on May 16, and again on May 17 at 2 p.m.

-dsr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Don Schumacher , Mike Neff