SCELZI TARGETS POINTS LEAD IN THREE-RACE SWING COMMERCE, Ga. (May 11, 2005) - There's little question among the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car competitors that the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Stratus R/T that Gary Scelzi drives has been the...
SCELZI TARGETS POINTS LEAD IN THREE-RACE SWING
COMMERCE, Ga. (May 11, 2005) - There's little question among the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car competitors that the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Stratus R/T that Gary Scelzi drives has been the car to beat this year. On paper, it didn't always look that way, but following Scelzi's first win at Bristol Dragway two weekends ago, the team tuned by young Mike Neff is back on the radar screen.
This weekend's NHRA Southern Nationals begins a three-race swing in Atlanta, Columbus, Ohio, and Topeka, Kans., which is followed by a weekend off and another three-race swing before a two-weekend "vacation."
"We feel really good about coming off a win at Bristol because we feel we've had the car to beat all year long," said the Fresno, Calif., native, who is fourth in the points rankings, just 63 out of first place, "and for whatever reason (including three holeshot losses) we just haven't been able to win. And we finally got that handled and we're looking forward to going into this next three-race swing.
"If all of us can stay on our game, we're hoping we can come out of this thing in the POWERade points lead by the time we leave Topeka.
"Hopefully the weather will hold here at Atlanta Dragway and we'll get more than one qualifying run," he said, alluding to qualifying at Bristol in only one session because of rain. "But, even if we don't, we proved we could win with one qualifying run. We think we're good enough on slick tracks, and good race tracks and this is a tricky race track.
"The conditions would have to be at their optimum to set any records here, and I don't know whether they will be or not."
The three-time Top Fuel champion, who has 30 national-event wins in his nine-year pro NHRA career, including five in Funny Car, recalls last year's race here, where he lost to his teammate (and current points leader) Whit Bazemore in the final round.
"Last year we made it into the final round. We ran very well, but we were dealing with warped floaters. In between each clutch disc is a floater and we were fighting warped floaters last year. And when we warmed the car up I had lost all my clutch pedal and we made some adjustments. In the final round we went to race Bazemore. I could tell my pedal was going away, going away, going away, and the clutch was starting to drag and drag and get hotter and hotter. By the time Bazemore staged his car, it was over.
"It's one of those things. You knew it was over. It was just a matter of when it was going to be over because the clutch was just getting hotter and hotter and hotter. Clutch dust was starting to come inside of the car. It was unfortunate. Bazemore only ran a 5.05. We should have been able to handle that. That's one that got away."
Atlanta Dragway has served Don Schumacher Racing well. Team drivers and crew chiefs account for seven wins here: Bazemore twice, Scelzi two times in Top Fuel, and Ron Capps' crew chief Ed McCulloch three times as a Funny Car driver. "It's a race track that Neff runs well at, Alan (Johnson, Tony Schumacher's crew chief) runs well, Lee Beard (Bazemore's crew chief)runs well at it, and I'm sure Capps is going to run well here too," said Scelzi.
"We're all sharing information so hopefully the Schumacher Funny Cars will be at the top of the heap. That's what we're hoping for."
The man who first broke the 330-mph barrier and set fastest speed13 times, looks to be back in old form. "And not a minute too soon," he said. "We're right in the thick of this points chase. After these three races we will then re-evaluate. I feel good about our chances of coming out here on top. That's the expectations that we have. We're not cocky, it's just that our expectations are high."