Gateway: Gary Scelzi preview

Scelzi Ready To Blaze 300 Mph Trail Through St. Louis Arch Onto Fourth NHRA Winston Top Fuel Championship MADISON, Ill. - The Arch in St. Louis is widely recognized as the 'Gateway to the West'. Gary Scelzi, who has been mired in a season-long...

Scelzi Ready To Blaze 300 Mph Trail Through St. Louis Arch Onto Fourth NHRA Winston Top Fuel Championship

MADISON, Ill. - The Arch in St. Louis is widely recognized as the 'Gateway to the West'. Gary Scelzi, who has been mired in a season-long slump, is hoping to make an upcoming visit to the famed Missouri tourist attraction his gateway to a fourth Winston championship.

In the four years that the NHRA has featured a national event at Gateway International Raceway, Scelzi has put together quite a resume there, posting three career victories, four final round appearances and a track record for elapsed time. Quite a performance considering the track has a reputation for being one of the trickiest on the circuit.

Scelzi will be seeking his fourth straight victory at Gateway and his first of the year when he competes in the fifth annual Sears Craftsman NHRA Nationals, June 21-24. He hopes a winning peformance in the $1.9 million race, the 12th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series, can turn around his lackluster season.

Entering this year, Scelzi had won three Winston titles in his four seasons of Top Fuel competition and was averaging one victory for every four starts. So far this season Scelzi has been shut out of the winner's circle as Kenny Bernstein, Mike Dunn and Larry Dixon have had the performance advantage.

"Right now we just hope it's not too late," said the 41-year-old Scelzi, who faced a similar scenario in 1998 and used a win at Gateway to propel him to his second series title. "We need to get on one of those streaks like we've done in the past where we win three or four races in a row. The bottom line is that we have to go to a bunch of final rounds in the second half of the season. We don't think we're out of it, we just have a lot of work ahead of us."

Based on the success Scelzi, Johnson and Team Winston has experienced at Gateway, if there was a turning point in their 2001 campaign, it should start at Gateway International Raceway.

"(Gateway) can be a tricky racetrack," said Scelzi. "We're usually at our best when the weather gets hot and the track conditions get a little slippery and change over the course of the weekend. Our car has really responded to subtle changes in the last two races and that gives us a great outlook on the second half of the season.

"When you've done well on tracks in the past you always hope that you can maintain that same level of performance when you return. We're hoping that Gateway will be our healer this season and the start of a championship run."

Scelzi's recent runner-up finish at Chicago, his second of the season, helped erase the memories of his woeful start, which featured two first round losses and four second round losses. He sits sixth in Winston points, 246 behind leader Bernstein.

Scelzi remains extremely optimistic about his chances. He says the summer months always seem to separate the pretenders from the contenders.

"This will be one of the first opportunities to see how Kenny and (crew chief) Tim (Richards) work together in the summer conditions when there's high heat and humidity," he said. "That's another test they have to pass. They proved they have the combination for a fast track in cool conditions, but now they have to get through the summer. Normally that's where we shine, so hopefully we can pick up some points and get back in the chase for the Winston championship. There's still a lot of racing left in the season."

-TW-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Gary Scelzi