INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 31, 2004) - The prestigious U.S. Nationals, considered the NHRA's Indy 500 or Daytona 500, is the race every NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series driver wants to win. Gary Scelzi is one of them. The driver of the HEMI-powered Oakley...
INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 31, 2004) - The prestigious U.S. Nationals, considered the NHRA's Indy 500 or Daytona 500, is the race every NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series driver wants to win. Gary Scelzi is one of them. The driver of the HEMI-powered Oakley Dodge Stratus Funny Car already has a trophy for his victory here in 1998 in a Top Fuel Dragster, and he'd like to add a Funny Car "Wally" to his mantle this weekend in the 50th running of this unique event.
That's not all that's on his agenda as the 2004 NHRA season begins to wind down. He stands second in championship points to John Force and needs to win here in order to move closer to claiming his first Funny Car crown on top of his three Top Fuel championships. He is 220 points behind, there are six races left, and the clock is ticking.
The Fresno, Calif., native and holder of the national Funny Car top-speed record of 330.55 mph, will also compete in his first Skoal Showdown this weekend, the $100,000 special bonus event featuring the eight quickest and most consistent Funny Car teams from the last season. Scelzi qualified fifth and will face Tony Pedregon in the first of three rounds on Sunday, Sept. 5.
"I won once in Top Fuel and I was runner-up with my own Alcohol dragster in 1986," Scelzi recalled of his U.S. Nationals successes. "Being runner-up and not winning the race was one of the reasons I sold the operation. I didn't have the money to continue and I finished No. 2 in the world that year.
"And from 1987 on I have been a hired driver, even in the Alcohol ranks. I have always been very blessed to be able to get good rides." He entered the pro ranks in Top Fuel in 1997 and became the first rookie to win an NHRA championship.
"Indy can make or break a driver. Everybody says that if you don't win a world championship, if you win Indy, it's the next best thing, and they're not lying," he added.
"Indy is just so important because it is such a big race and there is so much tradition here. It's THE race. Throw in the Skoal Showdown and you've got a race inside the race. It would definitely mean a lot to me to be able to be one of the few to have been able to win in Top Fuel and Funny Car."
In the last seven events, Scelzi has jumped from sixth in Funny Car points to second, following his win in St. Louis, plus three semifinal round appearances as well as a runner-up finish in Brainerd, Minn. His second-round loss to points leader and eventual event winner Force at the last event in Memphis, however, was an unfortunate setback.
But the driver who's known by fans as "Wild Thing" is not giving up. "It's still very possible for Force to stumble at a couple of races and go out early," he said. "The key to this whole thing is to be able to capitalize on his mistakes. We're not changing our game plan. That's our plan. It's been our plan from the beginning, it's just the execution.
"We feel we have a car, and I think that everybody else feels that we have a car, that can win any race. Now we've just to go and do it. That's a big thing for us. The plan stays the same.
"In testing last week at IRP, we set the quickest and fastest time so far under the new 85-percent nitromethane rule, of 4.770 seconds at 325.77 mph. I think we have made big progress and I think we made it faster than most of the teams.
"And it is Indy. I'm telling you, it is going to be so weird to wake up Tuesday morning and not drive the race car. Because you've driven it Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. It's every day of getting to drive the HEMI Oakley hot rod. There's nothing better in my life than driving a 330-mph Funny Car."
Professional qualifying has one round on Friday, Sept. 3, at 6:15 p.m., two on Saturday, Sept. 4, at 1:15 and 6:15 p.m. On Sunday, Sept. 5, pro qualifying continues at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., with Skoal Showdown eliminations at 12:30, 2:15, and 4 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 6.
On Saturday, Sept. 4, ESPN2 will televise one hour of early qualifying highlights at 8 p.m. (ET). On Sunday, Sept. 5, ESPN2 will televise NHRA 2Day, a half-hour event preview show at 11:30 a.m. (ET). Also on Sunday, Sept. 5, ESPN will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 1 p.m. (ET) and three hours of qualifying highlights and the Skoal Showdown at 5 p.m. (ET).
On Monday, Sept. 6, ESPN2 will televise a special edition of NHRA 2Day celebrating 50 years of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at 11 a.m. (ET). Also on Monday, Sept. 6, ESPN2 will televise 90 minutes of early round eliminations at 11:30 a.m. (ET) and three hours of final eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET).