Las Vegas II: Gary Scelzi preview

GARY SCELZI: IT'S A TWO-RACE WAR AND IT'S STARTING IN VEGAS LAS VEGAS (Oct. 18, 2005) - If you happened to stroll through the multi-team Don Schumacher Racing operation before the last race in Dallas, you would have seen a happy-go-lucky group...

GARY SCELZI: IT'S A TWO-RACE WAR AND IT'S STARTING IN VEGAS

LAS VEGAS (Oct. 18, 2005) - If you happened to stroll through the multi-team Don Schumacher Racing operation before the last race in Dallas, you would have seen a happy-go-lucky group of three Funny Car guys, patting each other on the back, smiling, kibitzing, poking fun at each other, and having a good ol' time.

What you wouldn't have seen was the turmoil going on in their stomachs, their heads, and maybe even their hearts. In what is unquestionably the tightest, toughest, most agonizing chase for the 2005 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car championship, drivers Gary Scelzi and Ron Capps - with teammate Whit Bazemore, though virtually out of the running, egging them on - are ready to keel over because of the intense pressure they have been under for the last four, if not 20, races.

That morning you would have found Capps missing the driver introductions because of gastric issues. Then there's Scelzi, the jovial one who never misses a bite of breakfast on race day, who couldn't get food down his nervous stomach. And of course, there's Bazemore, who claims to be in full support of his teammates to win the crown, yet unmercifully taunts them during a sponsor/driver meeting, while Capps throws wadded-up napkins at him.

Scelzi, driver of the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Stratus and the 2004 winner here at the ACDelco NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, who has won three Top Fuel championships and is seeking his first Funny Car crown, admits that this year's battle for the title is the hardest he's ever been through. Then in the next breath he proclaims how the intense pressure is invigorating him and spurring him on.

After a torturous mid-season when he couldn't purchase a move into first in the standings while wallowing seemingly forever in second place, Scelzi took over the lead by a mere point after his semifinal finish at the U.S. Nationals on Labor Day.

While the John Force Racing team of 13-time Funny Car champion Force, rookie Robert Hight and Eric Medlen stumbled perhaps a few more times than the DSR boys, Scelzi then actually padded his lead at the next race in Reading, Pa., to 26 points over Hight, who had held No. 1 through five races before Scelzi bumped him off at the U.S. Nationals.

The Fresno, Calif., native never stopped looking over his shoulder, both at Force creeping back up and his own teammate Capps who was starting to come on strong.

Perhaps that's what he was doing in the first round that Sunday in Ennis, Texas, as he red-lighted for only the second time in his career. John Force wasn't perfect that day either, but he was good enough to take the event victory and move into first place, while Scelzi fell back to second, 36 points back. Capps, meanwhile, survived the butterflies and gut issues, but lost in the second round and is now 57 points behind Force and 21 short of Scelzi.

"This one is worse," says Scelzi, comparing the Funny Car battle to any Top Fuel skirmishes he's had. "When I'd done it before, most of the time it was with Cory McClenathan or Tony Schumacher. But I had always felt like we (with crew chief Alan Johnson) were in command, we were always in control, even though it got close and it was tough. But those chases never went this long, with this many drivers and this many different consequences involved.

"It's all on the line right now," he adds. "There's no more time.

"It's going to be a big war and it's going to start in Las Vegas. We'll see what happens," he says.

In these two weeks since Dallas, Scelzi has had to answer to his fans as to why he fouled out in Dallas. "What happened? Everybody wants an excuse and I don't have one. I just blew it, and it happens," he responds. "Baseball players miss pop flies, they strike out. It's just a human element.

"It took me about four or five days to make myself believe that, but I'm not known as a screw-up driver and, hey, I blew it on that run. So be it.

"I'm coming to Vegas and do the best that I can do and hopefully that's going to be enough. And Mike (Neff, crew chief) is going to do his job and the Mopar/Oakley Dodge team is going to theirs and if we're the best car we're going to win.

"And that's what we need to do. We need to win Vegas, we need to win Pomona. If we win both races, we've got this thing handled."

-dsr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Cory McClenathan , Eric Medlen , Don Schumacher , Robert Hight