Madison: Gary Scelzi preview

Scelzi seeks to up stellar St. Louis record MADISON, Ill. (June 23, 2004) - Gary Scelzi and Gateway International Raceway have enjoyed a steamy love affair since 1997, and it's one he's not willing to break off now that he's moved on from Top...

Scelzi seeks to up stellar St. Louis record

MADISON, Ill. (June 23, 2004) - Gary Scelzi and Gateway International Raceway have enjoyed a steamy love affair since 1997, and it's one he's not willing to break off now that he's moved on from Top Fuel to Funny Car competition. The three-time Top Fuel champion won here three years in a row, in 1998, '99 and '00, and was runner-up in '97. He also was low qualifier in '97, '99 and '01, and still holds the Top Fuel track record here of 4.563 seconds, set in '01.

Now in his second full season of Funny Car competition in the HEMI-powered Oakley Dodge Stratus, the Fresno native would like to continue this lovefest this weekend in the 12th round of the 23-event NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series on the quarter-mile located just East of St. Louis.

The national Funny Car top-speed record holder of 330.55 mph, and the first to break 330 mph, comes here straight off a strong performance in Englishtown, N.J., where he reached the semifinal and lost to John Force for only the second time in his career of six match-ups against the 12-time Funny Car champion, and is 153 points out of the lead, in sixth place. He has gone to the final round twice and the semifinals three times in the last five races.

"I tell you, I'm ready to run St. Louis, Denver, Seattle, Sonoma, all back to back," he says, referring also to the Western Swing which begins in Denver July 16-18. "We're really excited about how the car is performing right now. We're on a real high and when you've got some momentum going - we've got a runner-up, a semifinal finish and low E.T. of the first round last week - we can't wait to run the car.

"The guys on the HEMI Oakley team are excited, everybody is upbeat and this is what we've been waiting for all year. And we like going to a race track where we've had a lot of success. (Crew chief) Mike Neff was low qualifier and runner-up here in 2002 with Scotty Cannon, so he runs well here. Gateway's got all the makings for big things. That's what we're looking for."

As for racing at night, bring it on, he says. "I don't care for running at night on race tracks that aren't lit well," he says, "but St. Louis is one of those that is lit well. It also gets so hot here that it's actually a benefit to run here at night.

"I won here one time with the dragster where we finished at 2 in the morning, and I made the joke that we do our best work after dark," he adds. "That's going to be fine. Temperatures are going to be high, it's a tricky race track, but I think we're ready for it."

With the 2004 season half over, Scelzi says it's vital to keep up the momentum the team has gained in the last few races. "Now's the time," he says. "We couldn't have started any later. It's very important to come through these three races in a row with a shot at the title. And then the next three on the West Coast Swing are very important because I think now is when you're going to see the separation of the cars that are going to have a shot at the title from the cars that won't. If you're too far behind you're starting on next year's program.

"We're not in that position right now and we're not changing anything. We've got our clutch package in order, we've got our engine package in order and our aero package. Everything is on a no -change basis and that's what makes me feel so good about what we have."

Pro Nitro qualifying at Gateway International Raceway this weekend begins on Friday, June 25, at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. The same schedule stands for Saturday, June 26, with final eliminations to be held at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 27.

On Saturday, June 26, ESPN2 will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 10 p.m. (ET). On Sunday, June 27, ESPN2 will televise three hours of elimination highlights at 9 p.m. (ET).

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Gary Scelzi , Scotty Cannon , Mike Neff