Scelzi on a natural high for Firebird CHANDLER, Ariz. (March 4, 2004) - Gary Scelzi is on a natural high. No, it's not the nitromethane coursing through his veins, although it could be. It's the fact that he's third in NHRA POWERade Drag Racing...
Scelzi on a natural high for Firebird
CHANDLER, Ariz. (March 4, 2004) - Gary Scelzi is on a natural high. No, it's not the nitromethane coursing through his veins, although it could be. It's the fact that he's third in NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car points after reaching the semifinals last week at the rain-delayed Winternationals at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway. That's the highest he's stood in the Funny Car points since he entered that category in 2002, and he's aiming even higher.
The driver of the HEMI-powered Oakley Dodge Stratus is excited about his strong start to the 2004 season and the outlook for the rest of the year as the series heads to Firebird Raceway this weekend for Round 2 of 23, the CSK NHRA Nationals.
"I am extremely excited about the CSK Nationals at Firebird," said Scelzi, of Fresno, Calif. "The good news is that NHRA will be prepping the race track, so we know we'll have a good surface to race on," hinting at the poor condition of the track at pre-season testing in Feb. 6-8, where he still managed to run a weekend second-best 4.938-second pass at 290.38 mph. He bettered that run two days later, as the team continued testing, with a 4.87/319.
"We hope we can keep up the momentum," said the fastest Funny Car driver in the world (329.18 mph national record), who is disappointed that his Pomona semifinal effort against Gary Densham wasn't up to par because of a clutch problem (he lost). "I'm still not sure what happened at Pomona yet," he said. "The good news is we made it to the semis. It's extremely important to get to at least the semis because we want to win the POWERade Funny Car championship. You're not going to win it by going out early.
"I'm sure there's going to be an occasional hiccup in our program," he continued, "but the key to this whole thing right now is to get some momentum going early, get ourselves in the top of the point standings and not let anybody either be the leader or not let the leaders get far away from you. And that's the key because there are 22 more races left." Scelzi completed his first full season of Funny Car competition last year sixth in points.
"I'm looking for big things again out of the HEMI-powered Oakley Dodge. I think we're there. We're poised to do some damage and that's what we're hoping happens this weekend.
"Firebird sometimes is tricky because the air is so dry. It's a lot like The Strip at Las Vegas because it is in the desert. We feel we have a pretty well-rounded tune-up and that's what you need. Obviously we're not going to set any records here, we don't believe. We should be in the top half of the field and be as quick as anyone." The odds are for Scelzi to be the first to reach 330 mph in a Funny Car this year.
"I feel really good about our program," he added. "I think (crew chief) Mike Neff and (co-crew chief) Dan Olson have a good handle on where we need to be or we're really close. I'm excited."
Pro Nitro qualifying is set for 3:30 p.m. on Friday, March 5, and again on Saturday, March 6, at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 7.
ESPN2 will have qualifying coverage on March 6, from 11 p.m.-1 a.m. (ET), and final eliminations coverage on March 7, from 7-10 p.m. (ET).
GARY SCELZI QUICK FACTS:
* Qualified seventh at CSK Nationals in 2003, lost in second round to Gary Densham
* Age 44, born and raised in Fresno, Calif., where he lives with wife Julianne and sons Dominic and Giovanni
* Is a three-time Top Fuel Dragster champion
* Has one Funny Car win, 25 Top Fuel wins
* Sixth in 2003 Funny Car points, his first full season in that class
* Is the only NHRA driver to have won in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car
* Holds six of the top nine Funny Car top speeds