Phoenix Preview Top Fuel

SCELZI DETERMINED TO REGAIN WINSTON TOP FUEL CROWN CHANDLER, Ariz. - The familiar swagger is back in Gary Scelzi's walk these days. The Team Winston Top Fuel driver, who exploded onto the NHRA scene in 1997 with back-to-back victories and a...

SCELZI DETERMINED TO REGAIN WINSTON TOP FUEL CROWN

CHANDLER, Ariz. - The familiar swagger is back in Gary Scelzi's walk these days.

The Team Winston Top Fuel driver, who exploded onto the NHRA scene in 1997 with back-to-back victories and a thrust of momentum that produced back-to-back Winston championships, feels confident that his team is back on track following a disappointing 1999 season.

In a frustrating ride that included several first round losses, one DNQ and a couple of spectacular crashes, Scelzi gave up the crown he had carried proudly for two seasons.

It hurts Scelzi's eyes to look at the bright No. 1 painted on the rear wing of defending champ Tony Schumacher's Exide Batteries dragster. As far as Scelzi is concerned, that's his number. In fact, when he signs an autograph, he still personalizes it with a small number one at the top right corner of his name.

There's no question, Scelzi is as determined as ever to regain his post as Top Fuel's top dog.

"Do I have that look?" Scelzi questioned with a smile. Apparently so. And it's contagious. Scelzi and his Alan Johnson-led Team Winston crew mounted an impressive assault on the competition at the NHRA season-opener, producing a well-earned victory over Schumacher in a close, side-by-side final.

For now at least, Scelzi is back on top. He'll try to keep the momentum going at the 16th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals presented by Pennzoil, Feb. 24-27, at Firebird International Raceway near Phoenix.

The $1.5 million race is the second of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

"Tony is a champion, he's the defending champion and he may be champion again, I don't know," said Scelzi, a winner at FIR in 1997. "I didn't like second, neither did my team. To beat Tony at Pomona is extra-special. It's a great way to start the season. We were number two last year -- there's no doubt about it -- but right now we're number one. We're going to do everything we can to hold on to this thing. The number one means a lot to me, and a lot to Alan."

The team produced sizzling performances during pre-season testing at Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., and that show of horsepower carried over into the first race of the season. Johnson tuned the car to consecutive low 4.60s during eliminations. Scelzi's driving was flawless.

"Bottom line, Big Red is one fast machine," said Scelzi, who anticipates even better performances overall as teams continue to adapt to new rules issued by NHRA during the off-season. Top Fuel and Funny Car teams are required to use a 90-percent nitro fuel mixture and service their cars within a 75 minute time limit, 15 minutes less than in years past.

Strict penalties and fines have also been established for teams that deposit oil onto the racing surface during competition.

"Our key to the quick success with the rules changes deals with the nitro percentage in the fuel," Scelzi explained. "I think with the lower percentage of nitro, the motor is kind of similar to an alcohol motor. We know that our leader, Alan Johnson, has won four Winston championships in alcohol dragster, so there's no one in my mind more qualified for this than Alan Johnson. I think what he's learned in alcohol classes over the years, plus his experience with the nitro, allows Alan to convert to the new rules much easier. He knows how to run a supercharger and what compression you can get away with. He knows what he needs to do to make power."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi