SCELZI WINS NHRA FUNNY CAR CHAMPIONSHIP POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 6, 2005) - The chase for the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car championship came down to the final race of the 23-event season today, at the Automobile Club of Southern ...
SCELZI WINS NHRA FUNNY CAR CHAMPIONSHIP
POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 6, 2005) - The chase for the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car championship came down to the final race of the 23-event season today, at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway.
And, of the three drivers in contention for the crown (Gary Scelzi, Ron Capps and John Force), it was Scelzi who emerged the victor in the tightest battle for a Funny Car crown in NHRA's long history.
The Fresno, Calif., native clinched his first Funny Car championship to go with his three Top Fuel titles and became only the second driver to have won in both nitro classes. Kenny Bernstein is the first.
This is also the first championship in Funny Car for Dodge since 1983, when Frank Hawley won it, the first time a team owner (Don Schumacher) has won Top Fuel and Funny Car titles in the same season, and the first championship for Oakley's Mad Scientist Jim Jannard in the seven years he's been involved in NHRA drag racing.
Driving the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Stratus Funny Car, Scelzi first defeated Tim Wilkerson in a heart-pounding opening round with a strong 4.735-second pass at 329.91 mph to Wilkerson's 4.856/299.80.
The second round was a killer for all the contenders, as Ron Capps was eliminated first by Cruz Pedregon in the first pairing, and Scelzi suffered defeat at the hands of Tommy Johnson Jr. (4.794/327.11 for Johnson, 4.807/326.16 for Scelzi.)
Only John Force was left, who entered eliminations 32 points behind Scelzi. He would have to win this round and the next to take the title away from Scelzi.
But, in a matter of two minutes, it was over, as Force was shown the door by Tony Pedregon, who defeated his former boss on a holeshot advantage: 4.778/316.75 for Pedregon, a quicker but losing 4.752/323.27 for Force.
All the tension of the last half of this season was over in a flash, as the entire Don Schumacher Racing team celebrated the first win for a non-John Force Racing team member since 1992.
Scelzi gave his young crew chief Mike Neff much of the credit.
"Three years ago in Las Vegas, Mike and I had a long talk about what his goals were, what my goals were and where we were going to try to make this whole program go at Don Schumacher Racing," said Scelzi in the winner's circle. "And I told Mike Neff that I wanted [him] from even before Don Schumacher hired me. I said if I could pick the guys and the team it would be the Oakley/Mopar Dodge with Mike Neff and all those guys because Mike Neff will win a championship.
"Big emotional swings," he said of his battle for the title with teammate Ron Capps and his crew chief Ed McCulloch. "Ace and Capps have done a great job. Capps was driving good, my driving has been a little off. Our car is fast, my big concern was not letting these guys down, because they believe in you so much.
"This is a really close team. Next year will be the fourth year that every single member of this team has stayed together. And I don't know many teams that that's ever happened to before. But a big part of this thing is our wives, our kids. We put a lot of the people we love on the backburner and they're just as important as how well I drive the car, how well [Neff] tunes it, how well the guys work on it.
"It's our goal to become a champion, not to just win races. Winning races is good, but to win a Funny Car championship racing the guys that we've had to race this year, last year and the years to come is just incredible.
"I was numb. I never saw Tommy on the run. In our car you sit so far back, when you see them they're ahead of you, and I never saw him. I was watching out of the corner of my eye when I had my hand on the parachute lever and I looked for the wall, because there's a [win] light on the wall, and it didn't come on. And right away (DSR track analyst) Lanny Miglizzi said we didn't win.
"And then I sat there and watched Force get beat and I wasn't sure that he really got beat. Everybody was kind of quiet. I'm still numb right now. This is different than the other three. I've never had so much pressure where everything meant so much than this one."
"It means everything," said a stoic Neff. "This is the long-range goal for the year - to win the championship - and we've been pretty new at this. The first couple of years, realistically, it just didn't seem possible for us - to be as new as we were and with my inexperience - that we really had a chance to win the championship and beat (John Force crew chiefs) Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly.
"Last year was a pretty big confidence booster. We won some races and started performing better and, coming into this year, I actually honestly started to believe that we did have what it takes to do it. I'm still not really satisfied with our performance on Sundays. I'm still kind of chapped about that right now, at this moment. The end result is after 23 races we had more points than the rest of the guys and, really, that's all that matters."
Team owner Don Schumacher was deservedly proud. "What a great day for these guys," he said. "They've done just a wonderful, wonderful job out here. Mike has been the foundation of my operation along with Alan Johnson. Those two work so well together and it's just unbelievable, and the job they have done working together is incredible. Gary stepped up to the plate and the whole team has.
"They've [had] some hiccups, had some tough times, but they've come back swinging to...take away a championship from the best racer out here and that's John Force.
"Gary is now back in the record books, winning both Top Fuel and Funny Car, Mike Neff wins his first championship in any of the classes. He's done a great, great job, so I take my hat off to these two guys."