Pomona Top Fuel notebook

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761 CHIEF AUTO PARTS WINTERNATIONALS TOP FUEL NOTEBOOK --Busy, busy: Gary Scelzi insists that life hasn't changed much since he became the driver last October for one of...

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761

CHIEF AUTO PARTS WINTERNATIONALS TOP FUEL NOTEBOOK

--Busy, busy: Gary Scelzi insists that life hasn't changed much since he became the driver last October for one of the highest-profile teams in drag racing, Team Winston.

But he knows the time crunch will start soon, and he's bracing for it.

Scelzi's family owns three businesses in Fresno, Calif., and he runs the company that manufactures specialty trucks. Scelzi has delegated many tasks to create time for the 22-race schedule, testing and numerous sponsor functions this season.

"We've got key people working day-to-day, so the transition will be smooth," Scelzi said. "I can come home after races, too.

"We don't save lives," Scelzi said with a laugh. "We build truck bodies. Life will go on."

--R-e-s-p-e-c-t: When Gary Scelzi first hit the throttle pedal of a Top Fuel dragster during offseason testing, his admiration for Top Fuel drivers jumped off the scale.

"I've gained a ton of respect for guys who drive these things," Scelzi said. "The force you go through when you hit the pedal is unbelievable. You can't prepare yourself for something like that.

"The car just pulls, and it doesn't stop."

Scelzi earned his NHRA Top Fuel license with a pass of 4.93 seconds during the offseason. He shut off the car just 1,000 feet down the 1,320-foot racetrack.

--Tough stuff: Gary Scelzi claims his biggest adjustment from the 2,500-horsepower Federal-Mogul Dragsters and Federal- Mogul Funny Cars to the 5,500-horsepower Top Fuel dragsters hasn't come while he's strapped in the seat on the racetrack.

"The toughest thing might be the warmup in the pits," Scelzi said. "Alan and Blaine (Johnson) had it down. You can't hear anything, it's hard to see because you're wearing a mask. It's all eye contact and hand signals.

"When it works, it's like a well-groomed football team."

Top Fuel and Funny Car teams warm up their car's engines in the pits before moving to the line, ensuring that the engine is working properly at various RPM levels.

--Double feat: Top Fuel newcomer Cristen Powell recorded an unprecedented feat in late December as she became the only NHRA driver to hold an NHRA Top Fuel and Jr. Dragster license simultaneously.

Powell, a 17-year-old high school senior from Portland, Ore., earned her Top Fuel license in three passes Dec. 28. She also earned her Jr. Dragster license the same day. Competitors in the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League race in half-scale dragsters powered by five-horsepower lawnmower engines. The league is open to competitors from age 8-17, and Powell doesn't turn 18 until March 22.

But don't expect Powell to get much seat time in a Jr. Dragster. She will debut in Top Fuel at the Chief Auto Parts Winternationals in a new car owned by Funny Car driver Jim Epler.

Powell raced in a Federal-Mogul Dragster last season, setting an NHRA elapsed-time national record..

--Head's up: After a winter of uncertainty, Jim Head will stay in Top Fuel this season with sponsorship from Catalyst Communications and Frontier Communications.

The companies will sponsor Head and Pro Stock Motorcycle teammates John Myers and Angelle Seeling under its Close Call Phone Card program. Close Call also will sponsor NASCAR driver Brett Bodine, unlimited hydroplane driver Mark Tate and late model stock car driver Tony Robertson.

Head won the Top Fuel title at the Sears Craftsman Nationals last season, his first victory since winning the Funny Car title at the 1985 NorthStar Nationals. He lost his sponsorship from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and considered moving to Funny Car before the Close Call deal surfaced with help from Sports Marketing Enterprises, the sports marketing division of R.J. Reynolds.

Close Call is a prepaid telephone card that will be offered at retail outlets across the United States. Frontier will provide the long-distance network for the program, which also features a sweepstakes that will offer winners more than $60 million in prizes in 1997.

Each Close Call phone card, which offers 15 minutes of prepaid phone time, contains a scratch-and-win section. The cardholder simply scratches off the coating to determine if he or she is a winner. One of every 15 cards is a winner in the promotion.

--Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 2 p.m. Jan. 30, one of only two pro sessions on a Thursday this season. Qualifying continues with a session at 2 p.m. Jan. 31 and ends with sessions at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Feb. 1. Final eliminations start at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 2. Sportsman competition starts at 8 a.m. Jan. 30.

--Tickets: Tickets are available for the Chief Auto Parts Winternationals. Call NHRA at (818) 914-4761 for ticket information. Tickets also can be purchased at Ticketmaster outlets throughout Southern California. To order through Ticketmaster, call (213) 480-3232, (714) 740-2000, (805) 583-8700 or (619) 220-TIXS. Ticketmaster online information can be obtained on the World Wide Web at http://www.ticketmaster.com.

--On TV: The Nashville Network (TNN) will televise 90 minutes of live final-round competition from the Chief Auto Parts Winternationals at 4 p.m. (PST) Feb. 2. TNN will televise 30 minutes of live first-round coverage during "NHRA Today" at 10:30 a.m. (PST) Feb. 2.

--On the Web: The NHRA home page on the World Wide Web at http://www.goracing.com/nhra/ offers more information about NHRA Winston Drag Racing, including qualifying and eliminations results, news, point standings, statistics and driver biographies. -30-

Jack Durbin indy500@freenet.tlh.fl.us Motorsport News International jackd@motorsport.com (Moderators for "rec.autos.sport.info") Homepage http://www.freenet.tlh.fl.us/users/indy500/index.html

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Brett Bodine , Jim Head , Jim Epler , Gary Scelzi , Cristen Powell