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Scelzi to weather Ivan and Force at Maple Grove READING, Pa. (Sept. 15, 2004) - Gary Scelzi could have two forces to deal with this weekend: Hurricane Ivan and John Force, the man with the target on his back and where Scelzi's arrow is pointed...

Scelzi to weather Ivan and Force at Maple Grove

READING, Pa. (Sept. 15, 2004) - Gary Scelzi could have two forces to deal with this weekend: Hurricane Ivan and John Force, the man with the target on his back and where Scelzi's arrow is pointed as he vies for the 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car championship.

Ivan is taking dead aim on the United States this week, and whatever is left of him after he pounds the Southern U.S. appears to be heading straight to the Northeast for this weekend's Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.

Scelzi is also tightly focusing down the shaft of that arrow. He is second in Funny Car points, 206 out of Force's lead and five races remain. Fate has put Scelzi and Force head-to-head in an eliminations round in seven of the last eight events. Scelzi made ground at the last race, the U.S. Nationals, by ousting Force for the second time this year on a holeshot advantage in the second round.

Scelzi now has a 7-5 career record against the 12-time champion and the wick is turned up for Scelzi, driving the HEMI-powered Oakley Dodge Stratus, to collect his first Funny Car crown on top of three Top Fuel championships.

"The weather is a big problem right now with Ivan heading to the U.S. and probably the Northeast. The temperature is calling for a high-70, 80-degree range, which is optimum. But the asphalt at Maple Grove is nowhere near where it used to be, so it needs to be a cool racing surface," said Scelzi, who had predicted that his 330.55 mph top-speed record, set under the 90 percent nitromethane rule, might again be reached under 85 percent in cooler conditions this fall. "Otherwise, I don't think you're going to see great times here, if we're able to get some runs in."

With five races remaining in the 23-event schedule, the Fresno, Calif., native admits he has a tough road ahead if he's going to kick Force off the podium. "All we can do right now is hope that John makes mistakes and we capitalize on them," Scelzi said.

"That's our biggest mission right now. We're not changing anything, just like we haven't changed anything all year. After Houston (the fifth race of the season) crew chief Mike Neff and the HEMI Oakley team have kept our game plan the same. We've been able to adapt to the changes (a lower nitromethane percentage and new mandated tires) and the track conditions. Hopefully with some luck on our side - or someone else taking John out early - we can go to victory lane and capitalize on mistakes.

"We weren't able to do that at Indy," he said of losing in the semis at the U.S. Nationals, thereby gaining only one round on Force, "but we're hoping that we'll have more opportunities, especially in this three-race swing. The whole points chase could change after the three-race swing." Following Reading, the NHRA circus heads to Dallas and Chicago on consecutive weekends.

Despite the rivalry between Force and Scelzi, the pair are actually good friends off the track. "We may have a rivalry on the race track but don't be surprised if you see us together at dinner on Friday or Saturday night," said Scelzi. "It's not the type of rivalry that Tony Schumacher and I had when we raced in Top Fuel. This is not a hate-hate rivalry, it's more of a fun, see-who-can-get-whom kind of competition on the race track."

For the record, Scelzi and his now teammate Tony Schumacher are excellent friends since Scelzi joined Don Schumacher Racing in 2003 and are not competing in the same class.

SCHEDULE:
Pro qualifying for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals will be held at 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 17 and will continue at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sept. 18. Final professional eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sept. 19.

TELEVISION:
ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying at 4 p.m. (ET) on Sept 18. ESPN2 will televise NHRA 2Day, a 30-minute magazine show, at 11:30 a.m. (ET) on Sept. 19. ESPN2 will televise three hours of final eliminations coverage at 4 p.m. (ET) on Sept. 19.

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Don Schumacher , Mike Neff