TEAM WINSTON LOOKING TO GET BACK ON TRACK AT PENNZOIL NATIONALS DINWIDDIE, Va. -- Gary Scelzi wishes he could turn back time. It seemed like only yesterday he and his Team Winston crew were celebrating their second straight NHRA Winston Top...
TEAM WINSTON LOOKING TO GET BACK ON TRACK AT PENNZOIL NATIONALS
DINWIDDIE, Va. -- Gary Scelzi wishes he could turn back time.
It seemed like only yesterday he and his Team Winston crew were celebrating their second straight NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship. Those were good days, much happier times.
This season Scelzi and company are working endlessly to turn around their fortunes after a less than favorable start which has included three first round losses and one much-dreaded DNQ.
After leading the Top Fuel charge for the last two seasons, Team Winston has dropped to 14th in the point standings after four races. While the gap separating them from first place isn't insurmountable at this point in the season, it is still quite a hill to climb.
Scelzi, from Fresno, Calif., will begin the long journey toward the top at the fifth annual Pennzoil Nationals presented by Trak Auto, April 29-May 2 at Virginia Motorsports Park. The $1.6 million race is the sixth of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
"All the Top Fuel teams have stepped up to where we were at the end of last year," Scelzi said. "We need to excel. We made very subtle changes over the winter. It's taken us three or four races to get where we need to be and we're still not there. The other guys aren't stumbling and they're staying consistent. This is going to be a tough year for Team Winston. It's definitely not over, but we need to turn this thing around right away. We're not discouraged yet, but things need to happen soon."
While Team Winston has been trying to figure out the combination for the new five-disc clutch, competitors like Mike Dunn, Larry Dixon and Tony Schumacher, have been posting national record elapsed times and speeds. Scelzi says he and crew chief Alan Johnson are getting closer to the right setup. He says when they do, they'll be tough to beat.
"We're still working with our five-disc clutch combination to get it right with our engine combination," Scelzi said. "We're not turning back. I've got all the confidence in the world in Alan Johnson and we're going to sink or swim together. We just need to win some races."
So far, Dunn has won two times and Joe Amato and Doug Herbert have a win apiece. Scelzi says the competition is as close as it has ever been.
"Right now there's a legitimate 10 contenders for the Winston championship," Scelzi said. "It will narrow down as we go on through the season only because of consistency. I just hope we are a part of that and can be in a position to battle for the championship at the end of the season."
He says getting by the first round has been a chore because for some teams a win over the defending champion can be cause for celebration.
"When you're the defending Winston champion it's tough because everyone is gunning for you," Sclezi said. "A lot of times you might be at a disadvantage racing someone who doesn't have a consistent performance advantage. They might only be able to make one great run, but that's all they need when they race against the defending champion. If a team beats us, that can make their season. It's true for all the big names, like Kenny Bernstein, Joe Amato and Cory McClenathan. If a low-budget team beats one of those teams, that team celebrates like they just won the event."
If Scelzi can pull through this slump and go on to win a third championship, he'll join some elite company. There are very few drivers in NHRA competition who have maintained a championship hold over the competition
"Repeating a Winston championship is very tough," Scelzi said. "The only driver that's made it look easy is John Force. That just goes to show you how hard it really is and what John has accomplished is so phenomenal. Joe Amato is the only driver that's been able to win three Top Fuel titles in a row. The competition level now is stronger than ever. Every year it goes to a new level."