GARY SCELZI: Well, I want to thank everybody for joining in today. This is actually a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be. Up until about 10 seconds ago. I got everybody together to let everybody know that at the end of this year...
GARY SCELZI: Well, I want to thank everybody for joining in today. This is actually a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be. Up until about 10 seconds ago. I got everybody together to let everybody know that at the end of this year I will be leaving Don Schumacher Racing and am going back to work at Scelzi Enterprises to get back involved in the family business.
It is not a retirement. I know [there were rumors out there] about me talking about quitting drag racing and this and that. But I'm not done racing. I just can't continue to do 23 races, get back involved in the business and do either one of them any good. My brother Mike and I started Scelzi Enterprises, a truck and body manufacturing company, in 1979, which I had been involved in throughout my career and when Alan Johnson called me to drive the Top Fuel dragster at the end of 1996 for the 1997 season, the company was big enough to where I could actually take off to go do these things. Or as the company evolved and my drag racing career evolved we'd hire other people and [do] different things, and over the last 11 years I've lost touch with the business. The company's doing extremely well. It's growing at an immense pace. To give you an idea, we went from 75 employees to 275 employees. We have two manufacturing plants: Scelzi Equipment Company, in Azusa, Calif., and an installation company, Scelzi Enterprises South in Rubidoux, Calif. My son Dominic, who is 9 years old, started racing go-karts and has now moved up to Restricted 600, which race on dirt. My youngest son Giovanni is 5 years old and he's about to start racing go-karts and I'm missing baseball games, races, just a lot of things and it's kind of disheartening to be pulled between both. Fortunately, I have a company to fall back on. My brothers have been extremely good to me. But my oldest brother Mike that we started the company with is 60 years old and he'd like to do a little relaxing and have someone come back in here and help my brother Jim run the business. So, I've made the decision just recently. I made the decision with Kevin Miller from Mopar and Don Schumacher back in Indy of last year when they renewed the contracts for three years that I would let them know verbally in March what my plans would be for the following year.
I have to make the decision now. Don Schumacher has been extremely good to me. Everybody knows the situation in Funny Car, when I switched to Funny Car the problems I had with Alan, and all that stuff, and Don stepped up and hired me and pulled me from the rubble, if you will. And I think it's been good for both of us. Do I want to leave? Not really. And that's why I'm saying that I'm not quitting drag racing because it may be a year, it may be two, it may be never, I can't say for sure. If Don has a car for Pomona at the Winternationals and needs a driver for a couple of races, hopefully I'd be his guy. Or if he needed [someone for] testing, and Don and I talked about that.
It's an extremely difficult situation because my relationship with (crew chief) Mike Neff, my relationship with Jim Jannard from Oakley, my relationship with Kevin Miller and Chris Cortez from Mopar are extremely close. I've got the absolute best equipment. Even when we struggle Mike Neff and I are on a very close relationship. So, these types of things are very hard to find in drag racing. I was very fortunate when I started with Alan Johnson. We had the same relationship and that was probably one in a million chance, and to have that same chance with Mike Neff, I've truly been blessed.
DON SCHUMACHER: I think it's very simply a family and a business decision on Gary's part. I support him 100 percent in what he's choosing to do and why he's doing it. We hate to see him leave at the end of this season. If I have an opportunity to bring Gary back for one race, five races or 23 races, I would certainly love to do that. It takes more than just a driver to bring a car out for one or 10 races and Gary and I will work on that as things develop and as we see the necessity to do those kind of things. Gary has been a great asset to my team, has been a great personality, he's one of the few characters in the sport, is a great driver, has proven and shown his ability not only in Top Fuel but in Funny Car, he's a world champion. It's sad that the sport is going to be missing him at times. It's going to be difficult for fans and it's going to be difficult for the sport, but it will go on.
GARY SCELZI: One thing I'd like to say too is: I was at the induction into the Hall of Fame for Don Schumacher in Gainesville, and when Don accepted his award he had mentioned something very similar to what I'm talking about now - and it actually puts a lump in my throat. When Don [said he] had made the decision that he needed to work in the family business and actually take it over and to build it from basically a small operation into the empire that he's built now...it almost felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. We can only hope that I could bring to the table what Don brought to Schumacher Electric to Scelzi Enterprises somewhere down the future. But that was a very similar speech. Don, you didn't even know when you were saying it where it was hitting home with me. I value that. I value the information you have given me throughout the years about business, so that kind of hit home.
Q: My question is for Don. Don, have you considered a replacement for Gary's seat next year? It is a multi-year contract, I understand.
DON SCHUMACHER: It is a multi-year contract. I have talked to a couple of the individuals really on the sidelines, but until Gary really made his announcement I really haven't considered what I'm going to do. We are going to look out there in all of the classes, from the alcohol classes, possibly even down into the Pro Stock classes, communicate with drivers and people that want to consider taking this type of step. Because Gary, besides being a great driver, is a great personality, and we need to find somebody that can try to measure up to that. They certainly won't be able to equal what Gary is. But we need to bring a character into the sport. We need to develop somebody that has the personality or can come close to the personality of Gary Scelzi.
Q: (To DS) Any names you've considered?
DON SCHUMACHER: I really wouldn't want to put a name out there at this point, because there really isn't anybody that's at the top of the list or at the bottom of the list. I really open it up to the whole sport, both NHRA and IHRA, to develop and look for a person that can possibly fill this need.
Q: (To DS) Will Gary have input on the new driver?
DON SCHUMACHER: I certainly look for Gary to have input on it. When Gary told me what his plans were I said, Gary I need you to bring some names to me. And he's mentioned a couple of people to me and I've spoken to a couple of people. We will work on it together, but I'll also work on that with Kevin Miller, Chris Cortez, Jim Jannard, Mike Neff and some of my other people and confidants that I have in the sport that will assist me in making this decision.
Q: (To GARY SCELZI) In light of recent events with Eric Medlen's passing and that kind of thing, did that play into your decision and make you think maybe it's time to try other things?
GARY SCELZI: No, it did not. The decision that Don and I had made and Kevin Miller back in September of last year was to let them know in March. Actually, at Gainesville, Florida, is when I was going to tell the guys on Sunday afternoon. Well, Sunday afternoon we went out first round, Don was busy doing things, Mike Neff was down in the dumps after getting beat first round, so I said, Well, I'll break it to Mike on Monday after testing and then I was either going to fly to Chicago or I was going to meet with Don somewhere. I wanted to do it in person. This was a very difficult decision for me to make and to actually come forward with. Well, then the accident happened with Eric and that was not the time. And so finally in Houston I said, You know, I promised him in March, and now's the time I have to do that. But it did not play at all into my decision of leaving Schumacher Racing right now and get back to work.
Q: How many races do you envision running in the future? You're talking about not being done [driving race cars].
GARY SCELZI: Well, right now, I don't [see] running any. The problem that I have is that I've had the golden spoon, I've had the absolute best and I've refused to go drive something that is not capable of winning or is a car that has marginal equipment on it. So, when I say that, hopefully, when the guys go test at Schumacher Racing in January in Vegas and Phoenix, I can flip over and maybe help with whoever the new driver is or help the transition and be a part of it still. And make a few runs and keep my license current, in the event that something does come up. Don's adding cars all the time. You never know who we've got or what's going on and there may be a deal to where, hey, they want to try some things and they can put together a team to run a few races. But, like Don said, it has to be a good bunch of people, it has to be the right thing and the right situation. And it may not happen. I'm leaving it open. I am not done driving race cars, but I need to get my arms back around this business. And I may be going crazy.
Actually, my wife Julie has been one to keep telling me, 'You'd better think, you'd better think. You're very happy with the people you're with right now and the type of equipment and everything else. Make sure you're making the right decision.' Which she has never been on me about quitting drag racing. This is strictly my decision and I thought she'd be a little happier, but maybe not with me being home so much she's going to be that happy (laughing.). I may be back at the end of November testing and begging for my job back, who knows?
Q: Big announcement. Boy. Didn't see that one coming. How bad are you going to miss it?
GARY SCELZI: You know what? I'm already missing it and I haven't left. It's a very tough decision, but when we just started this teleconference and they said, OK, Gary, you're up. I mean, you know, it puts a lump in your throat. But the good news is I'm not leaving. You know, I can come to the races, I'm friends with everyone out there. I'm very fortunate that I can walk into Del Worsham's trailer when they've got the computer up and nobody panics or throws you out of there. Same way with John Force. He's a very close, personal friend of mine. Alan Johnson, I drove for him. I can go pretty much anywhere in those pits and those people are my friends. And I think out of all the Winston championships and everything that I've done, it's more rewarding to me to be able to, like I say, to walk into those pits, [like] Kalitta's. These people are basically heroes of mine and I can walk into them and actually call them my friends So, If nothing else is accomplished in my career, to make the friends that I've made and to have these people be proud to be my friend, I think that's probably one of the biggest accomplishments.
Q: Did you discuss this with the entire family and what really was the over-riding decision, the one thing that made up your mind?
GARY SCELZI: I don't know that there was one thing, but, yes, when I went Top Fuel racing in 1997 and Alan Johnson called me, I was on the phone to my two brothers, my wife Julianne and my mom and dad here at Scelzi Enterprises. I said, Here's the deal. Alan Johnson just called me to drive the Top Fuel Car. I've never been a world champion. This is my shot. We're going to have to figure out how we're going to do this. At the time we didn't have a sponsor. And we may have to buy some nitro. I need to make my house payments and I'm going to probably need some plane ticket money. We need to do this and I need you guys behind me, and they were all for it. Basically, the decision comes down to my brothers and myself right now. Where the company is at right now, there's some opportunities for the company to grow. With my knowledge there's no training of bringing someone in to try do what we need to do. And it's always better when you're doing business dealings with an owner of the company, whether it's Scelzi Enterprises, whether it be Gary Scelzi, Mike Scelzi or James Scelzi, or Schumacher Electric and you talk to Don Schumacher. You don't want to talk to someone down the food chain. We've had long discussions and we've decided that at this time this is probably what's the best for the company, and the kids are pretty tough. Although they think it's great that their dad drag races, it's pretty hard for me to get phone calls and hear that my 5-year-old hit five home runs in his first time at T-ball and that Dominic wins the main event for his first time and I'm not there. Or he has a bad night and I'm not there. Those are the things that tear your heart apart.
One thing that kind of got me thinking in this direction was about three years ago in Houston, Texas, we were testing on a Monday and my phone rings and it's my son Dominic and he tells me, 'Dad, I can read,' and he started to read a book to me. Those kind of things play in your decision.
Q: Are you still going to be on Don's payroll and are you going to continue to do the ESPN's "Scelzi Sez?"
GARY SCELZI: No, That would be nice if Don kept me on the payroll. I might have to keep Don on my payroll. No, I won't, but we will remain friends and I'm sure we'll be probably in contact an awful lot. I'm sure I will be hanging out at his pits whenever I'm able to attend the races. But, no I won't be. I'll be stuck here at Scelzi Enterprises.
Q: How about the "Scelzi Sez" pieces?
GARY SCELZI: I won't be traveling to the races. I'll probably do a few. My kids are very close friends with the Procks - Jimmy Prock who tunes Robert Hight's car - and they live in Indianapolis. So I made a promise to the kids that we would continue to go to a few races and we would visit. Schumacher's shop is in Brownsburg. These guys are friends of mine. I'm not leaving. I'm still going to be able to be in touch with them. I'll stay up on the gossip, but the 'Scelzi Sez' [segments] I'm sure will end because obviously I won't be at the races. There probably won't be much sense for it anymore.
Q: Are you going to drive any other class?
GARY SCELZI: No. My deal right now...I have a USAC Midget with a Mopar/K&N/Oakley sponsorship and I have a 16-year-old driver, Michael Faccinto, driving, and then I also have a dirt midget that I will probably make some races with and my plan is to drive in the Chili Bowl again in January. Just because everybody I know is going to be there and Cruz Pedregon is doing it, Ron Capps does it occasionally, and it's a lot of un. But I will have a little more experience this time when I go back. And not try to remove the fence (laughing).
Q: In the future you mentioned the USAC team and your son's being interested in stock cars basically. Are you looking for yourself to be a team owner in a professional stock car way?
GARY SCELZI: No. My passion has always been in the open-wheel classes. When I was 16 years old my brother Mike, who I'm partners with in the business, had a sand dragster and that's how I actually started my drag racing career and that's the direction I went. I always drove drag race cars. But I'm very close friends with Danny Lasoski, who runs the World of Outlaws tour. Steve Kinser and all those guys are good friends of mine. I would like to eventually have a USAC Midget and Sprint Car team and a World of Outlaws team. But I have no intentions of owning a drag race team or a NASCAR team. I would like to keep it on the hobby level, although a lot of the NASCAR drivers that are extremely good did come from USAC and Sprint Car racing.
Q: This is for Don: In selecting someone to replace somebody like Gary you mentioned what you were looking for. You seem to do that fairly well. Do you have any criterion when you select a driver like Gary?
DON SCHUMACHER: Like I said earlier, I'm really looking for a personality that can somehow reach up to try to be a character in the sport that Gary is. Nobody is going to equal Gary in either the personality or the driving ability. There is a handful of people in the sport that have the driving ability that Gary has and that he's displayed. And all of those people have secure, long-term jobs and positions. So, I'm going to have to look around long and hard to try to find somebody to take both of those positions over. And, really, in my heart, I hope that Gary between now and November realizes how much he's going to miss it and maybe even rethink his decision. But I know he's made a decision for his family, for his business, for his children, and for his wife, and I'm sure he's going to take that step. You never know. There's always possibilities and changes....I'm going to aggressively start looking here in the next couple of weeks and start even putting some people in the car on Monday in test sessions and such to see what kind of talent some people have and what kind of abilities they have to get along with the other personalities that are with my team.
Q: (To Don) You are surrounded by champions, do you think that champions have common traits and abilities? If so, can you identify a few?
DON SCHUMACHER: The common trait and ability that they have [is] that they're as driven, that they give 150 percent. Beyond that, everyone of them is a very individual character that has a very strong personality and belief and that's what makes champions.
Q: It seems like you've been so invigorated this year compared to last year and that makes it difficult for me to understand this decision.
GARY SCELZI: Well, the way that business has progressed and, I mean, that's a decision that comes. Yeah, I was invigorated last year until the middle of the year when I realized there was no chance for us to win a championship. Obviously, this year the performance of the car has been great at the beginning. Now we've fallen off a little bit. We stayed in Vegas yesterday to test and we're working hard to get right back in the middle of this thing, because I definitely want to go out a champion again. But, I've always had a good time drag racing, but I've always been able to perform at a very high level and when we struggled it was difficult, especially coming off a championship season. And to have to answer the questions, 'What's wrong?', when you don't have the answers. That makes it a little more difficult. If you look in the past until last year toward the end of the year I don't think I was really that burned out until we didn't have a shot. It's hard to get yourself going, but you have to.
Q: When you realized that you didn't have a chance, did you then start thinking about this?
GARY SCELZI: No. This has been on my mind for quite a while. Like I said, three years ago when my son called me and told me he could read on the phone, the way the business has grown. We just haven't been able to find the right people to put in the right positions. We've done an outstanding job. My brother Mike and Jim have done a great job, but there are some key positions we need to fill and right now it looks like I'm the only that can do what we need to have done. And, like I said, I've lost touch with the day-to-day stuff and unfortunately now seems to be as good a time as any, and there are some strategic things that we need to be doing in our company that they want me to be a part of.