FOUR-TIME NHRA CHAMPION SCELZI WILL TAKE 'SABBATICAL' FROM NHRA COMPETITION FRESNO, Calif. (April 17, 2007) - Four-time NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series champion Gary Scelzi, one of the most popular drag racers in history, will stop racing at...
FOUR-TIME NHRA CHAMPION SCELZI WILL TAKE 'SABBATICAL' FROM NHRA COMPETITION
FRESNO, Calif. (April 17, 2007) - Four-time NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series champion Gary Scelzi, one of the most popular drag racers in history, will stop racing at the conclusion of the 2007 season. The 46-year-old father of two young boys, Dominic and Giovanni, is leaving the door slightly open for a possible return, although he says his main priority in the coming years will be to his family and rapidly expanding truck body manufacturing business.
"My family has sacrificed a lot to allow me to chase my dream," said Scelzi, the driver of the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger R/T for Don Schumacher Racing since 2003. "Because of their support, I've accomplished everything I've set out to do in drag racing and so much more. Now it's time for me to watch my kids grow up and to be there for them every day. It's time to help my brothers full-time with the business. It's time to hold my wife Julie's hand and tell her I love her every night.
"Maybe I'll come back out one day and maybe I won't. I don't want to say one way or the other because who knows what the future will hold? I still love the sport and the competition very much but this is a decision I've put a lot of time and thought into and I'm completely at peace with it. I'm actually looking forward to this next stage of my life."
A 40-time national event winner and one of only two racers in history to have captured championships in Top Fuel and Funny Car (along with Kenny Bernstein), Scelzi burst onto the professional scene in 1997 by winning his first two starts in Pomona, Calif., and Phoenix. A contender from the onset, Scelzi won five events in 10 final-round showings his first year out, becoming the first professional driver ever to win the championship in his rookie year. He was the overwhelming pick for Rookie of the Year.
Recognized as the only driver with national event wins in the sport's four quickest categories -- Top Fuel, Funny Car, Top Alcohol Dragster, and Top Alcohol Funny Car -- Scelzi's resume includes three wins in the Budweiser Shootout, a stunning 350-178 race-day record, 55 final-round appearances, and 43 No. 1 qualifying efforts.
But as impressive as his on-track accomplishments are, Scelzi is perhaps more beloved for his easy-going style and self-deprecating humor, which has endeared him to fans across the country. His "Scelzi Sez" segments on ESPN2 are overwhelming favorites among the network viewers and his willingness to do anything from wearing silly costumes to playing practical jokes on his racing peers is legendary.
"I always try to have fun because I'm having fun," Scelzi said. "I never looked past the fact we're doing something very special that very few people ever get to do. We're in the entertainment business to a large extent and I have always loved making people laugh so all the goofy stuff comes naturally to me.
"When the helmet's on, I'm a step-on-their-throat kind of guy, but the rest of the time I'm out to have fun. Life is too short.
"It's important for people to know I made this decision well before Eric Medlen's accident. This is about my desire to spend more time with my family, period. Any other speculation would only be hurtful to the Medlen family and that would be wholly and completely unfair to them.
"I'm very grateful for what Don Schumacher has done for me, hiring me when I didn't have a ride and letting me have the opportunity to be a world champion. I'm continuing my relationship with Mopar and Oakley through my USAC Midget program, so it's not like I'm leaving. I'm not getting out of racing.
"Of all the accolades and accomplishments that I've had, none of it would have been possible if Alan Johnson hadn't made that phone call at the end of 1996 and T. Wayne Robertson with Winston Brand and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company taking a chance on a no-name guy to go drive their Top Fuel car, the highest profile car probably ever. Especially after Blaine Johnson's accident, that was the car. Nobody knew who I was but they found out in a big way in a hurry. So, Alan Johnson and Winston made it possible for someone like Don Schumacher, Mopar and Oakley to recognize me. I can't even express my gratitude to those people for letting me make my dream come true.
"And I'm extremely grateful to Jim Jannard of Oakley, Kevin Miller of Mopar and Chris Cortez (Senior Vice President - Global Service & Parts, Chrysler Group) and all the great sponsors who have supported me throughout my career."
Scelzi is insistent on not letting his handlers conduct a "Farewell" or "Retirement Tour" because, as he says, "I'm not retiring." Even so, fans of the Fresno, Calif., native should make sure to say thanks to the mustachioed mischief-maker this year just in case.
"Dominic is moving up to the Restricted 600 dirt cars and Giovanni starts go karts this summer so maybe I'll have so much fun chasing them around that I'm done for good," he said. "All I know is I don't want to get older and look back with regrets that I didn't spend enough time with my family. All the trophies don't mean that much when you stack them up next to your kids and your wife.
"I'll tell you what I want the rest of this year to be like: I want to have a kick-ass race car, I want to have as much fun with my teammates as humanly possible, I want us to run for the championship, and I want to say 'thank you' to as many fans as I can because I've had a helluva ride and it's all because of them."