SCELZI WINS SONOMA, MOVES TO SECOND IN POINTS AND CLOSER TO THE LEAD SONOMA, Calif. (July 31, 2005) - Fresno, Calif., native Gary Scelzi grabbed his third win of the 2005 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car season today, the 32nd of his...
SCELZI WINS SONOMA, MOVES TO SECOND IN POINTS AND CLOSER TO THE LEAD
SONOMA, Calif. (July 31, 2005) - Fresno, Calif., native Gary Scelzi grabbed his third win of the 2005 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car season today, the 32nd of his career (25 Top Fuel wins, seven Funny Car), and his second at the Fram-Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway. His 2003 victory here was his first in that class since entering the Funny Car ranks in 2002 following three Top Fuel championships.
The top two in Funny Car points, Robert Hight and John Force, were ousted in the first round, which allowed Scelzi, in third coming into this race, to capitalize on their stumbles and take over second from Force in the standings and is just 16 points behind leader Hight and 70 ahead of Force in third.
With his reaction times nothing to brag about today, Scelzi easily steered his Mopar/Oakley Dodge Stratus Funny Car past Frank Pedregon in the opening stanza, posting the quickest round of the day at 4.785-seconds at 325.30 mph., despite his .132 reaction time (.000 is perfect).
The second round saw another easy defeat, with Tim Wilkerson on the losing end of Scelzi's 4.921/319.14 (.087 R/T).
In the semifinal round against Tony Bartone, Scelzi's .134 reaction time was actually quicker than Bartone's .137 and Scelzi crossed the finish line with a winning 4.877/319.67 pass.
The final round was an all-Don Schumacher Racing affair, as Scelzi faced his teammate Ron Capps for only the second time this season in a round, and marked only the second time in NHRA history that two DSR Funny Car teammates have met in the final round. The first and previous all-DSR final round was in Atlanta in 2004, when Gary Scelzi beat Whit Bazemore.
The pair took off with nearly identical reaction times: .069 for Scelzi, .073 for Capps. It was not a flawless run for Scelzi, but he was able to defeat Capps with a 4.984/295.21 as the Mopar/Oakley Dodge exploded at the finish line. Capps hazed the tires at the finish, losing with a 5.079/293.60.
"When the points guys ahead of you go out first round, the pressure is on you and you have to deliver," Scelzi said. "My lights were horrible today and (team owner Don) Schumacher promised he wouldn't fire me, and I came through in the final."
"We ran as good as anybody (in qualifying fifth) and then first round my crew chief Mike Neff lowered the boom on them and ran a 4.78. Where that came from I have no idea. He said last night, 'I think I know where I'm missing this thing,' and the race track was pretty good first round and it ran really well."
"But we pulled it back after that because we knew it was going to get hot and slippery. The car responds to the moves [Neff] makes, even as subtle as they are, and it did everything he wanted it to do today except for the final. It knocked the blower off the thing."
"Actually, in the semis, when the front end went crazy, we had too much front brake in the car. We changed master cylinders and the thing started vibrating. I had to let my hand off the wheel and grab both hands on the brake to try to lock the brakes up and not hit the wall."
"My lights absolutely sucked today. I had to roll it in second round against Burkart because Burkart's had my number for the last couple of years. He always seems to run his best number and have his best light (against me). I rolled it in and got a little better light and then went thin again for the semis for lane choice for the final."
"And then in the final we had to race Capps. Capps and (Whit) Bazemore - my two teammates - are probably the two deadliest on the starting line. All bets were off in the final. Capps and I both stuck our noses in there deep and I got a good light, but it knocked the blower off, for whatever reason, I have no idea. But to see that win light was very comforting today."
Scelzi carved his way even closer to winning his first Funny Car championship today, but he knows there are still eight races left, and he's not one to ever count out the John Force contingent. "They've stumbled more than I've ever thought they'd stumble," said Scelzi of Force's now four straight first-round losses.
"We should have been 100 points ahead of everybody if we'd been able to capitalize on his early-round losses," said Scelzi, who's had his own string of two first-round exits in the last four races. "Robert (Hight) has been deadly, and Force isn't going to stumble like this. If you think that those guys aren't deadly and can't win this championship you're wrong, and we know that."
"I'm just not going to think about [the championship]. Force and I are buddies. I'm not going to worry about it. I put too much effort in this thing too early. I know how to win championships, I know how to shut my mouth and I know how to pay attention to what I've got to do, and that's what I'm doing from here on out, and whatever happens happens. If they get ahead of us they get ahead of us, If they don't, then they don't. They decide the champion at the end of the year in Pomona, not right now. But a win is a big thing right now."
Added crew chief Neff: "We needed to make up some ground with the Force guys going out early. We've had a lot of opportunities, but we've never been able to capitalize on it. There's been a lot of pressure on us here lately, so it's going to feel good to redeem ourselves a little bit after what happened last weekend (first-round loss to Bazemore)."
"The Mopar/Oakley Dodge hasn't been running like it should. I had to step it up first round, it made a good run, and then from there we decided to survive the track, so I feel better about that."
Next up is the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minn., Aug. 12-14, 2005.