Scelzi Hopes to Continue Streak at FRAM Autolite Nationals SONOMA, Calif. - For most individuals, the dream ends seconds before you impact the ground. Gary Scelzi is still trying to open his eyes. It's been that kind of a season for the ...
Scelzi Hopes to Continue Streak at FRAM Autolite Nationals
SONOMA, Calif. - For most individuals, the dream ends seconds before you impact the ground.
Gary Scelzi is still trying to open his eyes.
It's been that kind of a season for the defending NHRA Winston Drag Racing Top Fuel champion - a nightmare. Coming off a record-setting 2000 season that saw the Fresno native collect nine wins and his third series championship, most experts tagged Scelzi as a threat to capture yet another title and ink his name into the record books as only the second Top Fuel driver in history to tally at least four championships.
No one could have predicted what has happened so far, least of all Scelzi and his Team Winston crew entering the FRAM Autolite Nationals at Sears Point Raceway, Aug. 3-5.
Fifteen races into the 2001 NHRA Winston Drag Racing season, Scelzi has just one victory - last weekend at Seattle International Raceway - which is surprising considering Scelzi had been averaging a win for every four starts entering the season.
"Everyone can have a bad day - even Tiger Woods proved that," Scelzi said. "Maybe this is just a bad year. Let's face it, we've been in fantasyland for four years and this is reality. No one here likes it, but no one is quitting either."
Which is good news for Scelzi's legions of fans, and bad news for the rest of the Top Fuel class. Scelzi has faced big points deficits at other times in his professional career, only to put together multiple strings of two or three wins in a row to snatch the championship trophy away from another would-be champion. In 1998, he went the first 11 races without a victory. He would win six of the final 12 races and outscore the leader at the time, Cory McClenathan, by 272 points down the stretch to earn his second Winston championship.
"I know this car is capable of winning," Scelzi said following another of this season's many heartbreakers, this time at St. Louis. "I've said it before and I'll continue to say it, we can win three or four in a row at any time, and it may take that to turn things around. This is an intense group of people and we're not going to be any less intense just because we're behind the eight ball. We're going to do what we've done for five years, and that's try to run this car as hard as we can."
His Team Winston dragster may have to run harder than ever before if it wants to catch the cars of Kenny Bernstein and Larry Dixon. Following Seattle, Scelzi trailed points leader Bernstein by 211 points. For Scelzi to come back, it will take a rally - a reality not lost on the ever-optimistic Scelzi.
"Bernstein looks pretty good right now and his lead might be insurmountable as far as we are concerned," Scelzi said. "He could still struggle somewhere and let a couple of us back in it, but you'd be pressed to find anyone who would bet on that at the moment. Right now, I'd say the beer wagon cars of Bernstein and Dixon are the favorites. Team Winston is going to press on and if we're in the chase by the U.S. Nationals, then everyone better watch out. Maybe we can turn this nightmare around on them."