St Louis Sears Craftsman Nationals Story

SCELZI, FORCE, YATES, SEELING AND PANELLA WIN SEARS CRAFTSMAN NATIONALS MADISON, Ill. -- Gary Scelzi solidified his position as a contender for a third consecutive NHRA Winston championship with his third victory of the season late Saturday at...

SCELZI, FORCE, YATES, SEELING AND PANELLA WIN SEARS CRAFTSMAN NATIONALS

MADISON, Ill. -- Gary Scelzi solidified his position as a contender for a third consecutive NHRA Winston championship with his third victory of the season late Saturday at the third annual Sears Craftsman Nationals. John Force, Jim Yates, Angelle Seeling and Bob Panella were also pro category winners under the lights at Gateway International Raceway. The start of the $1.6 million race, the 11th of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series, was delayed for three hours by rain. Scelzi, from Fresno, Calif., claimed his second straight win at the St. Louis quarter-mile and in the process denied Tony Schumacher a first career victory. Scelzi, who moved into fourth place in the Winston point standings with the win, covered the quarter-mile in 4.602 seconds at 312.13 mph in his Team Winston dragster, while Schumacher's Exide Batteries dragster lost traction and ran 8.029 at 105.94. "We really needed this victory," said Scelzi, also a winner at Dallas and Atlanta this season. "Alan (Johnson, crew chief) had the car tuned-in to this track for the weather conditions we had. This track has been good to us and we did what we had to do." It was at this event last year that Scelzi began a season-ending winning streak that propelled him to a second Winston championship. During the course of the run, Scelzi won six of 12 races. "Don't think that I don't realize this is the race where we really started to come on strong last year," Scelzi said. "We feel like we're picking up momentum now and that the best is yet to come. We feel like we're in a really good position with 11 races remaining on the schedule." Mike Dunn remained in the Winston points lead despite a second-straight first round loss. Dunn leads Doug Herbert by 59. Kenny Bernstein, who lost in the semi-finals, is third, 67 points behind Dunn. Force, from Yorba Linda, Calif., claimed his seventh Funny Car victory of the season, defeating teammate Tony Pedregon in an all-Ford Mustang final. Force powered to his 77th career victory with a 4.947 at 297.88 in his Castrol GTX Mustang, while Pedregon's Syntec Castrol Ford encountered problems at the start and limped to the finish at 12.985 at 73.58. Force defeated arch-rival Al Hofmann, Whit Bazemore and Jim Epler to advance to the final, while Pedregon was even more impressive in his early round wins, producing low 4.90s to oust Dean Skuza and low qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. in the quarter-finals and semis. In the final, however, Pedregon's car churned smoke from its tires at the start, while Force cruised to victory. "Tony was going straight down the lane every round and we were having trouble," Force said. "I don't know what happened (to him) in the final. We had to change motors, blowers and bodies but we just trucked down the bad lane like we knew what we were doing. I don't know what happened to Tony. I kept looking for him because I really expected him to run another low 4.90. Hopefully, Austin, Bernie and Medlen learned some things that we can apply to Bristol when we race the dragsters at night." With the $40,000 win, Force increased his Winston points lead to 246 over Pedregon. Alexandria, Va.'s Jim Yates earned his first Pro Stock victory of the season, ending a winless drought dating back to February 1998. Yates used a holeshot start and ran 7.018 at 195.85 to defeat Allen Johnson, who posted a quicker but losing 7.010 at 196.33. "We felt lucky that we even qualified," said Yates, who defeated Steve Schmidt, Mike Thomas, and Greg Anderson to advance to the final. "We finally found a combination that wasn't the fastest combination, but it was consistent and it worked for us. This team just sticks together and that's what we need to stay competitive." Winston points leader Warren Johnson suffered an uncharacteristic first round loss but holds on to a 179 point lead over son Kurt. Panella, from Stockton, Calif., defeated Mark Osborne for his second Pro Stock Truck victory of the season. Panella covered the distance in 7.623 at 176.28 in his Chevrolet S-10 while Osborne's S-10 broke on the starting line. "I'm happy that all the hard work back at the shop has finally been paying off," Panella said. "We haven't plateaued, we're still going to try and get better. I didn't see Mark as we were going down the track, but I didn't want to celebrate and do something stupid and forget to finish the run. I was happy, very happy to get the win. Tired, but happy." Angelle Seeling, from New Orleans, won for the fourth time this season in Pro Stock Motorcycle, defeating Matt Hines in a close final between Suzukis. Seeling posted a 7.317 at 182.45 to edge Hines at the finish, who ran 7.322 at 181.89. The three-day, estimated attendance was 83,500. The next NHRA event is the inaugural Winston Showdown, NHRA's all-star race, July 8-10, at Bristol Dragway, Bristol, Tenn.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Mike Thomas , Matt Hines , Bob Panella , Mike Dunn , Warren Johnson , Jim Epler , Tony Pedregon , Al Hofmann , Dean Skuza , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Greg Anderson , Allen Johnson , Steve Schmidt