Topeka: Fuel preview

TOPEKA, Kan. - Don't expect Gary Scelzi to spend a lot of time reflecting on his last visit to Heartland Park Topeka. Oh yes, it was very memorable. Almost too memorable for the 40-year-old driver from Fresno, Calif. But not for the...

TOPEKA, Kan. - Don't expect Gary Scelzi to spend a lot of time reflecting on his last visit to Heartland Park Topeka. Oh yes, it was very memorable. Almost too memorable for the 40-year-old driver from Fresno, Calif. But not for the reasons Scelzi gets pumped about.

Somehow Scelzi and his Team Winston crew managed to salvage a semifinal finish in a weekend that could have been overwhelming for lesser teams. Miraculously, the team recovered from two spectacular crashes. Scelzi could spend all day marveling over his team's response to the sudden adversity. Their never say die attitude in the heat of battle. Unfortunately, there's no time for that. Scelzi is locked into one of the most intense battles for the Winston championship in the history of NHRA Winston Drag Racing. He leads archrival Tony Schumacher by only eight points entering the 12th annual NHRA Advance Auto Parts Nationals, Sept. 28-Oct.1, at Heartland Park Topeka. Scelzi, who could break the NHRA single season record for wins in Top Fuel with a victory at the $1.9 million race, comes into the 19th of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series riding some momentum. A mid-season slump ate away at the comfortable lead six-time winner Scelzi had established following the event in Sears Point, Calif. However, the two-time Winston champ managed to post a runner-up finish at Reading, Pa., that combined with Schumacher's abrupt exit from eliminations at Maple Grove Raceway, propelled Scelzi back into the lead. Although the lead is a fragile one, it's still a lead. And that's just fine with Scelzi. "It finally looks like 'Big Red' is back," said Scelzi, referring to his Alan Johnson owned and tuned Team Winston dragster. "It's not tearing a lot of stuff up and hopefully the three-race mojo that we had going on is behind us," he added. "Those three-straight first round losses really hurt us because we were over 100 points in front. Right now there's no room for error." It's times like these when experiences like Scelzi's team encountered last year at Heartland Park work in their favor. They're confident in knowing they've been battle-tested. They're ready for the challenge. "All the bad breaks and adversity we've had, plus the pressure of trying to win our Winston championship back has made this a better team," Scelzi said. "We're determined, we're nasty and we're focused on the Winston championship."

CAPPS READY FOR A WIN: The streak continues.
Unfortunately, it's not a streak that Ron Capps is proud of. The last time the gritty Funny Car driver from Carlsbad, Calif. won an NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series event was at Heartland Park Topeka in Oct. '98. For Capps, driver of Don Prudhomme's U.S. Tobacco Chevy Camaro, that's entirely too long between champagne toasts. The good news is that Capps and his teammates are getting closer to winning again with each passing event. In fact, they've advanced to five final rounds this season with spectacular performances. They just haven't found the right combination to sneak the car into the winner's circle. His most recent runner-up finish -- at the recent event in Reading, Pa. - gives him hope that the drought may be coming to an end soon. "When we do win again, it's going to be very sweet because everyone on the team has really earned it," Capps said. "I've got a feeling that it's going to happen real soon. When it does, it'll really be worth the wait." Despite not winning races, with each final round Capps logs he continues to climb in the Winston points order. He now sits third, 79 points behind second place driver Jerry Toliver and 305 behind leader John Force. "John Force is untouchable," Capps said. "We've set our sights on second place and we're pretty close considering how far Jerry Toliver was ahead earlier in the season."

HERBERT SEEKS IMPROVEMENT: What a difference a year can make.
Just ask Doug Herbert. Last season at Heartland Park, Herbert was celebrating his best season ever in NHRA Top Fuel competition with a victory. This year, as the Cherryville, N.C. driver returns to defend his title, he's looking to regain some of that magic. A semifinal appearance at Maple Grove Raceway has lifted his spirits somewhat as he clings to ninth place in the Winston points order. He desperately needs a win in his Snap-on Tools dragster to counter-balance the 10 first round losses that mire his 2000 performance chart. "This has been frustrating," said Herbert, who won four of six finals and finished seventh in the Winston Top 10 in '99. "On the plus side, the engine looks good and is making good power. We're still looking for consistency."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Don Prudhomme , Jerry Toliver