Reigning Funny Car Champ Scelzi Fit and Ready for 2006 NHRA Season
Fit, fast, fierce and focused, Fresnan Gary Scelzi, the 2005 Funny Car champion, is ready to hit the quarter-mile running at the 2006 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series season-opening CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals at Pomona ( Calif.) Raceway next week.
Following two successful tests at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Firebird International Raceway in Chandler, Ariz., Scelzi and crew chief Mike Neff are aiming to repeat their 2005 championship-winning season. They know it won’t be easy, as 13-time Funny Car champion John Force, whose team lost the crown for the first time since 1992, is vowing to get it back.
Force was quickest and fastest in both test sessions, but Scelzi was close behind, a possible precursor to the battle that is expected again this season between the two powerhouse teams of Don Schumacher Racing and John Force Racing.
“I was extremely pleased with how quick and fast we ran in testing,” said Scelzi, “with very little problems, very little effort. We basically used Firebird for a complete test of all the crazy stuff that we wanted to try. We had very little success, but we can’t really say that because the track was so difficult.”
“We had the new Goodyear tires to contend with and everybody seemed to have trouble at 300 feet, so I don’t know if it was actually the tires. I don’t think it was the racetrack; it’s just that the combination needs to be refined to work with these tires under certain conditions. But, we ended up running a 4.70 (-second elapsed time) at 330 mph when we decided we wanted to go down the track with our normal combination.”
“We haven’t lost any performance over the winter, that’s for sure, and we learned a few things.”
Last year at the Winternationals, Scelzi qualified sixth, then lost to Phil Burkart in the first round on a holeshot advantage. While he doesn’t want to see that happening again, he knows there’s a long season ahead. “Obviously, we ran very well last year at the Winternationals, but got beat on a holeshot,” he said. “That didn’t have much outcome on the championship, so we don’t put a whole lot of stock in the Winternationals. We would like to do well there, qualify well and start out better than we did last year to kind of set the tone. But, even if we don’t, it doesn’t look like it’s a problem. But you need to qualify and you need to go-rounds because I think this year is going to be harder than last year and I think there are going to be more players in the mix and it’s going to be all the way to the end.”
“If last year is any sign, I think we’re in for even more competition this year,” said Scelzi of the 2005 battle, first among five-plus drivers near the end of the season to three at the final event to determine the title. Scelzi won by eight points over his teammate Ron Capps. Force finished third.
As for Force’s determination to take back the crown: “I think it’s obvious that those guys haven’t been in hibernation over the winter,” Scelzi remarked. “They’ve been working really hard. Force was the quickest car at both events and you don’t get to be a 13-time champion by accident. And all three of his cars will be major players. That’s what we’re planning on and I don’t see any change there. Force was a player last year and went out 10 times in the first round. He’s upset, he’s angry and you don’t want to stick a sharp stick in a tiger’s cage and I think that’s what we’ve done. If we can pull it off again and be back-to-back champions, I think that’s going to be speak volumes.”
Does he feel like a champion? “I do. I really do,” he said. “Over the winter I had a lot of time to reflect and change my eating habits and get into a workout program and feel better about myself. When I got to Vegas for testing I wasn’t really ready to start, but the minute we warmed that car up for the first time I was so excited. It reminded me of 1997 when I started in Top Fuel. All the enthusiasm, all the energy and all the focus is on winning another championship and I’m ready to get started.”