SONOMA, Calif. (Aug. 3, 2003) - Oakley Time Bomb Dodge Stratus driver Gary Scelzi finally conquered the Infineon Raceway quarter-mile, winning not only his first NHRA pro event at this Northern California dragstrip in either Top Fuel or Funny Car, but the first event of his NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car career.
By defeating Dean Skuza in the final round today in a close match-up, Scelzi also became the only driver to have won in the Alcohol Dragster, Alcohol Funny Car, Top Fuel and Fuel Funny Car classes. He is also the 13th driver driver in NHRA history to win in both Nitro classes. The Fresno, Calif., native has won 25 Top Fuel events in his career, and this win is his first in a pro NHRA class since September 2001.
On top of four solid qualifying runs, Scelzi won every round in final eliminations in under five seconds. In the opening round he disposed of his teammate Scotty Cannon with a 4.899, giving him lane choice over his other teammate Whit Bazemore in the second round. He beat Baze with a 4.975, earning lane choice once again, this time against John Force in the semifinal. Scelzi dismissed the 12-time NHRA champion with a 4.954, which in turn gave him lane choice for the final.
The final round saw a close race to the finish line between Skuza and Scelzi, who have met twice before, each taking a win. Scelzi launched with a quicker reaction time of .063 to Skuza's .084. They were side by side for the entire pass, until the finish line, when Scelzi got the win light by a margin of .0291 seconds, with an elapsed time of 4.958 at 312.21 mph.
Earlier in the weekend, Scelzi established a new track record for speed of 318.92 mph with his Oakley Dodge rocketship.
"It's pretty incredible," he said following an emotional win. "This is the whole reason why I race, is to win. I didn't want to drive just any car. I wanted to drive a car that I felt was capable of winning, with equipment that was capable of winning and I really wanted to be with Don Schumacher Racing.
"I always felt that I could drive anything with four wheels and I felt I could drive it well," he added. "And I felt that in the right conditions, with the right people and the right equipment that I could win. That's how it works. It takes a crew chief, it takes a team, it takes a budget and at Schumacher Racing and Oakley and Matco Tools and all the sponsors, that's what we've got. And today is the result of all the right things put together."
The three-time Top Fuel champion gave full credit to his team and crew chief Mike Neff. "Mike Neff used to work for Joe Gibbs and he gives speeches every day at the end of the day," Scelzi commented. "He let's the guys know they've done well or if they need to pick it up in a certain area. He doesn't beat the guys up, he doesn't beat me up. But they praise me and I praise them. So those guys on that team have made me as strong as I am right now.
"Mike tuned that car to eight great runs this weekend. That's pretty phenomenal: eight fast and quick runs. Every time he told the car to do something it would do it. Every spot on the race track he wanted to slow it down or speed it up it did it. I can't tell you how I feel right now."
Oakley's Mad Scientist Jim Jannard was on hand to watch his driver take his first win for Oakley. "I think Jim is a little numb right now," said Scelzi. "This is as big thing. It's a big thing for me, it's a big thing for Jim, it's a big thing for Oakley. They've been in this position before but they haven't been able to get it done."
If anyone could have been even more emotional, it was team owner Don Schumacher. "That was fantastic," he said with a quiver in his voice. "That team really needed that win. We are really a united team right now. It was great for Gary , Zippy (Neff), Jim Jannard and Oakley, Matco Tools, U.S. Army, everybody. We are one great team out here right now that's working together and that's just super."
Neff was ecstatic in his usual calm, steady and focused way. "That feels great," he said. "We've been long overdue. I'm just so happy for my team and Gary and Oakley and Schumacher. We really had a lot of pressure stacked on us for quite a while now that we haven't been making the results that have been expected of us. I'm glad we finally gathered it up this weekend and we were able to pound out eight respectable runs and earn a victory and not have anybody giving us anything."
Scelzi jumped to eight place in the point standings, with 718, just 62 behind Tommy Johnson Jr.