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NHRA: Scelzi Hopes to End Sophomore Slump at Texas Motorplex

24 April 1998

ENNIS, Texas -- One year ago, Gary Scelzi visited the Texas Motorplex for the first time as a Top Fuel driver with the NHRA Winston points lead. He was riding high from three victories, a runner-up finish and two semi-final round appearances. He was the hottest Top Fuel rookie the drag racing world had ever seen.

This season Scelzi will visit the state-of-the-art quarter-mile facility for the second annual Castrol Lone Star Nationals presented by HiLo/O'Reilly Auto Parts, April 30-May 3, with a whole different set of circumstances surrounding his drag racing life. The Fresno, Calif. driver is still looking for his first win of the season in the Team Winston dragster. He'll hope to get it at the $1.7 million race, the seventh of 22 events in the $30 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

For as spectacular as his debut season in Top Fuel was, his second season has been equally as frustrating. After opening with a first round loss at the Chief Auto Parts Winternationals, Scelzi made his best effort of the season to date at the ATSCO Nationals, before losing in the semis to current points leader Cory McClenathan. A trio of second round losses followed at Gainesville, Fla., Houston and Atlanta.

"I always knew these early losses could happen," Scelzi said. "It's definitely been a reality check. We don't like it, and fortunately we have 15 races left to do something about it."

While some would say Scelzi is in a sophomore slump, the performance of his Team Winston dragster would suggest otherwise. Owner and crew chief Alan Johnson has had the car running well, as Scelzi has qualified well in the top half of the field all season long, including a career-best 4.567 second effort that produced a No. 1 position at Gainesville, Fla.

Scelzi says the team's slump is a product of two major factors -- vastly improved competition in the category and the car's tendency to smoke the tires about a quarter of the way down the track. He feels if the team can get the second of the problems corrected, it will greatly improve their chances of solving the first problem.

"Normally when the car smokes the tires it happens on the starting line," Scelzi said. "This problem has sort of surprised us because the car is smoking the tires after about 300 feet. The guys have been working hard to correct it and just when we think we've got it, it happens again. We just keep missing. But we'll get it figured out and get the Team Winston dragster back on track."

Scelzi, the first NHRA Top Fuel driver to win the Winston championship and Rookie of the Year honors in the same season, admits that there's a little more pressure when everyone is gunning at the defending champion.

"As much as I thought about winning the championship last year, I never really thought about what it would be like defending it," said Scelzi, who lost to Joe Amato in the semi-finals at the Castrol Lone Star Nationals at the Motorplex last season. "It's tough because we're a proven commodity and one of the teams that are consistently fast. We realize what that No. 1 on the side of the car means. Last season it was important to win it. This year we want to keep it, but we know the competition is even tougher this season because more teams are running well."


* Schedule: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. May 1. Qualifying continues at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. May 2. Final professional eliminations start at 11 a.m. May 3. Federal- Mogul competition starts at noon April 30.

* Tickets: Tickets are available for the Lone Star Nationals. Call the Texas Motorplex, (972) 878-2641, or Ticketmaster for ticket information.

* On TV: ESPN2 will televise two hours of same-day final round coverage and highlights of the Lone Star Nationals on May 3, starting at 11 p.m. (CDT). There will also be two hours of qualifying highlights and live first round coverage on May 3, starting at 10:30 a.m. (CDT).