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NHRA: Scelzi Feels Confident First Victory of Season is Near

19 June 1998

MADISON, Ill. -- Defending NHRA Winston Top Fuel champion Gary Scelzi and his Team Winston crew aren't having the type of season that they did one year ago. In a dream season, the Fresno, Calif. driver and company marched to five victories and made an impressive 17 semi-final round appearances in 22 events. They soared to the Winston championship and Scelzi earned NHRA Rookie of the Year honors.

Now, turn the page.

After a season fueled by so much success, many would consider this season's effort somewhat of a disaster. Team Winston hasn't posted a single victory and has only advanced to one final round.

But as the team rounds the midseason corner there may be light at the end of the tunnel after all. Despite the rough start to the season, Team Winston has still managed to remain competitive. With one half of the races complete, the defending Winston champion is only 131 points behind leader Cory McClenathan. That could be bad news for the competition.

Just like a veteran slugger in baseball, Scelzi knows he has to keep going to the plate and swinging. Eventually he'll hit a home run. He hopes to go yard for the first time this season at the second annual Sears Craftsman Nationals, June 25-28 at the Gateway International Raceway, near St. Louis. The $1.6 million race is the 11th of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

"It's disappointing not winning races, but we're hanging in there," Scelzi said. "We've gained some ground in the last few races and moved into third in the Winston championship standings. We're within striking distance and that's what counts at this point of the season. The wins are going to come. The main thing is getting our consistency back. We have to continue to make it to the finals. If we can do that, we are going to get our wins. We've been working really hard and everything seems to be coming together. I think we're just right on the edge of breaking through with a win for Team Winston."

* Tight championship battle: While Scelzi is within striking distance of McClenathan, 131 points back, Joe Amato has inched very close to the McDonald's dragster driver's hold on the top spot. Amato earned victories at Dallas and Englishtown, N.J., and had strong semi-final showings at Chicago and Columbus to cut McClenathan's lead to 19 at the midseason break. Factor in a resurgent Kenny Bernstein, winner of the last two races and sitting fourth in the standings, and things could get interesting over the course of the final 12 races.

"We have kind of put ourselves in a bad position now that Amato has a chance to pass us for the points lead," McClenathan said. "It seems like we were counting points a little too early this year. There are a lot of races left and we need to go back, do our homework and try and keep this McDonald's dragster from smoking the tires."

* A little luck: One driver looking to break into the Winston top-10 standings is Pennzoil dragster driver Eddie Hill. Hill has been impressive during qualifying in the last two races, posting a career-best 4.595 second run at Columbus. Hill says all his team needs is a little luck during eliminations.