NHRA: Scelzi, Skuza, Johnson and Seeling Capture Pioneer Electronics Keystone Nationals Titles
21 September 1998MOHNTON, Pa. -- Gary Seclzi, Dean Skuza, Kurt Johnson and Angelle Seeling posted wins Sunday at the 14th annual Poineer Electronics Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
Scelzi, the defending Winston Top Fuel champion, recorded his third straight victory to move into the point lead for the first time this season. Skuza picked up his first win of 1998 and second of his career while both Johnson and Seeling collected their second victories of the year.
The $1.6-million event was the 17th stop in the 22-race NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
Scelzi, of Fresno, Calif., moved to a 25-point lead over Cory McClenathan in the Top Fuel chase with a victory over Mike Dunn. Scelzi covered the quarter-mile distance in 4.637 seconds at 305.39 mph in the Team Winston Dragster to easily defeat Dunn who had mechanical problems and coasted to a 6.534 at 117.70. The pair were meeting in the finals for the third straight event. Dunn remains winless in '98 while Scelzi has four victories.
"I really thought this one was Mike's," said Scelzi, the No. 1 qualifier with a career-best time of 4.558. "They were real strong.
"The point lead is a big thing but Cory is definitely not done. We've got five races to go. I don't see anything lightening up the rest of the season. This battle will go down to the final race.
"I want to be the Winston champion again. I feel I have the best team out there."
McClenathan had been the point leader since the fourth race of the year in March. He lost the lead when Dunn ousted him in the semifinals.
"I'm disappointed, but not discouraged, about losing the point lead," McClenathan said. "With five races and 20 rounds of competition remaining there's plenty of time to make up the deficit.
"However, I would be depressed if we didn't have a solid race car going into the last five races. What is a little discouraging is that at the last three races our car has run well but we really don't have much to show for it (second round and two semifinal finishes). We've won races when our car wasn't as strong as it is now. You need a little luck sometimes and definitely have to avoid mechanical problems."
Dunn had predicted the Darrell Gwynn-owned dragester would be one of the most competitive cars on the track over the final third of the season.
"We just can't catch a break in the finals," said Dunn. "We broke the rear end and dropped a cylinder this time against Scelzi. We had made five consecutive runs in the 4.6s heading into the finals and that is great racing. I've said all season that come this time of year, our Mopar Dragster was going to be one of the most competitive on the track. We proved that again this weekend."
Skuza, of Brecksville, Ohio, stunned John Force in the Funny Car final. Skuza used a 5.039 at 288.55 in the Matco Tools Dodge to edge Force at 5.112 and 282.57. Despite the loss in the finals, Force extended his point lead over Ron Capps to 89. Capps lost in the first round to Force's teammate, Tony Pedregon.
"It's like hunting down Billy the Kid," said Skuza. "I have mixed emotions because I just beat my childhood hero. I thought God ... I just beat John Force.
"When the car works like it says on paper, it is just awesome. Everything worked like it should on our last run and it had to be a win. What a great car and a great feeling."
Force, the No. 1 qualifier, was a gracious loser. He even came to the press room just to praise the effort of Skuza and the Matco team. Despite having to wait until the 1999 season to debut his new Mustang, Force was also pleased with his own band labeled "The Untouchables".
"We didn't get to debut the new Mustang body here which was disappointing, but we accepted a reversal of the rule and didn't lose focus," Force said. "We managed to built a little advantage and a good young driver got a big win. I'm happy for him and for both of my teams."
Johnson, of Sugar Hill, Ga., took the Pro Stock title, defeating Mike Edwards who was seeking his second straight victory. Johnson had a 6.984 at 196.63 in the AC Delco Pontiac to Edwards' 7.034 at 195.86.
"Mike did a good job, putting a .428 light on the tree," said Johnson. "We were fortunate to have a good enough run to get around him."
The win over Edwards was a bit of revenge for the Johnson family as Edwards had ousted Kurt's father, Warren, in the semifinals. The win propelled Kurt into second place in the Pro Stock standings, 347 behind his father.
Seeling, of New Orleans, was the Pro Stock Motorcycle winner on a solo pass when Matt Hines broke on the starting line. Seeling turned in a strong 7.359 at 180.21 on the Team Winston Suzuki.
"I've been down on myself for so long because we kept losing to Matt," Seeling said. "We've been getting our Winston Suzuki to the final round, but coming up short. It feels great to win."
Hines, who has nine wins in 10 finals rounds, still has a comfortable 274 point advantage over Seeling in the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings.
With their victories, Skuza, Johnson and Seeling gain starting positions in the inaugural NHRA Winston Showdown, July 8-10, 1999 at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway. Scelzi qualified for NHRA's all-star event at a prior event.
The estimated four-day attendance was 115,800.
The next NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series event will be the 10th annual Parts America Nationals, Oct. 1-4 at Heartland Park Topeka in Topeka, Kan.