Four-time NHRA champion and Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car driver Gary Scelzi exited in the quarterfinals recently at the Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals, but the Fresno, CA, native emerged from the hot, humid and rainy weekend encouraged by the improving performance of his HEMI-powered dragster.
The Don Schumacher Racing driver, coming off his best performance of the year (a semifinals appearance at Topeka), posted his best qualifying effort of ’08, lining up in the No. 6 spot at Route 66 Raceway. His solid quarterfinals Joliet outing brought him to the cusp of the top ten in the NHRA POWERade Funny Car points standings.
Scelzi faced his friend and former crew chief, Mike Neff, in the opening stanza. He beat his former tuner with a pass of 4.897/312.21 to Neff’s 4.966/307.44 and set up a second-round match with another JFR driver, Ashley Force, in the quarterfinals. Scelzi had the advantage off the line over Force, recording a .083 reaction time to Force’s .113, but near half-track he went into tire shake on his HEMI-powered Charger, ending his chances for a repeat win in front of team owner Don Schumacher’s home crowd.
Although his day ended sooner than he would have liked, the “Wild Thing” was unbowed and highly enthused about the performance of his Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger R/T.
“We did great in qualifying this weekend and we figured out how to get this car to go on Friday night runs,” remarked Scelzi. “It’s running very well. I know we can run in the heat. I’m a little stunned at what happened today. I’m a little shocked. But I think we’re going to be fine, and it’s not too late in the season. That’s a good thing.”
Scelzi added, “We thought we were okay after first round, but with that long delay, I don’t know if the track was a little bit weaker or what. It was way out there when it knocked the tires off. It’s unfortunate, but, by our calculations, it looks like we’re about eight points out of the top ten. The car looks like it’s turned the corner.”
Mopar-powered ProCare RX Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car driver Melanie Troxel made history on Saturday when she became the first woman to capture the No. 1 spot in Funny Car qualifying, but saw her dreams dashed of claiming a second 2008 Funny Car victory to go along with her No. 1 qualifier award. Troxel bowed out in a first-round loss to Gary Densham. Her teammate and the No. 2 qualifier, Mark Oswald, went one more round than Troxel, losing in the second round to Tony Pedregon.
The remaining HEMI-powered Don Schumacher Racing trio of Jack Beckman, Ron Capps and Jerry Toliver also exited in the opening stanza. Beckman and his Valvoline MTS Dodge Charger R/T team lost to the HEMI-powered Oswald in a first-round battle. Capps qualified fourth in his NAPA Auto Parts Charger but couldn’t get past Scott Kalitta in a round one fight. Toliver, pilot of the Rockstar Energy Drink Dodge Charger R/T, went down in defeat in an opening-match clash with Tony Pedregon.
Capps is now eighth in the NHRA Funny Car points standings, with Scelzi moving up to the 11th spot. Next up is the Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ, June 1922.