Gary Scelzi, the NHRA Funny Car national top-speed record holder of 329.18 mph, established at Route 66 Raceway in 2003, is the odds-on favorite to break the 330-mph barrier in 2004. And the fans this weekend at the NHRA Route 66 Nationals better duck for cover, as the man known in his native Fresno as "Wild Thing," plans to unleash the HEMI power in his Oakley Dodge Stratus on Route 66's quarter mile. "We're excited about this race," said Scelzi, who reached the final round in Atlanta last week for the first time this season, then lost to his teammate Whit Bazemore. "We've set two national records here for speed (the first, 328.06 mph, last June, and the second, 329.18, in September) and this is a race track where you can let everything hang out. "The only 'if' factor we have here is that they've re-paved it and the track is going to be green. How green it's going to be I don't know. But it looks like the temperatures are going to be in the low 70s, which is perfect for what this HEMI can do. We don't have to pull anything back. We can let it go, let the reins off of it, if you will." Route 66 Raceway is considered Don Schumacher Racing's home track, as Schumacher Electric Corporation is located in nearby Mt. Prospect, Ill. "Don lives here, Tony (Schumacher, Top Fuel Dragster driver) lives here, and there will be probably 500 people here, including fans and employees of Schumacher Electric and all the family members. It's just going to be a good time, I hope," bragged Scelzi. Last weekend's race at Atlanta Dragway was a turning point for the HEMI Oakley team, which had struggled the last few races until a problem was found and repaired the week before Atlanta. Consistency seemed to have returned, and Scelzi and crew chief Mike Neff were bolstered by the results. "Our car is running well, we're getting better, we're getting more consistent," said Scelzi, fifth in the Funny Car point standings and ready to propel himself further towards the top here at Route 66. "This is a race track where we don't hold back," he said. "We start right from the beginning. We're going to try to run 330 mph, we're going to try to break the world's record for ET (elapsed time). We're going to try to do everything we can because there are 20 points on the table for the ET record, and I guarantee you that Mike Neff is going to do everything in his power to try to get that record." (There are no points available for a top-speed record.) "We're also going to race smart because it is early in the season. But if conditions warrant it, we are definitely going to try to unleash the HEMI," he added. The top eight in Funny Car rankings are within striking distance of the lead heading into Joliet. "As tight as Funny Car is right now in points," said Scelzi, "one hiccup and you can go from fourth to eighth or ninth. And vice versa. We've made a little bit of a climb in the ladder after Atlanta (from eighth to fifth). We're only 11 points out of fourth. First place is only 97 points ahead of us. "And, yes, we are counting. Everybody says they're not counting. I'm telling you, we're looking at every aspect there is. That's why I'm talking about the 20 bonus points for the ET record. There's probably three or four teams that can set the ET record and I feel that we're one of them." This weekend's event is the second of six events in seven weeks, which is a challenge for any team. "I think it's going to set the tone for how the season is going to play out," Scelzi remarked. "The teams that aren't prepared, that don't have all their ducks in a row and have everything exactly where they want them, are going to have a hard time. The strong are going to survive and the weak are going to fall back." This weekend's racing schedule includes pro qualifying sessions on Friday at 4 and 7 p.m. and on Saturday at 12:15 and 3 p.m.. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday. On Saturday, May 22, ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 7 p.m. (ET). On Sunday, May 23, ESPN2 will televise three hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET). Also on Sunday, May 23, ESPN2 will televise NHRA 2Day, a 30-minute magazine show, at 11:30 a.m. (ET). GARY SCELZI QUICK FACTS: * Qualified sixth at 2003 NHRA Route 66 Nationals, lost to Gary Densham in second round * Fifth in 2004 Funny Car points after seven events * Age 43, born and raised in Fresno, Calif., where he lives with wife Julianne and sons Dominic and Giovanni * Is a three-time Top Fuel Dragster champion * Won his first Top Fuel crown as a rookie * Has one Funny Car win, 25 Top Fuel wins * Sixth in 2003 Funny Car points, his first full season in that class * Is the only NHRA driver to have won in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car * Holds six of the top 10 Funny Car speeds: 2. 329.18, Sept. 28, 2003, Joliet, Ill. - national record 3. 328.70, Sept. 28. 2003, Joliet, Ill. 4. 328.38, Nov. 8, 2003, Pomona, Calif. 6. 328.06, June 1, 2003, Joliet, Ill. 7. 327.98, May 31, 2003, Joliet, Ill. 10. 327.27, Nov. 8, 2003, Pomona, Calif.
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