SCELZI BLOWS THEM AWAY IN CHICAGO

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Guiding the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Stratus Funny Car down the quarter-mile, Gary Scelzi simply blew away his competition at the CARQUEST NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway today en route to his second victory of the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series season in three final rounds, the 31st professional win of his career and the sixth in Funny Car.

The win also marked his first Funny Car win at Route 66 Raceway to go with his single Top Fuel triumph here in 2000.

With points leader John Force eliminated in the first round, Scelzi, who came into this event third in points, was on his way to not only shaving Force's lead but taking over second place from Robert Hight after defeating Bob Gilbertson in the first round, with a 4.755-second ET at a remarkable 330.39 mph.

The three-time Top Fuel champion demoralized Hight in the second round by changing lanes at the last minute. Scelzi nailed an .048 reaction time, while Hight snoozed to a .174 reaction time. Scelzi easily took the win with a 4.801/327.98 to Hight's losing 6.466/139.29.

The semifinal round match was a close one, but Scelzi emerged the victor against Tommy Johnson Jr. with a 4.802/309.06 to Johnson's 4.810/323.66.

The only remaining John Force teammate, Eric Medlen, set the stage for the final round by defeating Jeff Arend in the semis. But the red hot Scelzi took the reins against the youngster and lit up the track with a 4.740-second pass and another stellar 330.80 mph run to Medlen's 4.805/321.73. Reaction times: .080 for Scelzi; .094 for Medlen.

The Fresno, Calif., native not only moved back into second place, but carved into John Force's lead and is now just 64 points behind the 13-time Funny Car champion (752-688).

"It was very, very important," said Scelzi of taking advantage of the situation when Force was ousted. "It's been a while since I've been in a POWERade points battle - since 2000 - and I've been ahead in the beginning and never looked back and been behind and made it at the end. When Force went out - and that is not going to happen very often - we had to capitalize on it.

"And I said, God, we have to win this race. We won first round and everyone was saying that's great. But we knew it wasn't great, we had to keep on going. And we did. We got almost the maximum amount of points and hopefully we're going to make this a dogfight all the way to the end.

"Robert Hight is doing such a great job and I called it from the beginning. The kid is so focused and he is so good at what he does and he listens. The problem is he doesn't normally get rattled.

"So when we pulled up there (to race Hight in the quarterfinal) and Del Worsham smoked the tires in front of us, Mike Neff got on the radio and he said, 'Lanny (Miglizzi, Don Schumacher Racing's track analyst), how's that lane look?' And I got on the radio - and I never do this - and I said, Zippy (Neff), take the right lane even if it's just psychological. So he listened to me. Why, I have no idea. We took the right lane and the car went right down there.

"Neff was just a bad ass today. He's getting so calculated in his moves and if nothing screws up on the car he knows where he's at, and my Mopar/Oakley guys are great. Neff had to change motors, we weren't gonna. We had a problem, we had a vibration, we had a lot of things. Mike said, 'I can't fix the vibration so, you know what, we're going to act like it never happened.

"You get to the final and you've got to get it done, and I owed Eric one from Brainerd (Minn.) last year. Because that race was ours and he had it. We smoked the tires at 600-700 feet and he won.

"We're definitely pleased and we're glad that Force isn't running away with it. We're making it interesting because that's one horse you don't want in the lead."

Neff was his usual stoic self. "It felt good," he said. "We weren't running as good as I would have liked to during qualifying. I thought we were just OK there and having a hard time getting the Mopar/Oakley Dodge to run. Finally, in the first round, we got it to run like we wanted it to, and just tried to maintain that the rest of the day and everything went our way.

"I'm just real happy. We have a great team. We raced a lot of good cars today and it feels good to be able to outrun them and win without getting any lucky breaks.

"You never know," he said of the future. "It could all turn real fast. You never know what's going to happen in the next race. We're just going to keep doing what we're doing and hope we can keep going."

Next up is the K&N Filters NHRA Supernationals in Englishtown, N.J. June 17-19.

NHRA POWERade DRAG RACING SERIES FUNNY CAR POINTS:
1. John Force, 752
2. Gary Scelzi, 688 (winner today)
3. Robert Hight, 646
4. Tommy Johnson Jr., 573
5. Cruz Pedregon, 571
6. Eric Medlen, 568
7. Whit Bazemore, 547
Ron Capps, 547
9. Tony Pedregon, 459
10. Del Worsham, 431

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