Championship Drag Racing

NHRA Nationals
Las Vegas, NV
(April 6-9)

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Gary Scelzi
Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger

Scelzi: 'It's not easy to defend'

Las Vegas, prerace: Reigning NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car champion Gary Scelzi says it's not easy to defend a championship. As a four-time NHRA titlist, he's had his ups, downs and DNQs, yet is still only the second driver to have won crowns in both Top Fuel and Funny Car.

With a successful resume on his side, the driver of the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger Funny Car plans to make up for the surprising DNQ in Houston last week at this weekend's NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the site of his previous (and only one with Don Schumacher Racing before Houston) DNQ in April 2003.

It was just his fourth race into his initial season with DSR and first full season in the Funny Car class when he failed to qualify in Vegas that year. He went on to win once that season (sixth in points), three times in 2004 (third in points) and finally nailed down a Funny Car championship in 2005 with three victories.

The Fresno, Calif., native's Vegas record shows a win in 2004 (LV 2), a runner-up last year (LV 2), and two No, 1 qualifiers, both in 2005 at each of the two events held here.

"It's always harder to defend," says Scelzi, who is 13th in the point standings after four races. "I never thought we'd have the start that we had. Effort equals results, except in this case, because we put a lot of effort into this program over the winter and every week and we're just not seeing the results."

No one's to blame, says Scelzi, but it's crew chief Mike Neff who's taking the heat. "I've seen it happen before," Scelzi says. "I've seen it happen with all the great tuners. I've seen it with Alan Johnson, I've seen it with Tim Richards, I've seen it with Dick LaHaie, Dale Armstrong; all of these famous people. Even Austin Coil struggled. It happens.

"How we deal with it is another thing. We have to stay upbeat, we have to go at this harder, we can't lighten up, and, if it's possible, work even harder. I don't know if you can. But we'll turn the corner. I feel confident in these Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger guys.

"I don't think we're that far off. I think it's just something that we're missing and it's probably right in front of us, but we'll come to Vegas with a brand-new car and a brand-new attitude (following Monday testing in Houston) and try to get ourselves out of this trench that we've dug."

On why the car has tested well, yet struggled in competition: "Conditions change, tracks change and these cars are so complex," Scelzi responds. "Something could be intermediate and it'll throw you a bone. Our car is not throwing us a bone. It's not doing what it's told to do. We made some drastic changes and the car didn't respond (in Houston qualifying). And it should've smoked the tires, flipped over backwards or caught on fire. It did none of those. It did the same exact thing. So, whatever it is, it's a brick wall and it should be easier to find when it's consistently bad.

"It's going to be a crapshoot. We'll see if we found our problems and how the car reacts and if it does what it's told."

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