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Scelzi waits for winning feeling

One of Top Fuel's best looks to end minislump.

By KEITH NIEBUHR

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 21, 2001


One of Top Fuel's best looks to end minislump.

GAINESVILLE -- For all that Top Fuel drag racer Gary Scelzi has accomplished, he is reminded every spring of one thing that has eluded him.

A Gatornationals victory.

"It's not been a horrible track for us," Scelzi said. "It's just one of those things where we haven't been able to break through."

Scelzi's Gainesville woes are hard to figure.

He owns three NHRA point championships and ranks fifth in career wins with 23. On average, he wins every three races, and has won on 15 NHRA tracks. Scelzi has more final-round appearances (33) than first- and second-round losses combined (32) and owns a career winning percentage of .733, best among Top Fuel drivers with 50 or more decisions. But in Gainesville, site of today's final eliminations at the 32nd Gatornationals, Scelzi is 5-4, has reached the semifinals just twice and never has advanced to the final.

"It's usually been something silly that's kept us from winning," he said. "It's never been anything major. We've either lost a close race or have had part failures."

Four weeks ago, Scelzi was primed to end his so-called Gainesville jinx.

But after posting the No. 1 qualifying time (he had a time of 4.576 seconds on the quarter-mile track), Scelzi's plans were washed away by rain that blanketed the area for two days and postponed final eliminations until today.

"We had the quickest and most consistent Top Fuel car in the parking lot," Scelzi said. "I wanted to race the next day. We had everything going."

"Had" being the operative word.

In the two events that followed, Scelzi lost to Larry Dixon in the semifinals of the O'Reilly Nationals in Houston, then fell in the first round at the SummitRacing.Com Nationals in Las Vegas after a blower belt broke.

"We've had a good car, but then we got to Vegas and all of a sudden we're snakebit," Scelzi said.

Scelzi, the defending points champion, is winless in four events and is sixth in the standings, 127 behind leader Mike Dunn. His last NHRA event win was in November.

Today, he has visions of ending two slumps.

"Up until three weeks ago, (winning at Gatornationals) was the only thing on my mind," Scelzi said. "But right now Team Winston is in a bit of a slump and any win is important. If we could make a run at Gatornationals, it would turn the season around. Four races without a win, for us, seems like an eternity. It would almost be like winning two in one. It would be like a double."

Gatornationals

WHAT: 32nd annual NHRA event. The finals, originally scheduled for March 18, were postponed by rain.

WHEN: 11 a.m. today.

WHERE: Gainesville Raceway, 11211 N County Road 225, Gainesville.

TV: 11 p.m. Sunday, ESPN2 (taped).

PURSE: $2-million.

TICKETS: Spectator side, adult $55, junior $20, child $10. Pit side, adult $62, junior $24, child $14. All tickets from the March18 rainout will be honored.

INFORMATION: 1-800-884-6472, www.gainesvilleraceway.com or www.nhra.com.

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