Topeka Don't expect Gary Scelzi to spend a lot of time reflecting on his last visit to Heartland Park Topeka.
Oh yes, it was very memorable. Almost too memorable for the 40-year-old driver from Fresno, Calif. But not for the reasons about which normally Scelzi gets pumped.
- Gary Scelzi, talking about his dragster.
Somehow Scelzi and his Team Winston crew managed to salvage a semifinal finish in a weekend that could have been overwhelming for lesser teams. Miraculously, the team recovered from two spectacular crashes.
Scelzi could spend all day marveling over his team's response to the sudden adversity. Their never-say-die attitude in the heat of battle. Unfortunately, there's no time for that.
Scelzi is locked into one of the most intense battles for the Winston championship in the history of NHRA Winston Drag Racing. He leads archrival Tony Schumacher by only eight points entering the Advance Auto Parts Nationals today through Sunday at Heartland Park Topeka.
Scelzi, who could break the NHRA single season record for wins in Top Fuel with a victory at the $1.9 million race, comes into the 19th of 23 events in the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series riding some momentum.
A mid-season slump ate away at the comfortable lead six-time winner Scelzi had established following the event in Sears Point, Calif. However, the two-time Winston champ managed to post a runner-up finish at Reading, Pa., that combined with Schumacher's abrupt exit from eliminations at Maple Grove Raceway, propelled Scelzi back into the lead.
Although the lead is a fragile one, it's still a lead. And that's just fine with Scelzi.
"It finally looks like 'Big Red' is back," said Scelzi, referring to his Alan Johnson-owned and -tuned Team Winston dragster.
"It's not tearing a lot of stuff up and hopefully the three-race mojo that we had going on is behind us," he added. "Those three-straight first round losses really hurt us because we were over 100 points in front. Right now there's no room for error."
It's times like these when experiences like Scelzi's team had last year at Heartland Park work in their favor. They're confident they've been battle-tested.
"All the bad breaks and adversity we've had, plus the pressure of trying to win our Winston championship back has made this a better team," Scelzi said. "We're determined, we're nasty and we're focused on the Winston championship."
HPT has resurfaced the dragstrip and extended the launching pad to 660 feet. Tickets are available by calling 800 43-RACES or on the Web at htp.com or ticketmaster.com.