After U.S. Nationals, Force, his drivers on unfamiliar road

They trail at this point for first time in 15 years

Auto Racing

September 15, 2005|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

For the first time in 15 years, someone besides John Force or one of his drivers is leading the NHRA Funny Car standings after the U.S. Nationals.

It is Gary Scelzi who holds a one-point advantage coming into the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., this weekend. Competition begins tomorrow, with the title runs on Sunday.

And it is Scelzi who will have his hands full holding off Robert Hight, Ron Capps, Force and Eric Medlen. The top five drivers are all within 55 points with five races left in the season.

"One point obviously doesn't mean anything," said Scelzi, who returns to Maple Grove as the defending Funny Car champion. "That could be taken care of in qualifying. And the guy behind me in second [Hight] is the king of qualifying right now.

"But the good news is we're coming to Reading. Our team has always run well here. I've run well in the dragster here, as well, so it's a racetrack that's been pretty kind to me."

Scelzi has three wins in 18 races this season and if he holds on for the title, he'll be only the second NHRA driver to have won crowns in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, joining Kenny Bernstein.

But to do it, he'll have to hold off Hight, a rookie who drives for Force; Force himself, the 13-time Funny Car champ; Medlen, a second-year driver who was fifth in points last season; and Capps, his own teammate.

"The five of us are in a pretty tight battle, and now it's just one less race to the end of the season," said Capps, who had runner-up finishes in Reading in 1999 and 2000. "You're going to see a lot of cars going for it in the last few races. And Maple Grove Raceway has always been a place where national records have been set."

Over the years, Scelzi has been to four finals in Reading and won three of them, and he says any little thing that can help his confidence will be held dear.

"You just can't make any mistakes right now," he said. "[Crew chief] Mike Neff had a team meeting the other day. He said he can't make mistakes, the driver can't make mistakes and the team can't make mistakes. We can't have bolts falling out. We can't have parts breaking. We have to really look at every single thing we're doing - more so now than ever if we want to be champions."

NOTE: Hagerstown Speedway will complete the Conococheague 100 Friday night at 7 and come back with Fan Appreciation Night on Saturday with races featuring late models, late model sportsman and pure stocks.

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