- Bill Stephens
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Gary Scelzi remains intensely proud of his many NHRA milestones, some of which might never be surpassed.
He won his first national event in his professional debut in Pomona in 1997, driving for Alan Johnson's Top Fuel team. In fact, he won his first two starts in '97, following his Pomona win with a second victory in Phoenix.
He was the first rookie in NHRA history to win the season championship in his freshman year and is the only driver to have won a national event in all four supercharged categories: Top Fuel, Funny Car, Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car.
This year, entering his third season aboard Don Schumacher's enormous racing conglomerate as driver of the Oakley Hemi Dodge, Scelzi is a man whose passion and zeal for winning has diminished little.
That was never more evident than last weekend when Scelzi came up short to his teammate, Whit Bazemore, in the semifinals of the 36th Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. Bazemore went on to win the event, his first victory of 2005.
Scelzi emerged from his racecar at the top end clearly dejected, as Bazemore climbed from his Matco Tools "Iron Eagle" Dodge and received congratulations from his crew. Scelzi's F/C enjoyed a slight lead off the starting line but began smoking the tires downtrack, costing Gary the race.
"We struggled on Friday in those really cold temperatures," said Scelzi, who has yet to win the Gatornationals in his career as a three-time Top Fuel champion and as a Funny Car driver since 2002. "Mike (Neff, crew chief) really put it together today. You know, the track must have just gotten looser, because we slowed it down a little bit more and it just got a little bit fast and when it came off the concrete it just went into tire smoke."
Scelzi and his team set yet another milestone last year at the spring Chicago race as their fuel coupe broke the 330 mph barrier. Scelzi and Crew continue to jell as a unit.
"We're learning," he said. "I'm learning driving every time I hit the gas in the thing and Mike's getting better every time he turns the wrenches. These guys are great. They give you so much confidence. (Team owner) Don Schumacher today had words of encouragement for me, the team and Mike. That's not like Don. He's pretty quiet. He's got so many teams out here and I let him know that we really appreciate it.
"Even though it seems like a really small thing, it's a big deal for us to have the boss actually pat you on the back while you're going rounds.
"I'm ready for Houston. Bring it on, let's keep going now, the ball's rolling. First round win in Pomona, second round in Phoenix, semis here, let's go win Houston."
Scelzi's competitive flame still burns like a backwoods wildfire.
Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com.
Gary Scelzi's name is all over the NHRA record books. But his desire to win is stronger than ever.