SCELZI TO STEP DOWN
Today, one of the most popular and colorful drivers in recent drag racing history is slated to make an announcement that will leave his thousands of fans heartbroken. Six-time champion (five in Top Fuel, one in Funny Car in 2005), Gary Scelzi will step down at the conclusion of the current season, but this will not be a retirement announcement. Scelzi plans on leaving the door open for a possible return at some point in the future. Still a youthful 47, Scelzi has watched from the sidelines as the family business has grown from approximately 75 employees to almost 250, and his brother, now 60-years-old, has been saddled with running the entire operation on his own. Gary is determined to help out in that area, and is also desirous of spending more time with his son, Dominic, who’s begun kart racing. He also doesn’t want to miss younger son Giavanni’s early years, as the 23-race POWERade Series, and the attendant public relations obligations that go with it, definitely impacted the amount of time he had to spend with the boys and his wife, Julianne. While Scelzi hasn’t ruled out a full-time return, at this juncture he’d more likely be interested in doing some test driving for a leading team, certainly including Schumacher Racing, should the opportunity arise. He would also consider making limited appearances on the national event trail if a well-funded team wanted to field a part-time operation for points protection and the like.
UPDATE: FOUR-TIME NHRA CHAMPION SCELZI WILL TAKE 'SABBATICAL' FROM NHRA COMPETITION
Four-time NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series
champion Gary Scelzi, one of the most popular drag racers in history, will
stop racing at the conclusion of the 2007 season. The 46-year-old father of
two young boys, Dominic and Giovanni, is leaving the door slightly open for
a possible return, although he says his main priority in the coming years
will be to his family and rapidly expanding truck body manufacturing
"My family has sacrificed a lot to allow me to chase my dream," said
the driver of the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger R/T for Don Schumacher Racing
since 2003. "Because of their support, I've accomplished everything I've set
out to do in drag racing and so much more. Now it's time for me to watch my
kids grow up and to be there for them every day. It's time to help my
brothers full-time with the business. It's time to hold my wife Julie's hand
and tell her I love her every night.
"Maybe I'll come back out one day and maybe I won't. I don't want to say one
way or the other because who knows what the future will hold? I still love
the sport and the competition very much but this is a decision I've put a
lot of time and thought into and I'm completely at peace with it. I'm
actually looking forward to this next stage of my life."
A 40-time national event winner and one of only two racers in history to
have captured championships in Top Fuel and Funny Car (along with Kenny
Bernstein), Scelzi burst onto the professional scene in 1997 by winning his
first two starts in Pomona, Calif., and Phoenix. A contender from the onset,
Scelzi won five events in 10 final-round showings his first year out,
becoming the first professional driver ever to win the championship in his
rookie year. He was the overwhelming pick for Rookie of the Year.
Recognized as the only driver with national event wins in the sport's four
quickest categories -- Top Fuel, Funny Car, Top Alcohol Dragster, and Top
Alcohol Funny Car -- Scelzi's resume includes three wins in the Budweiser
Shootout, a stunning 350-178 race-day record, 55 final-round appearances,
and 43 No. 1 qualifying efforts.
But as impressive as his on-track accomplishments are, Scelzi is perhaps
more beloved for his easy-going style and self-deprecating humor, which has
endeared him to fans across the country. His "Scelzi Sez" segments on ESPN2
are overwhelming favorites among the network viewers and his willingness to
do anything from wearing silly costumes to playing practical jokes on his
racing peers is legendary.
"I always try to have fun because I'm having fun," Scelzi said. "I never
looked past the fact we're doing something very special that very few people
ever get to do. We're in the entertainment business to a large extent and I
have always loved making people laugh so all the goofy stuff comes naturally
"When the helmet's on, I'm a step-on-their-throat kind of guy, but the rest
of the time I'm out to have fun. Life is too short.
"It's important for people to know I made this decision well before Eric
Medlen's accident. This is about my desire to spend more time with my
family, period. Any other speculation would only be hurtful to the Medlen
family and that would be wholly and completely unfair to them.
"I'm very grateful for what Don Schumacher has done for me, hiring me when I
didn't have a ride and letting me have the opportunity to be a world
champion. I'm continuing my relationship with Mopar and Oakley through my
USAC Midget program, so it's not like I'm leaving. I'm not getting out of
"Of all the accolades and accomplishments that I've had, none of it would
have been possible if Alan Johnson hadn't made that phone call at the end of
1996 and T. Wayne Robertson with Winston Brand and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco
Company taking a chance on a no-name guy to go drive their Top Fuel car, the
highest profile car probably ever. Especially after Blaine Johnson's
accident, that was the car. Nobody knew who I was but they found out in a
big way in a hurry. So, Alan Johnson and Winston made it possible for
someone like Don Schumacher, Mopar and Oakley to recognize me. I can't even
express my gratitude to those people for letting me make my dream come true.
"And I'm extremely grateful to Jim Jannard of Oakley, Kevin Miller of Mopar
and Chris Cortez (Senior Vice President - Global Service & Parts, Chrysler
Group) and all the great sponsors who have supported me throughout my
Scelzi is insistent on not letting his handlers conduct a "Farewell" or
"Retirement Tour" because, as he says, "I'm not retiring." Even so, fans of
the Fresno, Calif., native should make sure to say thanks to the mustachioed
mischief-maker this year just in case.
"Dominic is moving up to the Restricted 600 dirt cars and Giovanni starts go
karts this summer so maybe I'll have so much fun chasing them around that
I'm done for good," he said. "All I know is I don't want to get older and
look back with regrets that I didn't spend enough time with my family. All
the trophies don't mean that much when you stack them up next to your kids
and your wife.
"I'll tell you what I want the rest of this year to be like: I want to have
a kick-ass race car, I want to have as much fun with my teammates as humanly
possible, I want us to run for the championship, and I want to say 'thank
you' to as many fans as I can because I've had a helluva ride and it's all
because of them."