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LEGEND GONE WILD – GARY SCELZI
Drag racing personalities come in various degrees of attitude and swagger, but when it comes to posturing, you might say Gary Scelzi takes the checkered flag. Both a skilled driver and over-the-top favorite with the public, the California-based racer spent the majority of his highly successful career in drag racing’s two ultimate categories — Top Fuel Dragster and Nitro Funny Car. After claiming three NHRA Top Fuel World Championships, Scelzi began a stint in 2003 driving for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR). It was there that Scelzi became known as the driver of some of the most ferocious and fastest Mopar® Dodge Funny Cars ever conceived.
Championship Pedigree After his three Top Fuel crowns, Scelzi added an NHRA Funny Car World Championship in 2005, his third season at DSR. The title came driving the Mopar®/Oakley-sponsored Dodge Stratus (a car known for its outrageous paint schemes) and marked the first Funny Car championship for the DSR gang. The accomplishment made Scelzi only the second driver in NHRA history to win World Championship titles in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car categories, preceded only by the king himself, Kenny Bernstein. (In 2015, Del Worsham became the third NHRA driver to accomplish the feat).
“Wild Thing” Exposed Scelzi earned his alias after he made the switch from Top Fuel to nitro-powered Funny Cars in the early 2000s. “Before I drove for DSR, I drove for another team that was pioneering a different brand of body and Funny Car chassis,” said Scelzi. “We had a difficult time with that car because it moved all over the track, even on a good run. I also had a reputation as someone who does not necessarily abide by rules. Over the years, I had a big mouth and bantered back and forth with John Force and the like. I was never politically correct and when things didn’t go well, I didn’t hide it. I guess the fans really related to all that and that’s where my nickname ‘Wild Thing’ originated.”
Fast Facts Scelzi’s Funny Car career included some blistering fast runs, with low ET and top speed of the meet a common occurrence for the “Wild Thing.” Scelzi was the first Funny Car driver ever to eclipse the 330 mph mark (in quarter-mile racing) when he (driving a Dodge Charger) clocked in at 330.15 mph at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, IL, in May of 2004.
“The speeds we achieved racing a Funny Car were something that really stands out for me,” said Scelzi. “Our crew chief at the time (Mike Neff) had a real knack and reputation for that. We learned a lot of tricks with some wind tunnel work with Mopar, and that caused both our opponents and NHRA rules regulators to watch us like hawks. Being the first to break the 330 mph barrier was a big thing for the ‘Wild Thing!’”
Today’s Priority For Scelzi, who ended his career as a driver after the 2008 season, his racing focus is now on his two sons, Dominic (18) and Giovanni (14), both of whom are developing their own careers in sprint car racing. “Both my boys have aspirations of being professional race car drivers,” Scelzi affirmed. “My wife (Julianne) and I, however, have stressed to them that their education comes first.”
Scelzi Enterprises Scelzi is part of a thriving business operation (Scelzi Enterprises Inc.), first established in 1979. He, along with his two older brothers Mike and Jim, are partners in a company that manufactures aftermarket truck bodies. The organization has become the largest truck body manufacturing company on the West Coast.
Racing Reflection “I turned 55 last summer, so I have no interest in ever coming back as a driver,” said Scelzi. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss the competition. I loved my time driving an 8,000 horsepower HEMI® engine-powered car and the challenge that goes with trying to control that missile. I feel fortunate that in my 11 years as a pro driver I won four NHRA World Championships — and lived to talk about it.”