Calming The Wild Thing

Scelzichute-1By David G. Firestone

When Del Worsham won the Funny Car championship last year, he joined an exclusive group. He is one of three drivers to win the Top Fuel and Funny Car championships in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Worsham won the Top Fuel championship in 2011. He joins Kenny Bernstein who won the Funny Car championship in 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988, switching to top fuel in 1992, and winning the championship in 1996 and 2001. The other driver to achieve this is Gary Scelzi, who won Top Fuel in 1997, 1998, and 2000. Sclezi switched to Funny Car in 2002, and won Funny Car in 2005.

Gary Scelzi, known as “Wild Thing” hales from Fresno, California, where in 1979, he co-founded Scelzi Enterprises, Inc., a truck body manufacturer with his two brothers. He got into drag racing, and made his way to the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, then known as Winston Drag Racing. Scelzi was a championship-caliber driver in a sea of very talented drivers. He was a respectable driver in Top Fuel. In 2001, he lost his Winston sponsor for Top Fuel, and moved to Funny Car with a new sponsor, White Caps, and a new Toyota Celica. The Celica wasn’t a good move, and Sclezi left the new team midway through the season.

In 2003, Scelzi signed with Don Scumacher Racing to race a Dodge funny car sponsored by Oakley, and he took to it like a duck to water. In 2005, he won his first, and only Funny Car championship, beating a very strong John Force Racing team of John Force and Robert Hight. 2005 was the first time that a non-John Force Racing car won the Funny Car championship since 1992. Scelzi retired in 2008, after a long career to focus on his family business, and his midget racing team.

One of the best tools at a drag racer’s disposal is the parachute, and for Scelzi, that was no different. You can’t be the first driver to reach 330 MPH in a funny car without a good parachute to stop the car. Scelzi raced with many different parachutes throughout his career, and this 12′ x 12′ Mopar example from his days with Don Schumacher Racing. It shows heavy use with numerous scuff marks, and holes. It also has a lot of stains as well. I had to photograph this on my front lawn to show the full scale of the suit.Scelzichute-1The silver MOPAR lettering shows wear, with popped stitching, and lots of staining across the letters.Scelzichute-2The very center of the parachute has the opening that lets air through the center, and has the straps where the pilot chute is attached.Scelzichute-4All four corners of the cross-form parachute show wear, in the form of scuff marks and holes.Scelzichute-3 Scelzichute-7 Scelzichute-5 Scelzichute-6While some parachutes had logos on both sides, this one only has the Mopar logo on one side.Scelzichute-8The cord that attaches the parachute to the car is still present, and wrapped in a silver Nomex material to prevent damage in the event of a fire.Scelzichute-9 Scelzichute-10Gary Scelzi is the first funny car driver to reach 330 MPH. It proves that race cars are getting faster all the time. The parachutes are proof that race cars are getting safer as well. Next week, I will examine another critical piece of safety for funny car drivers…the gloves.

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