INDIANAPOLIS -- Gary Scelzi's first taste of competition in 2003 will not be in his new Oakley Funny Car ride for Don Schumacher Racing.
Instead, Scelzi, a three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion, will kick off the new year in an open wheel midget racecar as an invitee for the inaugural Chili Bowl Midget Race of Champions, Saturday, Jan. 11 in Tulsa, Okla.
Scelzi will be grouped with 10 drivers from different forms of motorsports competing in a 20-lap all-star race on the Tulsa Expo Center quarter-mile dirt track. The invitational event will be the prelude to the 17th annual Chili Bowl Midget Nationals.
Joining Scelzi will be fellow NHRA Funny Car driver Ron Capps along with NASCAR Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart and World of Outlaws sprint car star Danny Lasoski.
"I'm excited about doing this because Stewart and Lasoski are really good friends of mine," said Scelzi. "They've always wanted me to be involved in their deals. I'm going against the best of the best. But it's like pulling them up to the starting line with a fuel Funny Car or dragster. It's not that they wouldn't be able to do get it done, it would just take a little time. Experience is hard to beat.
"Obviously Ron and I are not going to be able to run with these guys, but it's for charity and we're going to have a good time doing it. Jim Head (Top Fuel racer) was pretty blunt about our chances. He told me we'll start in the back and be in the front after two laps because after every two laps the other guys will be lapping us. Thanks for the encouragement, Jim."
In order to prepare for his first open-wheel experience, Scelzi is planning to attend Jimmy Sills School of Open Wheel Racing in Marysville, Calif.
"That will be a good start, but I think I'm going to end up going to the Tony Stewart and Danny Lasoski school of racing when I get to the Chili Bowl two or three days beforehand for practice," said Scelzi. "Ron and I are in good shape, but these cars don't have any power steering so I am sure we'll have spaghetti for arms when we're done with the 20-lap race. We'll feel like we just ran the Indy 500."
The 185 horsepower midget cars (with no wing) will be equally prepared and powered by a sealed Ford Focus performance engine. The winner of the invitational will receive a minimum of $5,000 that will subsequently be donated to a designated event charity in the name of the driver.
The event will be televised as part of the Chili Bowl programming package the following day (Jan. 12) on ESPN, noon - 2 p.m. EST.
"Hopefully we'll make a lot of open wheel fans and dirt car fans to start watching drag racing," Scelzi said.
Scelzi's first official act in the Oakley Funny Car will be during the Phoenix test session at Firebird International Raceway, beginning Jan. 17. The 2003 NHRA season opens with the K&N Filters Winternationals, Feb. 6-9 at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway.
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