So, Bruce Sarver has a ride!
I spoke several times earlier this year to the very capable driver and
he continued to assure that he was close with sponsorship dollars to drive
a second Alan Johnson-tuned Toyota. Even I didn't think it would come
The NHRA headline read "Scelzi abdicates seat to Sarver" and
the story following outlines the fact that Gary Scelzi removed himself
temporarily from the seat of the White Cap Toyota Funny Car "citing
the car's sporadic performance and uncomfortable fit as the main
Oh that it were that easy...
Let's start this story from the beginning.
The Toyota bodies were mounted on chassis Bruce drove last year
built for him. Maybe, had he done all the Toyota testing, things would be
in a better place. He would have been more consistent in the switch, IMHO.
Remember that the last two seasons, Johnson has been running two cars,
set up almost identical even though one was TF and one was FC. Due mostly
to less dollars (Remember Team Winston and Team E-Moola.com?) he's lost
that, plus doing driver training besides. There is not the same driver
input Alan had at one time. With less than half the computer data, and a
driver unsure if it is the car or himself, things cannot have been
After a recent race, during Monday tests, Scelzi failed to make a
complete run. As a lark, Sarver hopped in and ran super quick/fast, nearly
the best run for the team all year.
OK, so now, after a few pretty poor showings and only a couple mediocre
showings, with certainly limitless changes, why not throw a driver change
at it too, one fully dialed in to the way they run a car. Sarver could
care less whether it is a Celica or a Citroen. He's a GOOD driver.
I don't mean to take away from Gary because he has proven himself VERY
capable first in alky cars (both funnies and dragsters) and of course in
TF. BUT nitro FCs are a totally different breed. He took longer to
license than predicted we blamed it on the car. Some of the poor
performance we blamed on the car too. Scelzi has a great deal of alcohol
FC experience that should translate well to nitro.
I will tell you that FCs and drivers don't always mix well either. If
they are uncomfortable or incompatible, neither will ever be happy. Having
just recently sat in mine for the first time, I'm concerned I wish it
were an inch wider. I am going to have to lose some girth and hope my
shoulders follow suit.
I hope for Alan Johnson's sake that there is enough sponsor dollars to
spread over two cars. That is what is needed now. It is obvious that
multi-car teams gain huge advantages over single car efforts. If they
build a chassis that fits Scelzi better, with a body that he can see out
of better (another potential problem), all will settle down. I think....
Scelzi certainly won't be away for long. As I write this, in my
hometown of Auburn, Washington, Brad Hadman is whittling out an all-new
Toyota Celica FC, perfectly suited to the Fresno, California native's
size and shape. Word is that it will test first then debut as soon as
As has been made quite clear here and many other places, much effort
has been made to give the Toyota FC huge potential for doing one thing --
winning. So far, that hasn't happened.
Many will suspect that the whole problem rests on the driver's
shoulders -- in this case Gary Scelzi's and that he is out of a
ride. If you got any of that from what I've written here, that is not my
intent at all.
Mr. Scelzi is not only fully capable of wheeling everything from a bass
boat to the space shuttle, he will get back into a nitro FC and prove it
by winning this year. Alan Johnson has no intention of losing this kind of
talent that has given him a wall full of Wallys already.
As I said, all that was written May 13, before Bruce Sarver stepped
into the car at XXX.
Of course, little did anyone know that soon two weeks later a
far more dramatic PR would be issued.
Its headline offered that Scelzi and Johnson had split "after five
glorious seasons" and described Gary's new situation as a free
agent. The verbiage maintained that the split was "mutually agreed
upon" but the whole tone suggested things were less than amicable.
I have watched the Johnson family work and race for many years but have
never done more than say "hello" to Alan and Blaine Johnson over
the years. The same with Gary Scelzi, although many years ago, I did a
feature on the Miner Brother's TAFC while he was driving. My outside
observations helped me form an opinion: That the Johnson family was
close-knit and serious about their racing AND was among the best team to
Furthermore, Scelzi's attitudes and desires are so similar
you'd think he was a Johnson family member. The mutual admiration
society was obvious.
For those that don't know, Blaine's death caused a strange
"wave" of feelings the likes of which may never happen again. He
was leading the points that season, and only the fact that he was no
longer out there did Kenny Bernstein eventually surpass his lead for the
1996 WC. Everyone, especially KB, knew that there should always be an
asterisk on the history books. Similar points anomalies involving death
had happened in other motorsports but never in drag racing.
Rumors of Alan Johnson never fielding a car again were prevalent, but
when the announcement came that he'd chosen fellow Californian Scelzi to
ride an all-new TF team, few were surprised. Alan, Blaine, and Gary had
become close in their years of alcohol competition. The decision was
quickly justified when Scelzi won the first two races of 1997 on his way
to ten final rounds, the world title and Rookie of the Year. He was champ
again in 1998 and 2000, with a total of 25 national event wins in 38
final-round appearances over the five-year marriage with Johnson. Of
course, that on top of a number of alcohol national and regional wins. By
the way, his nine victories in 2000 still remains the most for TF in a
single season, although that footnote has a good shot at being surpassed
this year by Larry Dixon should he continue on his pace. After such a
superb piece of history, the Johnson/Scelzi team appeared to be headed
toward "forever." But
"Alan and I had some great times and accomplished so much
together," Scelzi was quoted in the PR. "This was a very tough
decision for both of us. But some recent developments with the team and
the way things have played out versus what I was told would happen forced
me to reevaluate my career. To a certain extent, I feel that my hand was
forced so I'll just pack up and move on and wish Alan and his family the
See what I meant by "tone"?
Alan's side of the equation went like this.
"I did all of this switchover to Funny Car for Gary. Without
question, he's a very marketable guy. That's why all these other teams are
after him. But right now, I feel like he needs time in the seat. I'm not
upset with Gary Scelzi at all. Circumstances just feel into place this way
and here we are.
"The timetable for the second car is not in concrete. So in order
to allow Gary to explore the many options that are coming his way we
decided to release him. If our deal comes through before he lands
somewhere else then he's more than welcome to come back here. But to be
fair we wanted to let him go out and do what he thinks is best for him and
his family. There are no hard feelings at all. I completely understand his
"The idea was to get a second Funny Car up and running with no
pressure on Gary to win or try for the championship this year and let Gary
drive the wheels off of it until he feels totally comfortable. If he's
going to drive a Funny Car, he needs to learn how to drive them.
"Right now he needs to do what's right for Gary. I did what's
right for me. I had two choices - have a car with Gary Scelzi driving it
but with no sponsor, or have a car with a sponsor with Bruce driving
A mouthful indeed.
"I'd like to think I have a lot to offer a team," added
Scelzi. "I think my record on the drag strip speaks for itself and my
driving abilities and I'm also acutely aware of what it takes to keep pace
on the business side of drag racing in regards to attracting and
maintaining sponsorship commitments.
"My express wish is to land with a championship-caliber team, or
even to have my own operation if I could find the right corporate backing,
and win some more championship trophies. I'm not going to do this on a
thrown-together level. It's either run for the championship legitimately
or hang it up.
"It's getting to that time of the year when sponsors and teams are
putting their 2003 plans together," Scelzi said. "Without a
timetable from Alan, I didn't want to get caught sitting on the sidelines
waiting while all the best jobs are gobbled up. I thought maybe it was
time to pursue other interests.
"I've got nothing but good things to say about Alan Johnson and
his family. It was a great five years. He just made a decision to put
Bruce in the car with no guarantees as to when I'd be driving again
because he wasn't sure about the funding. I can understand that.
"It's sad to leave Alan. The last time we talked, he sounded a
little choked up and we all know how emotional I get. This is a crazy
sport. I thought Alan and I would be together forever. It just wasn't
meant to be, I guess, but I bet we both come out of this okay."
Rumors abound with various top-level teams discussing possibilities
with Gary Scelzi, including John Force. One of the reasons Scelzi wanted
to switch from TF to FC was due to the tire blowouts that took out wings
and caused crashes. Those troubles seem to have been alleviated by the new
Goodyear tires, so don't rule out a new TF ride for Gary.
After seven races with GS in the seat, the White Cap Toyota has been to
two finals for Bruce Sarver, and although no wins have happened yet, I
suspect those will come along. And, I would tend to agree with Scelzi that
both he and the Johnson team will come out of this OK.
Other major personnel changes on the NHRA tour?
Let's see, Mike Green bounced up as crew chief for Darrell Gwynn's
Andrew Cowin-driven Yankee dragster. I think Todd Smith is still on the
And, Don Prudhomme "stole" Rob Flynn away from Worsham Racing
to be crew chief on the blue Skoal FC driven by Tommy Johnson, Jr. A
second decision there put Ed McCulloch in charge of just Ron Capps'
green Skoal Camaro instead of both. This focus has already paid off with a
For you stat freaks, Flynn is another of those deep-thinking Canadians
in the same vein as Dale Armstrong, Bernie Fedderly, and Les Davenport. He
was born in Edmonton, Alberta, began his Pro career in 1982 on Terry Capp's
Wheeler Dealer alongside Fedderly. He worked for several different teams
before serving as Bazemore's crew chief from 1994-98.
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