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The latest update as of October 3, 1999 (3:00 PM)

KA-BOOM!!! The accompanying photo pretty much sums up Andrew Cowin's weekend.... out in a "blaze of glory?" in the first round. After an even launch, with the front end up a foot or so, the car came back down hard, unloaded the rear "tyres" (remember, he's an Aussie), then proceeded to smoke them hard until the engine went.... BOOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!! The resulting fireball was nearly 30 feet tall and left a trail of oil from 400 foot until well into the braking area.

Team Winston But the big news, the continuing story of the weekend, is the miracle thrash in the Team Winston pit area. Twenty-four hours ago they had two dead race cars, two completely demolished engines and were completely exhausted. Then they simply got up off the floor, rebuilt the chassis, put another powerplant in and got ready for the first round this morning. It wasn't pretty... in fact it was downright ugly, but Gary Scelzi got the car from Point A to B and survived the first round. With an intact engine and car.

Advance Auto Parts Nationals At this point, the balance of eliminations at Topeka is on hold, partly due to Jay Payne's major crash (he's okay) in his Top Alcohol Funny Car, but mainly due to a light mist falling. Combined with the very cold and windy conditions, the track is just not up to handling 6000 horsepower, or even 1000 HP at the present time, so the action is on hold. This will probably change before this update even gets into cyber-space. But, for now, we're down for the weather.

LATE UPDATE:  The event has been officially postponed until tomorrow (Monday) morning. At this point, I'm not sure what that will do to the tape-delayed eliminations coverage on SpeedVision, but we'll bring you an updated TV schedule as soon as possible.

IHRA President's Cup Nationals So, in the meantime, we'll bring you up to date on Glen May's progress at the IHRA President's Cup Nationals in Budds Creek, Maryland. To sum it up, a short day for the "Cranberry Connection". According to the race reports, he inadvertently over-staged in the first round, cut a very late light and, despite running a 6.47 at over 218 mph, was a first round runner-up. The points standings haven't been updated yet, but Glen is still in the IHRA Pro Mod top ten, with one event remaining on the schedule, the Mopar Parts Finals at Shreveport, Louisiana's Red River Raceway in two weeks time.

We'll finish this update with some more on the Team Winston - Gary Scelzi saga, including some pics of the car before and after. Images "courtesy" of Drag Race Central. Story courtesy of Fast News Network. NOTE: Click on the "thumbnails" for full-size pictures.

TOPEKA - Gary Scelzi Aftermath Photos
"Before and After"

The major story of the weekend has to be the crash of Winston Champion Gary Scelzi. After a major engine explosion Friday, the team opted to bring out their backup car yesterday, and when Scelzi crashed that chassis in Round 3 qualifying it looked like the team was out for the weekend. But they refused to throw in the towel, electing to try and repair their badly damaged chassis.

Scelzi crash Scelzi crash

Scelzi crash Scelzi crash

Scelzi crash Scelzi crash Scelzi crash

Fortunately, chassis builder Brad Hadman was here, and he led a bevy of volunteers over to the nearby Neil & Parks chassis shop, where they stripped away everything except the bare tubing from the footbox to the rear of the roll cage, which was undamaged in the crash. Hadman took the front end off the car they discarded Friday, a rear chassis section borrowed from John Mitchell's "Montana Express" team, and went to work rebuilding the battered dragster. Meanwhile, Alan Johnson and part of the Team Winston crew stayed at the track, preparing a powerplant and associated parts for the car.

Hadman and crew left the track at just before 4pm yesterday afternoon, completed their work last night by 11pm, and by 12:30am the car was back here at the track and a brand new engine was being installed. This morning, the car has a wing borrowed from Jim Head's Checker-Schuck's-Kragen dragster, and the crew is busy with their usual last minute pre-race preparations, having now done what many considered impossible just eighteen hours before.

Scelzi crash Scelzi crash

Scelzi crash Scelzi crash

By Rick Green - Courtesy of the Fast News Network

We'll close this report with a picture taken of the new valve cover restraints seen on Jim Head's "Checker, Shucks, Kragen" Top Fuel car this weekend. Rumour has it that they will be the next required piece of SFI safety equipment for next season, due to several incidents of cylinder heads and valve train gear flying off cars earlier this year. The worst incident being the spectator hit by a head stud (or pushrod, depending on which version of the story you've heard) from Paul Romine's car at Richmond. I'm guessing at this point, but isn't the next logical step just to wrap the whole damn engine in an armour-plated shell?

Valve Cover restraints

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The latest update as of October 3, 1999 (2:00 AM)

As the header says, I'm almost at a loss for words. Yesterday afternoon's hurried update about the dramatic events surrounding Team Winston at Topeka failed to mention the televised coverage of qualifying on SpeedVision network. The qualifying highlights show last night contained some of the most horrific footage of a drag racing accident seen on network TV since the tragic crash that claimed Blaine Johnson's life at the US Nationals in 1996. And as I sat watching the tape a few minutes ago, the parallels between the two accidents set my mind racing.

The scenarios were similar: tremendous runs, punctuated with awesome engine explosions at (or near) the finish line. Both times, the rear tires were punctured by engine parts, both times the chassis broke. The biggest difference this time was the lack of a gap in the guardwall past the finish line. If you can remember Blaine's crash, the single most salient factor in his injuries was pinpointed as the gap in the double armco guardrail at Indy, which the out-of-control car hit with a devastating impact.

This time, after the car arched up, broke in half and hit the wall, the pieces were contained on the racing surface and the angle the car hit the wall at was oblique enough to save Scelzi from any serious injuries. Gary's first words to the media after the crash were: "Thank God for Brad Hadman. His chassis work saved my life. He puts an extra upright in the cage and the chassis came apart exactly as it was designed to."

Initial reports indicated that Team Winston would be unable to continue this weekend, virtually forfeiting any chance to continue in the championship battle. With only four events remaining after Topeka, first-round loser points would leave them far behind the points leaders and out of contention. But, the Alan Johnson-led team has never let adversity stand in their way before. Despite a dog-tired crew, who thrashed all night to put their back-up car together (after wrecking their primary car on Friday), they've decided to attempt a complete reconstruction of the remains of the back-up car for today's eliminations.

NHRA rules allow such work, as long as the driver's area of the car is retained. So, they've cut off the front and rear sections of the No.1 car and will attempt to graft it to the remains of the No. 2 car. Brad Hadman and Keith Burgan are working -- as this is written -- throughout the night to complete what could be the "Cinderella" story of the season. Brad's done it before and with any luck should be able to provide Scelzi and Johnson with a raceable car today. Then it's just up to Alan to provide the horsepower and for Gary to get back on the "bronco" that's already bucked him off twice this weekend. Good luck, guys!

As part of this update, I'm posting the story of the description of the fateful run (courtesy of Drag Race Central) from the "Session Notes"; the story of the team being forced out of the event; and the follow-up story of the decision to attempt to continue. The final chapters of this amazing saga will be played out later today, live, starting at 11:00 AM (all time zones) on SpeedVision. Don't miss it! The PA system commentary at Topeka will also be broadcast live, starting at 8:00 AM (Eastern Time; 11:00 AM Pacific), on   Broadcast.com.

"TOPEKA - Crash Puts Scelzi Out"
"NHRA Rules Prohibit Move to Another Car"

Today's crash means that Gary Scelzi will not be able to compete this weekend, and virtually eliminates his chances of winning a third consecutive NHRA Winston Championship. After last night's engine explosion, Alan Johnson and Team Winston evaluated the damage to the chassis and elected to bring out their backup car. NHRA rules are specific with regard to substituting a car during the course of an event. The organization's Policy & Procedures manual states that, "the original entered vehicle is withdrawn from competition, and cannot be reinstated."

That eliminates the possibility of Team Winston reverting to their original car. What about borrowing a car from another team? Again, the rules are specific: "Teams will be limited to one replacement vehicle action per event." So Team Winston is left with no options, as the damage suffered in the crash today is too severe to be repaired at this event, if ever. Scelzi will leave Heartland Park with the points he's earned by qualifying for this race, and no more.

And in the midst of the tightest points battle ever, Scelzi is left with virtually no shot at another Championship.

Scelzi unhurt in crash, piecing ride together

By Rob Geiger, NHRA Online

Back-to-back Winston Top Fuel champion Gary Scelzi emerged from a horrific third-round (of qualifying) crash unhurt and initially declared himself "out of the race" because the team had no more cars left to run. But after recovering from the initial shock of the accident, Team Winston decided to try to get a car together for tomorrow's opening round of eliminations, bringing up an interesting turn of events that had NHRA officials and fellow competitors scouring the rule book.

The wreck actually occurred in the team's back-up car after a similar engine explosion during Friday's evening session bowed the frame of the group's No. 1 car. Since the first car had been removed from action, it cannot be readmitted to this race according to the rules. Further, since Scelzi has already used a back-up car, he cannot use a third machine.

The only remedy is to use as much of the second (wrecked) car as possible. So the team is now piecing the front end of the No. 1 car to the middle section of the wrecked car, which will then be joined to a borrowed rear piece. "Thankfully, (chassis builder) Brad Hadman is here and (famed fabricator) Keith Burgan is jumping in to help our crew get this thing together," Scelzi said. "It's a wild scene over here."

Scelzi, who is currently in the No. 2 qualifying position, almost completely destroyed his back-up machine in the accident, which occurred around the 1,000-foot mark at an estimated speed of 300 mph. The engine exploded in a huge ball of fire, causing the dragster frame to come apart in several places. The entire wreckage then turned on its side and slid several hundred feet against the retaining wall before coming to a stop.

"This is making an old man out of me in a hurry," Scelzi said. "The guys on the team that were around when Blaine (Johnson) wrecked were pretty shaken up. I'm okay. I've got a ripping headache and my neck is sore, but otherwise I feel okay. I gathered the guys together and told them that we'd be alright. Nothing was harder for me than replacing Blaine but we all know the risks of this sport. We're not risk-takers and we don't ever do anything stupid. I'm a race car driver, not a bowler. Accidents do happen. The best way to get over this is to continue our run for the championship. So that's what we decided to do.

"This is weird. Both laps, today's and last night's, the exact same thing happened with the motor. It didn't give me any indication that something was about to happen. It just explodes. The only thing that makes sense to me is that it's an electrical problem, like an on/off switch that is clicking on and igniting the fuel. I don't know. I'm no mechanic.

"We thought we had found the problem from last night. There was a faulty wrist pin and we thought it had led to the problem. But, we were still playing it safe. Alan (Johnson) said to run it to half-track or 1,000 foot and click it off if I wanted to. But she felt fine until -- kaboom -- I was upside down. No warning at all.

"The wreck was wild. I was on my side sliding backwards and I remember thinking 'I hope Joe (Amato) doesn't hit me.' Then, all of a sudden a wheel is whizzing right in front of my face and I thought Joe and I were tangled up. It turns out it was my wheel. Joe missed me, thank God. "Then I caught on fire and I thought I was going to burn up. I was getting really hot. So I jammed the brakes hoping to stop. Then the Safety Safari guys, my guardian angels, were on top of me hosing me down."

Scelzi entered this race in third place in the Winston points standings, 46 points out of first place. The tight race was a big determining factor in the group continuing on at this event. "We finally found out what went wrong," Scelzi said. "We dropped a cylinder and broke a roller. Once we determined that, Alan looked at me and said 'Do you want to do this?' And I immediately said, 'Hell yes.' "

Copyright 1995-1999 National Hot Rod Association
All rights reserved.

If you haven't read yesterday's "What's New" yet, you'd better continue scrolling down the page to see the photos of the Team Winston destruction. Also, check out the latest message on  Backfire!  to read what's been happening at Mission Raceway Park this weekend. A little bit of nitro news and a little bit of alcohol news. Congratulations to Leo Grocock! PS: We'll probably have another update later today. For now, it's off to bed and a bit of rest. Catch ya later.

Oops, one more thing to report. Glen May jumped to #5 in the final Pro Mod qualifying session at Budds Creek last night. A very good, and nearly career best, 6.396 at 217.63 mph turned the trick. After softening the clutch, attempting to remedy the tire-shake problems that surfaced at the last two events, Glen and company obviously found a combination that worked on their last qualifier. The bubble ended up at 6.474, so without the improvement, Glen would have ended up on that bubble and giving up lane choice to Troy Critchley's awesome 6.22 run in Johnny Rocca's "Iron Horse". We'll bring you all the details later today as Glen tries for his first IHRA national event win at the "President's Cup Nationals". Now it really is time to close and get to bed. ZZZZZZZZZ.

Oh man, is there no end to the news this weekend? This is absolutely the last bit for this morning. (Geez, it's almost 3:00 AM now...) Andrew Cowin, the young Aussie sensation, turned a career best 4.588 at 313.58 in the final qualifying session at Topeka to move into the #7 spot in the Top Fuel field. While those numbers aren't exactly "nuclear", for a relatively low dollar, all-volunteer team, in their first assault on the NHRA national tour.... that's a heck of a performance. Yet another Aussie, David Grubnic, driving John Mitchell's "Montana Express" anchors the field with a very respectable 4.76. It should definitely be quite a show, starting in just a few hours (11:00 AM), so don't miss it. Now, I've absolutely got to get to bed... or I'll sleep in and miss it!

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