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Gio Scelzi hopes to use Chili Bowl as springboard to NASCAR

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Giovanni Scelzi grew up the son of a four-time National Hot Rod Association champion, and has been making a significant name of his own racing dirt midgets and sprints, particularly in the World of Outlaws series.

But there’s another race series that the 18-year-old Scelzi – “Gio” for short – has his sights set upon: NASCAR.

If all goes well, Scelzi hopes to begin climbing the NASCAR ladder – perhaps as early as this year.

But first things first: the Fresno, California native is participating in this week’s Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He’s one of more than 350 entries that also includes good friend Kyle Larson, plus other NASCAR drivers including Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Alex Bowman, Chase Briscoe, J.J. Yeley, James Davison, Ryan Ellis, Ryan Newman, Justin Allgaier and Christopher Bell, who has won the Chili Bowl the last three years.

Scelzi isn’t the only aspiring NASCAR driver from the World of Outlaws. David Gravel, who is also competing in the Chili Bowl, recently signed a part-time Truck Series deal with GMS Racing.

Once the Chili Bowl concludes Saturday night, Scelzi, son of four-time NHRA champion Gary Scelzi, and younger brother of fellow sprint/midget car racer Dominic Scelzi, will then travel with Larson to Australia, where they’ll compete in several races, most notably the biggest event of the Australian sprint car season, The Classic, on Jan. 23-24.

Gio Scelzi after one of his nine wins last season. (Jason Tucker Photos)

Needless to say, all the time together with Larson will give the youngest Scelzi a chance to further pick his fellow Californian’s mind about how to reach and race in NASCAR.

“I love sprint car racing, that’s always where my heart will be,” Scelzi told NBC Sports last week. “It’s obviously what I grew up doing, dirt racing.

“I’ll still race sprint cars as much as I can, but in the next 5-10 years, I hope to get into Trucks and Xfinity to get towards NASCAR (Cup).”

Scelzi and his father have been working on getting Gio some seat time this year in the ARCA Menards Series West (formerly K&N Pro Series West).

“Hopefully this year or next year I’ll transition over to ARCA, which is a good stepping stone, do something along those lines and get my feet wet on pavement,” Gio Scelzi said. “I’ve done some testing the last year, just trying to see if that’s the direction I want to go.

“Nothing’s been announced yet, but I think something will be announced here pretty soon to hopefully go down that path.”

Even though their father was one of the most prolific drivers in NHRA history, Gio and his brother Dominic went in a different direction when they first started racing themselves.

Instead of the straight and narrow, they chose round and dirty, you might say.

“The hardest part of drag racing, there really is no way for a kid that can race anything before you’re 16,” Scelzi said. “That’s kind of the age where you can earn a license and are allowed to race under power and really learn how to race.

“But in dirt racing, there’s micro-sprints, outlaw karts, you name it, there’s all kind of kids classes you could do to learn how to race. My dad went to dirt races a lot in California and really enjoyed it, was good friends with (NASCAR Hall of Famer) Tony Stewart and (sprint car racer) Danny Lasoski, so he always had a friend base in dirt racing and that was a way to get me and my brother in a race car when we were really young.”

Dominic began racing go-karts at five years old and Gio began racing micro-sprints at 6 at their home track, Plaza Park Raceway in Visalia, Calif., about 30 miles from Fresno.

“I think sprint car racing is so unique from other forms of racing,” Gio Scelzi said. “With a 410 sprint car, around the United States, you have the World of Outlaws, the All-Stars (All Star Circuit of Champions), IRA (Sprint Series), Knoxville (Nationals), I mean there’s probably 20 or 30 race tracks racing on a given weekend, with the same rules package, the same kind of cars and there are very good race car drivers in their own region.

“With a sprint car, what I’ve done the last two years, I’ve been based in Indianapolis and race wherever we want. If we want to race in an All-Star race in Ohio, we can go there. If we want to race an Outlaw race in North Dakota, we can go there.

“There are so many different options with that same rules package that is such a simple, powerful, exciting race car, I don’t think there’s no other kind of professional racing where you can make a living at it that has that kind of atmosphere.

“If you’ve got the money and the motors to race, you can race every weekend. Just the World of Outlaws schedule is 95 races. Or you can race the All-Stars, which is 50 races, and then maybe 20 races in Outlaws when you want to. There’s so much freedom with a team where you want to go and where you want to race, I think that’s what makes it unique.”

Gio Scelzi in one of his midget races last season. (Jason Tucker Photos.)

The youngest Scelzi has steadily been making a name for himself in the sprint car dirt racing world. At the age of 16 in 2018, he became the youngest winner in World of Outlaws history. He also won his first USAC Midget race in just his sixth career start in the series.

And at 17 last season, he was the youngest winner in the Knoxville Raceway’s history when he won an All Star Circuit of Champions race there, one of the most notable outings in a season that saw Scelzi make 71 starts across several dirt racing series, earning nine wins, 23 top-five and 40 top-10 finishes.

This week is the second Chili Bowl for Scelzi. He did well in his first start in 2018, finishing sixth in his preliminary race, was second in the B Main and then was running in the top 10 in the week’s main event – until the motor in his midget car blew halfway through the race and he finished last in the 24-car field.

Scelzi is racing at the Chili Bowl — his first race of the week is this evening, which kicks off the Nationals’ six-night run at the Tulsa Expo Center — as part of the Toyota Development program with Chad Boat (son of former IndyCar driver Billy Boat). His teammates include Christopher Bell and NBC Sports reporter Dillon Welch.

“I’m excited for it,” Gio Scelzi told NBC Sports. “The Chili Bowl as an event is huge and keeps growing and growing and attracting more attention through NASCAR and all kinds of racing fans.

“There’s a lot of good race cars, it seems like every year more and more guys and good race car drivers all-around get a ride and want to participate.”

Here’s a video of Scelzi getting ready and then taking to the track for his first practice session Monday (video courtesy Toyota Racing Development):

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When NASCAR drivers will qualify for Chili Bowl Nationals, event format

Chili Bowl Nationals
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Next week will bring the 34th Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which sees multiple NASCAR drivers among the roughly 345 entires for the event that runs from Jan. 13 -18.

The Chili Bowl has announced which night each driver is scheduled to participate in qualifying races.

Over the course of five nights, the top-two finishers from each A feature will lock themselves into Saturday’s 55-lap race.

Each night of qualifying races begins at 6 p.m. ET.

Here’s when the NASCAR drivers will qualify.

Monday, Jan. 13 – Cummins Qualifying Night

Chase Briscoe

Ryan Ellis

Tuesday, Jan. 14  – Warren CAT Qualifying Night

Alex Bowman

Kyle Larson

NBC Sports reporter Dillon Welch

Wednesday, Jan. 15 – Hard Rock Casino Qualifying Night

J.J. Yeley

Ryan Newman

Rico Abreu

Thursday, Jan. 16 – John Christner Trucking Qualifying Night

Justin Allgaier

Christoper Bell

Friday, Jan. 17 – Vacuworx Global Qualifying Night

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

IndyCar driver Conor Daly

IndyCar and former Xfinity Series driver James Davison

Here is the event format for the Chili Bowl:

– Advancement from heat races to features is based upon passing points earned in heat race and qualifying races. Passing points are based upon car starting position when the yellow light goes out prior to the initial start of the heat or qualifying race.

– The 40 drivers earning the most passing points advance to four “A” qualifying races; drivers in passing points positions 41-68 will go to two C Main races. The two C Main races will have 16 cars, 12 laps in length.

– The top four cars in each C Main race will advance to the back of the B Main races, going 15 laps. (Top four from first C Main to back of first B Main, top four from second C Main to back of second B main)

– The lineup of each “A” Qualifying race will include an inversion of six cars. The top 24 cars in passing points will make the inversion. (The top point driver will start on row three of the first qualifying race, the No. 2 driver on row 3 of the second qualifying race, etc.)

– The four qualifying races will have 10 cars each with the top 16 in combined passing points from the heats and qualifying races advancing to the A Main.

– The balance of the cars (24) from the “A” qualifying races will advance to two 16 car B Mains. The top four in each B Main will advance to the A Main, going 30 laps.

– There will be 24 drivers in each preliminary night A feature

– The top two drivers in the preliminary A qualify for Saturday’s A Main.

Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. now entered in Chili Bowl Nationals

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Former Roush Fenway Racing teammates Ryan Newman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are now among the NASCAR drivers entered in the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Roush’s Newman and Stenhouse – who will race for JTG Daugherty Racing in 2020 –  join three-time defending winner Christopher Bell and a handful of other current and former NASCAR drivers among the roughly 340 entries for the 34th annual Chili Bowl.

Newman and Stenhouse will each compete for the Clauson-Marshall team.

The midget racing event will be held Jan. 13 – 18 on the Tulsa Expo Raceway, a quarter-mile clay oval inside the River Spirit Expo Center at Tulsa’s Expo Square.

Bell, who will compete for Leavine Family Racing as a rookie in the Cup Series in 2020, won the event from 2017-19.

Joining Newman, Stenhouse and Bell in trying to claim the Chili Bowl’s “Golden Driller” trophy are:

* Cup Series drivers Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and J.J. Yeley.

* Xfinity Series drivers Justin Allgaier, Chase Briscoe and Ryan Ellis and former Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series driver and two-time Chili Bowl winner Rico Abreu.

* NBC Sports reporter Dillon Welch.

* Former IndyCar and Xfinity Series driver James Davison.

Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell among NASCAR drivers entered in Chili Bowl

Chili Bowl Nationals
Chili Bowl Nationals
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Three-time defending winner Christopher Bell and a handful of current and former NASCAR drivers are among the 336 entries so far for the 34th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.

The midget racing event will be held Jan. 13 – 18 on the Tulsa Expo Raceway, a quarter-mile clay oval inside the River Spirit Expo Center at Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Expo Square.

Bell, who will compete for Leavine Family Racing as a rookie in the Cup Series in 2020, won the event from 2017-19.

MORE: Christopher Bell withdraws from remaining New Zealand races after wreck

Joining Bell in trying to claim the Chili Bowl’s “Golden Driller” trophy are:

* Cup Series drivers Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and J.J. Yeley.

* Xfinity Series drivers Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe and former Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series driver and two-time Chili Bowl winner Rico Abreu.

* NBC Sports reporter Dillon Welch.

* Former IndyCar and Xfinity Series driver James Davison.

Justin Allgaier wins Xfinity race at Road America; Bill Elliott places 20th

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Justin Allgaier won the Johnsonville 180 at Road America, continuing a career year with his fourth victory.

Allgaier led 14 laps and the final seven under green after passing James Davison on a restart in Turn 8.

The top five was completed by Matt Tifft, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer and Elliott Sadler.

James Davison and Justin Marks were competing for second with three laps to go when they made contact and spun in Turn 8.

“The restart there, he kind of left before I did and the 2 (Matt Tifft) gave me a shot … he thought (Davison) was going. I spun the tires really bad after I got hit. I thought I gave it away and when he made the mistake down in (Turn) 8 I just knew I had to be smooth and fast.”

Allgaier has won two of the season’s first three road course races after winning at Mid-Ohio. He placed third at Watkins Glen.

Allgaier came back to win after he and Christopher Bell knocked each other off track on Lap 27.

The race also featured Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, who finished 20th despite being involved in two incidents.

“I feel like I hit everything but the lottery,” Elliott told NBCSN. “It was a great day. … It was a heck of a lot of fun. I just felt like I needed more through (Turns) 9 and 10, the carousel, to carry any speed through there. I feel like I just gave up too much in like (Turn) 3. I was not too bad in (Turns) 5, 6, 7, 8. But it seemed like the carousel, I got a little bit free down into (Turn) 11. But all in all I enjoyed it, I had a good time.”

Elliott said “I doubt it” when asked if he’d race again.

“This was a lot of fun, a good time,” Elliott said. “I felt like I held my own pretty good for where I’m at in my career and what I was trying to do.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Matt Tifft

STAGE 2 WINNER: Daniel Hemric

MORE: Race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Matt Tifft earned his career-best finish in his 67th start … Ross Chastain finished seventh for his second-best result of the season. He earned his sixth top-10 finish of 2018, his most ever in a single season. … Elliott Sadler earned his first top five since the July race at Daytona … Katherine Legge placed 14th in her second NASCAR start, bouncing back from a spin on Lap 24.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ryan Reed was eliminated after he wrecked on a Lap 7 restart in Turn 2 … Austin Cindric was eliminated when his engine expired on Lap 15, right as Daniel Hemric passed him for the lead … Tyler Reddick finished 34th after a fluid leak forced him to retire … Josh Bilicki wrecked out with eight laps to go, plowing into a tire barrier in the Canada Corner.

NOTABLE: Cole Custer, Elliott Sadler and Daniel Hemric locked themselves into the playoffs on points … Conor Daly finished 31st in his series debut due to mechanical issues.

POST-RACE INSPECTION: Cole Custer had one unsecured lug nut.

WHAT’S NEXT: VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 1 on NBC