arca menards series

Photo: Rich Forman

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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Dominique Van Wieringen fastest on Day 2 of Daytona ARCA test

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The ARCA Menards Series capped off a two-day test at Daytona International Speedway Saturday in preparation for its Feb. 8 race at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

Dominique Van Wieringen posted the fastest speed of the day at 181.397 mph. She only made four laps.

“I was really surprised when (owner) Mark (Rette) said we went to the top of the charts,” Van Wieringen said in a media release. “I was practicing trying to time the draft for qualifying and I didn’t get it times just right. Hopefully when we come back for the race I can time it out a little better in qualifying and get even more.

“It’s been a good experience. It’s really intimidating because you go really fast and when things go wrong they go wrong really fast. For the first time out, it was better than I thought it would be. It was actually really relaxing. I don’t know how to explain it, it was just really relaxing.”

Out of 41 cars to make a lap, the top five was completed by David Gravel (181.236 mph), Sean Corr (181.174), Michael Self (181.145) and Drew Dollar (181.134).

Gravel, a World of Outlaws driver, will make his series debut next month.

Hailie Deegan was 16th on the speed chart after recording 62 laps throughout the day, which was the most.

 

World of Outlaws driver David Gravel lands part-time Truck ride at GMS Racing

David Gravel
GMS Racing
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World of Outlaws driver and Knoxville Nationals winner David Gravel will race a part-time Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series schedule in 2020, GMS Racing announced Friday.

Gravel, 27, has 51 World of Outlaw feature wins and won the 2019 Knoxville Nationals with sponsorship from Axalta secured with the help of NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon.

Gravel will compete in six Truck Series races, including the July 30 Eldora Dirt Derby, where he’ll drive the No. 24 truck sponsored by Axalta.

He will also compete in the ARCA Menards Series season opener at Daytona with GMS Racing’s alliance team, KBR Development.

MORE: GMS Racing’s 2020 full-time driver lineup

“Excited for this opportunity to run in NASCAR is an understatement,” Gravel said in a press release. “I can’t thank Jeff (Gordon) and Mike (Beam, president of GMS Racing) enough for believing in me and putting me in this position to race Eldora and some select asphalt races. It’s going to be a challenge, but I am ready for it.”

A native of Watertown, Connecticut, Gravel is a two-time Williams Grove National Open winner and a two-time Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup winner. He first met Gordon at the 2019 Chili Bowl Nationals.

“I’ve been following David’s career for a while and have tremendous respect for his talent behind the wheel,” Gordon said in a press release. “I had a chance to meet David at the Chili Bowl in 2019 which led to the Axalta Coatings sponsorship opportunity at the Knoxville Nationals in a sprint car.

“Once I saw his performance at that race I knew he deserved a chance to pursue his dream of racing in NASCAR. It has been fun to see that come to fruition with GMS, who is leading the way in bringing new talent into the Truck Series and NASCAR.”

Sponsorship for Gravel’s five other Truck Series races has been secured and will be announced later.

Bobby Gerhart to miss first ARCA Daytona season opener in 33 years

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Bobby Gerhart’s heart will still be in the upcoming ARCA Menards Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway, even though his body won’t be behind the wheel.

For the first time in 33 years, Gerhart will not be in the field on the 2.5-mile superspeedway. It’s a race he has won eight times and has 15 top-10 finishes.

The reason is simple, although it could have been very serious: the Lebanon, Pennsylvania native recently suffered a heart attack.

“I guess you could say I got the greatest Christmas gift of all,” Gerhart told ARCAracing.com. “I was at home and wasn’t feeling well and drove myself to the doctor. When I got there they said I had a pretty serious heart attack. It could have been a matter of five minutes or five hours, but had I waited, it’s pretty likely it would not have ended up as well as it did. I still have a very long road to go but I have been given a second chance here and for that I am very lucky and very grateful.”

For now, the 61-year-old Gerhart will continue to be involved in his race team as owner, driving coach and cheerleader for his other drivers. But he won’t be behind the wheel for the foreseeable future.

“I guess we can say I am stepping out of the seat immediately due to health issues,” Gerhart told ARCAracing.com. “It’s maybe not the way I envisioned it but at the same time I feel like I was given a gift with the way it all went down.

“I travel all over the country, not just with racing but buying and selling big rigs for work. Had that happened when I was away from home, who knows if I would have decided to drive myself to the nearest hospital and get checked out.

“I never felt any symptoms. I don’t eat fried foods and I don’t eat a lot of red meat. I’ve never had high blood pressure. I just won the genetic lottery I suppose. But with the way it all went down – versus the way it could have – I got really, really lucky.”

Gerhart has made 341 career ARCA starts since his first race in 1988. His nine career wins include the eight at Daytona. He’s also made 24 NASCAR Cup, 18 Xfinity Series and 10 Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series starts in his career as well.

Gerhart will be with his team at the upcoming series test at Daytona on Jan. 10-11, calling the shots from atop the pit box and along pit road. He still hasn’t named a driver for the No. 5, though, and with most drivers already with other teams, it’s a challenge.

Still, Gerhart hopes things can shake out positively for the season opening race on Feb. 8.

“It’s awfully late in the going, we know that,” Gerhart told ARCAracing.com. “But we have really great equipment ready to go. All we need is a driver to plug in and we can go win Daytona.

“We’ve done programs like this in the past with drivers like Kyle Krisiloff and Blake Feese. We have a great record of success at Daytona and working with other drivers so we’re hoping even with just a few weeks to go we can find someone who wants to go race.

“We’ll look at any opportunity, from one-race deals to partial season deals to a full season deal. We know we can be an asset to someone who is looking to go and run up front at Daytona. We are going to work hard to keep these race team going.”

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ARCA Menards Series 2020 TV schedule announced

ARCA Menards Series
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All 20 races of the 2020 ARCA Menards Series will be televised on Fox Sports and MAVTV, ARCA officials announced Friday.

The schedule also includes the 10-race Sioux Chief Showdown.

Eight races will air on Fox Sports networks, including FOX Sports, FS1 and FS2. The season-opening race will be the Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, Feb. 8, at 4:30 p.m. ET on FS1.

MAVTV will televise the other 12 races, including the inaugural Sioux Chief Showdown championship race on Saturday, Sept. 26, at Memphis International Raceway. The Sioux Chief Showdown is a 10-race super series that brings together the best drivers in the ARCA Menards Series, as well as the ARCA Menards East and West series (formerly the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and Pro Series West Series).

The TV schedule for the ARCA Menards East and West series will be announced at a later date, the organization announced.

Here’s the 2020 ARCA Menards Series schedule:

 

DATE TRACK START TIME (ET) NETWORK
Sat, Feb 8 Daytona International Speedway 4:30 p.m. FS1
Fri, Mar 6 ISM Raceway * 7 p.m. FS1
Sun, Apr 19 Salem Speedway * 2 p.m. MAVTV
Fri, Apr 24 Talladega Superspeedway 6 p.m. FS1
Thu, May 21 Charlotte Motor Speedway 8 p.m. FS1
Fri, May 29 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course * 5:30 p.m. FS1
Fri, Jun 5 Michigan International Speedway 6 p.m. MAVTV
Thu, Jun 18 Chicagoland Speedway 8 p.m. FS1
Thu, Jun 25 Pocono Raceway 4 p.m. MAVTV
Fri, Jul 3 Lucas Oil Raceway * 8 p.m. MAVTV
Sat, Jul 11 Elko Speedway * 10 p.m. MAVTV
Fri, Jul 17 Iowa Speedway * 9 p.m. MAVTV
Sun, Aug 2 WWT Raceway at Gateway * 3 p.m. MAVTV
Fri, Aug 7 Madison International Speedway 9 p.m. MAVTV
Fri, Aug 14 Watkins Glen International * 5:30 p.m. MAVTV
Sun, Aug 23 Illinois State Fairgrounds 2:30 p.m. MAVTV
Sat, Sep 5 DuQuoin State Fairgrounds 9 p.m. MAVTV
Thu, Sep 17 Bristol Motor Speedway * 9:30 p.m. FS1
Sat, Sep 26 Memphis International Speedway * 7 p.m. MAVTV
Fri, Oct 16 Kansas Speedway 8:30 p.m. FS2

* Sioux Chief Showdown

Schedule subject to change.

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