NHRA

Photo: Rich Forman

Gio Scelzi hopes to use Chili Bowl as springboard to NASCAR

Leave a comment

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):

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Tanner Gray to race Truck full-time in 2020 for DGR-Crosley

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Just over a year after winning the 2018 NHRA Pro Stock championship, Tanner Gray’s NASCAR path is picking up steam.

DGR-Crosley announced Monday that Gray will compete full-time in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in the 2020 season.

Gray, who will turn 21 on April 15, will drive the DGR-Crosley No. 15 Ford F-150 and compete for Truck Series’ rookie of the year honors.

The Artesia, New Mexico native will also drive in several select ARCA Menards Series and ARCA Menards Series East (formerly K&N Pro Series East) races in 2020, the team announced.

Gray competed in several different racing series in the 2019 season, including late models, ARCA East (in 12 starts, won at South Boston, had six top-five and nine top-10 finishes, and finished third in the standings), ARCA Menards Series and NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series (competed in three races, earning top-20 finishes in each).

“I’m really looking forward to next year,” Gray said in a media release. “Obviously running full-time in the Truck Series is going to be tough with how competitive the series is. It’s going to be challenging racing with these guys week in and week out, but I have a lot of great people around me.

“The experience in the DGR-Crosley guys will help me adapt and learn quickly. It’s also exciting that Ford is coming on board and giving us assets that will further advance our performance each week.”

Added team co-owner David Gilliland, “Tanner has done a great job in his transition to stock car racing. I was really impressed with how well he picked up the feel of the car and was able to provide very detailed feedback.”

Gilliland continued, “It’s a big step up to the Truck Series, but there’s not a doubt in my mind that he’s ready for it. I’m confident that the team we are assembling at DGR-Crosley is going to be one that is a factor every weekend and will compete for wins. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Gray’s first race is the season-opening event at Daytona International Speedway on Friday, February 14.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Former NHRA champ Tanner Gray full speed ahead on NASCAR career

DGR-Crosley
Leave a comment

Adrenaline is adrenaline.

But how Tanner Gray experiences it has changed dramatically since he won the 2018 NHRA Pro Stock championship.

The 20-year-old traded in the adrenaline shots that came with seven-second runs at over 200 MPH for the more drawn out adrenaline rushes of NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series.

“You get different kinds of adrenaline rushes throughout the race, like the initial start you’re pretty amped up and ready to go,” Gray told NBC Sports. “The feeling on a restart is the same feeling you’re going to get lining up for a drag race.”

That’s what Gray experienced last Saturday when he claimed his first K&N Pro Series East win in an overtime finish at South Boston Speedway, a track he’d never visited before.

After earning his first career pole, the DGR-Crosley driver led 79 laps before a late caution set up a battle with Sam Mayer, the only other driver to lead more than one lap in the race.

The two drivers banged doors as they took the white flag with Gray grabbing the lead and then the win in just his fourth NASCAR start.

The win was a “relief” for Gray after his decision to change course in his career and return to racing on ovals after having previously competed in super late models.

“I think it definitely is a little bit of a relief to know when everything lines up we have the ability and have the talent and everything to do it,” Gray said. “It’s just a matter of doing it.”

A third generation drag racer, Gray’s last two years had been spent racing Pro Stocks, culminating in becoming the youngest NHRA champion in history. But the New Mexico native always had his sights set on NASCAR, believing it provided a better future for him.

“I was pretty dead set on doing this,” Gray said. “I told my dad (former Pro Stock driver Shane Gray) whether I won the championship or even won a race, I said ‘I think this will be it.'”

As a member of David Gilliland‘s DGR-Crosley team, Gray is now “100 percent” more busy than he ever was in the NHRA, splitting time between the K&N East and West and the ARCA Menards Series.

“This year I think I have close to 30-something races,” Gray said. “(Compared to) the NHRA schedule I raced in 24 races. When you go to the NHRA race you’re at the same place from Thursday to Monday … You fly in Thursday and you usually fly out Monday. But you’re at the same place.

“This week I go to Tuscon (for the K&N West race) and then fly straight from Tuscon to Toledo to test … I’m constantly moving around to different places, testing a lot more and everything else.”

Three days after his win, Gray experienced another first: he drove on a speedway for the first time in a Tuesday ARCA test at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Before that the biggest thing I had been on was a half-mile,” Gray said. “It definitely took a couple of runs just to get used to getting down in the corner and stuff. It didn’t feel really fast to me. … But I didn’t feel like it really took long to get used to everything. It’s going to take me a little bit to get to where I’m competitive.”

Despite the win in South Boston, Gray still feels very much like the rookie he is.

“I feel like I make new mistakes every race,” Gray said. “You’re just constantly learning. Last week at South Boston I had a really good race, ended up getting the brakes hot there towards the end and when you get brake heat, it creates tire heat and tire heat (causes) the tire to grow and it just gets tight. Even though I won, I still did some things wrong. Everything kind of lined up there for us to have that final restart and edge out Sam (Mayer). If it wasn’t for that final caution there, Sam probably would have won.”

Gray has blinders on now that he’s on his NASCAR path. Don’t expect to see him make any return visits to a drag strip. He considers that chapter of his life over.

Why ruin a good thing?

“It ended so well for me it’s almost not worth it to go back and go again,” Gray said. “My last race there I won the championship and won my last race the same weekend and ended with the best reaction time average. A bunch of different cool stuff. … If I’m not going to do it all the time then I really don’t feel the need to go back out there.”

 

Today’s Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, lineup and more

Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A new look to the racing could take place today at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Cup teams will use the new aero package, including aero ducts, that are intended to tighten the racing.

There’s been a lot of talk about what the racing will be like at this track. It’s time to find out.

Here’s all the information for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: NHRA drivers Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett will give the command to start engines at 3:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 3:46 p.m.

PRERACE CEREMONIES: Driver introductions begin at 3 p.m. The invocation will be given at 3:30 p.m. Cassadee Pope, season 3 winner of “The Voice” and a Grammy nominated recording artist, will perform the National Anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 2:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for mostly sunny skies with a high of 68 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Brad Keselowski won the playoff opener at Las Vegas last September. Kyle Larson was second. Martin Truex Jr. placed third. Kevin Harvick won this race a year ago. Kyle Busch was second. Larson placed third.  

TO THE REAR: Landon Cassill (changed gear) and Ty Dillon (engine)

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Steve Letarte creates site to help those looking for work in auto racing

NBC Sports
Leave a comment

NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte is pioneering a way to match those seeking jobs in NASCAR and other forms of motorsports with teams that are hiring.

Letarte debuted the website RacingJobs.com on Thursday.

The site uses a searchable database that creates anonymous online profiles for prospective racing employees. Race teams can fill needed positions based on desired qualifications such as education, work experience, skill sets and pay scale.

“The response from the industry is clear,” Letarte said. “Race teams are excited for RacingJobs.com and the service it provides in helping them find the right candidates for the right job.”

Letarte notes that every job necessary in the sport, including pit crews, road crews, engineers, interior mechanics and fabricators, among others, will be available to be filled by a talent pool that will represent every series from NASCAR to drag racing to IndyCar.

Race teams can search based on potential openings, ensuring that a prospective employee’s education, experience and proficiency meet the job’s qualifications. A search can provide a list of candidates for teams and they can winnow the list to the best matches. The site then emails prospects on that filtered list to provide contact information and instructions for reaching the race team.

Letarte notes that in keeping the profiles anonymous, all prospective employees are on equal ground, and the barriers to entry in a challenging job market are reduced.

“I created RacingJobs.com to improve the hiring process in motorsports,” Letarte said. “This project has been several months in the making, and I’m excited about the site going live and making a positive impact in the industry.”