Ryan Ellis

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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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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.

Updated entry lists for Xfinity, Trucks at Iowa Speedway

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Xfinity and Truck Series teams will have the NASCAR stage to themselves this weekend when they make their first trip of the year to Iowa Speedway.

The Cup Series will enjoy its second off weekend of the year for Father’s Day.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for this weekend’s races at the .875-mile track, which will host a second Xfinity race in July.

Xfinity Series – Circuit City 250 (5:30 p.m. ET Sunday on FS1)

There are 39 entries for the race.

Former Richard Childress Racing driver Shane Lee will make his season debut with H2 Motorsports in the No. 28 Toyota.

Ryan Ellis will make his first start of the year in B.J. McLeod Motorsports’ No. 99 Toyota.

Joe Graf, Jr. is entered in his second race in RCR’s No. 21 Chevrolet. Graf failed to qualify for last weekend’s race at Michigan.

Ronnie Bassett Jr. is now entered in DGM Racing’s No. 90 Chevrolet, replacing Alex Labbe.

Justin Allgaier won this race last year, beating Christopher Bell and Daniel Hemric. Bell won the July race last year over Allgaier and Kyle Benjamin.

Click here for the entry list.

Truck Series – M&M’s 200 (8:30 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1)

There are 33 trucks entered in the race, which is the second in the three race “Triple Truck Challenge.”

One truck will not qualify for the race.

Ross Chastain is entered in the No. 44 Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports. Kyle Benjamin is entered in the team’s No. 45 Chevrolet.

Riley Herbst is entered is Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 46 Toyota for his second start of the year.

After Greg Biffle‘s win at Texas Motor Speedway, ARCA driver Chandler Smith is entered in KBM’s No. 51 Toyota for his first career Truck start.

Tyler Ankrum is now entered in NEMCO Motorsports’ No. 87 truck, replacing Joe Nemechek.

Reaume Brothers Racing’s No. 32 Truck with Daniel Sasnett is no longer entered.

Brett Moffitt won this race last year over Harrison Burton and Noah Gragson.

Click here for the entry list.

Ryan Ellis to run two Xfinity races

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Ryan Ellis, who has competed in 77 NASCAR national series races since 2012, announced he will run in two Xfinity races this season with B.J. McLeod Motorsports.

Ellis will run at Iowa Speedway (June 16) and at Road America (Aug. 24). Ellis finished 17th at Road America last year for B.J. McLeod Motorsports.

Ellis will partner with country music group, the Wes Cook Band. The band’s song, “I Stand for the Flag,” will serve as inspiration for a design on the No. 99 that Ellis will drive.

I am thrilled to represent not only the Wes Cook Band, but also this song, Ellis said.

To be able to work with all of these great partners and have Enlisted Nine, Audio Video Specialists, Top Cover and Nine Line Apparel join us is huge. I would not have this opportunity without them, and I appreciate them coming on board and cant wait to race with B.J. McLeod and his group again this season.”

NASCAR driver Ryan Ellis meets Ryan Ellis, hockey player

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Every once in a while you meet someone with a really unique name.

Then there’s the race occasion you meet someone whose name is little bit like yours, except for a different letter or two or the way you pronounce it.

Then, there’s the even rarer occasion where you run across a person with the exact same name as you.

That’s the situation driver Ryan Ellis found himself in Tuesday at a Nashville Predators game against the Minnesota Wild. The veteran of 74 NASCAR races was in attendance at the NHL game to watch another Ryan Ellis, a Predators’ defenceman and a veteran of six seasons.

“I grew up playing hockey just as long as I’ve been racing, so to meet someone who I’ve watched in World Juniors and all that, to see him out there playing, it was really cool to meet the guy who I keep getting angry tweets about,” NASCAR’s Ellis told the Predator’s website.

A native of Ashburn, Virginia, auto racing’s Ryan Ellis grew up a fan of the local Washington Capitals.

“Nashville is probably the coolest venue of any rink I’ve been to,” he continued. “I’ve been to games up in Pittsburgh, Washington, Dallas this year, Carolina last week, and I’m going to Detroit in a few weeks, but the environment here was really cool. I didn’t think of it as a hockey town [before], but the crowd was super into it. I had a few friends with me, who had never been to a game before, and they kept saying how stoked the crowd was. It was really cool to see the live music and everything.”

Ellis competed in four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races in 2016, with three of them for BK Racing.

He started 16 Xfinity Series races, with a majority of them for Obaika Racing. His best finish was 15th at Daytona International Speedway in July.