Gio Scelzi ready for Chili Bowl return as start on potential road to NASCAR

GaryScelziMotorsports.com
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As a racer, Giovanni Scelzi has a big hunger for success in 2020, and he’ll start with a heaping bowl of chili, so to speak, this week.

The 18-year-old Scelzi – “Gio” for short – will make his second career start in the Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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.

The Fresno, California native – son of four-time NHRA drag racing champ Gary Scelzi and younger brother of 22-year-old fellow sprint car driver Dominic Scelzi – is looking to avenge what happened two years ago in Tulsa. He starts that journey in Monday night’s first qualifying heat race.

“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.”

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 preliminary race winner in the history of the legendary Knoxville Nationals in Iowa, one of the most notable outings in a season that showed Scelzi make 71 total starts across several dirt racing series, earning nine wins, 23 top 5 and 40 top 10 finishes.

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

The new year is likely to be very pivotal for Gio. He’s starting with the Chili Bowl, racing as part of the Toyota Development program with Chad Boat (son of former IndyCar driver Billy Boat), and as teammates with Christopher Bell, who has won the Chili Bowl the last three years and moves to NASCAR Cup this season, as well as NBC Sports reporter Dillon Welch and several others.

The day after the Chili Bowl concludes, Gio will head to Australia to race for the second straight year in several races (NASCAR star Kyle Larson will also be heading down under to race at the same time).

When he returns from down under, Scelzi will be ready to go for another season of dirt racing across several series, most notably the World of Outlaws.

And he’s exploring avenues to possibly do some pavement racing in the ARCA Series as a prelude to what he hopes will eventually become a racing career in NASCAR.

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

“But 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. 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.

“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).”

Even though his father was a drag racing great, and Gio and his older brother grew up at dragstrips across the country, he feels more at home in a sprint car rather than a Top Fuel dragster or Funny Car.

“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 six at their home track, Plaza Park Raceway in Visalia, Calif., about 30 miles away 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.”

Jason Tucker Photos

Speaking of unique, after the Chili Bowl, Scelzi goes back to run three races next week in Australia, the President’s Cup on January 22, the Kings Challenge the following night and sprint car racing’s biggest weekend of the year down under, The Classic on Jan. 23-24.

Larson is also racing in Australia next week, including taking part in The Classic. Scelzi and Larson are good friends. “I can talk to him if I need help with driving or whatever, so I consider him a pretty close friend,” Scelzi said of Larson, who is also a California native.

With so much going on now and his future heading in the direction of NASCAR, Scelzi was asked if he’d ever consider following in his father’s footsteps and go drag racing.

His answer was somewhat surprising:

“Honestly, I love drag racing,” he said. “I think it’s the coolest thing in the world, it’s absolutely awesome.

“But to go 300-plus mph and pretty much strap yourself to a bomb on wheels really doesn’t excite me a whole lot. I love going to the races, I love watching it, I love working on them – but driving, honestly, scares me.

“How violent those things explode and when they crash, it doesn’t really excite me a whole lot to get behind the wheel.”

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Supercross 2023: Results and points after Houston

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Eli Tomac led all 23 laps of the Monster Energy Supercross race at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas and the results show he now has three wins in the season and is one shy of tying Ricky Carmichael’s 48 for third on the all-time list. With this win, he takes a seven point lead in the standings with 12 rounds remaining.

For Tomac at Houston, it was literally a tale of two races. Both his heat and the main started the same with Tomac grabbing the holeshot, but he was passed quickly by Chase Sexton in the heat. Tomac faded quickly after getting passed and was trailing by almost eight seconds at the checkered flag, which caused him to retreat to the hauler and reassess his lines. Without making any adjustments to the bike, Tomac entered the Main with a new attitude, and simply rode better.

Supercross Results Houston
Chase Sexton played it safe in the sand, but he was aggressive in every other turn. – Feld Motor Sports

Sexton had so great a lead in his heat that one could not even use the cliche that he left Tomac in his dust. By the time the rider with the No. 1 plate crossed the same real estate as the No. 23, the dust was well settled. Sexton had a modest start on the initial gate drop and ended Lap 1 in fourth. He worked his way past Aaron Plessinger on Lap 3 and got around Jason Anderson three laps later. Sexton was able to catch Tomac and pressure him, but he picked a safe, i.e. slow line through the sand section and could never get alongside his rival.

RESULTS: Click here for 450 Results; Click here for full 250 East Main Results

After starting the season with back-to-back seventh-place finishes, Anderson now has a pair of podiums. He won his heat and was easily one of the top three riders in the field, ultimately finishing behind the riders who finished 1-2 in the other preliminary. Anderson was subdued on the podium – happy he was there, but disappointed he has not yet found a way around the riders he is chasing in the points.

In the early stages of the race, Plessinger appeared to have a bike capable of winning. He pressured Tomac on the first two laps and was setting up the pass just as a red flag waved for an injury to Dylan Ferrandis that brought out a red flag. He lost second to Anderson on the restart and eventually slipped to fourth to score his first top-five of the season.

Click here for 450 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

Cooper Webb rounded out the top five. Along with Sexton, he is now one of just two riders with a sweep of that mark in 2023, but with Tomac’s three wins, he is beginning to slip in the points. Webb sits third in the standings, 12 points behind the leader.

Ken Roczen entered the race as the third rider with a sweep of the top five and progressively better results in the first three races of 2023. Had the pattern held, he would have finished at least second, but he struggled for most of the night, finishing fifth in his heat and eighth in the Main. There may have been extenuating circumstances, however. Ferrandis’ injury was suffered when he landed on the back of Roczen’s bike and potentially damaged the No. 94 Suzuki.

Click here for 450 Main results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points | Lap Chart


The 250 East division made their 2023 debut in Houston, but the name atop the board was familiar. Hunter Lawrence joined his brother Jett Lawrence as the early points’ leader in their respective divisions, but it didn’t come without a little anxiety.

Riding behind Supercross newbie Tom Vialle on the second lap, Lawrence was forced to take evasive action when the leader pitched his bike sideways to scrub speed over a jump. Lawrence veered left and landed off course, but he cleared the Tuff Blox and kept his bike straight. Lawrence made the pass for the lead on Lap 18 and never relinquished it.

Click here for 250 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

In his first attempt on a 250, Max Anstie ascended to the podium. – Feld Motor Sports

England’s Max Anstie made the move from 450s to 250s this year after scoring a best result of 11th on the big bike at Anaheim 2 last year. It didn’t take anytime at all to find the front for Anstie, who finished second in both his heat and main.

It has been a while since Jordon Smith stood on the podium: February 23, 2019 to be exact when he finished that well in Detroit. A series of injuries kept him off the bike for much of 2020 and 2021, but he’s proving to be a factor when he’s healthy.

Click here for 250 Main results | 250 East Rider Points | Combined Rider Points | Lap Chart

There was a lot of hype surrounding the debut of Haiden Deegan in the 250 class and he proved it was merited. He finished fourth in his heat and main. He was as far down as ninth at one point in the feature before slowly picking off riders on his way to the front.

Jeremy Martin finished fifth and now has a streak of three consecutive top-fives to his credit stretching back to last year. Unfortunately, his pair of strong runs in 2022 were interrupted by injury.

Making impressive debuts in the 250 division, Vialle recovered from a fall to finish seventh, Chance Hymas finished eighth, and Talon Hawkins just missed the top 10 with an 11th.

2023 Results

Race 3: Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen win
Race 2: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 1: Tomac, Lawrence win

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings

Week 3: Ken Roczen takes the top spot
Week 2: Roczen moves up; Chase Sexton falls
Week 1: Eli Tomac tops 450s; Jett Lawrence 250s