Kyle Larson wins at Thunderbowl, Californians sweep the weekend with Giovanni Scelzi also victorious.

Larson Scelzi California Outlaws
Trent Gower / World of Outlaws

The six-night “Spring Swing” for the World of Outlaws gave California natives an opportunity to beat the best sprint car drivers in America as Giovanni Scelzi and Kyle Larson swept the first two nights at Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare, California on Friday and Saturday.

Granted, neither of these drivers is an unknown entity for the Outlaws. Scelzi is racing with them full time in 2022; Larson entered the weekend with 24 Outlaw wins, four of which came in 2021. Despite being a part time driver with them in 2020, Larson had the most wins that season of 12.

The theme of California dreaming was prevalent at Thunderbowl. On Friday, Scelzi finished ahead of Connecticut’s David Gravel, but Elk Grove’s Larson was third and St. Helena’s Rico Abreu finished fourth to give the state three of the top-five finishers. Saturday night, Larson and Abreu finished in the top five. And while Fresno’s Dominic Scelzi eventually finished seventh, he was the driver Larson had to pass on Lap 19 to take the lead.

Night 1 featured a fierce battle at the front after rookie contender Spencer Bayston spun from the lead and handed it to Gio Scelzi. As the leaders sliced through traffic, throwing sliders, executing crossover moves and banging along the boards, Larson and Abreu unofficially held the lead for portions of laps without being credited at the flag stand.

“You can go ahead and tally one for California over the Outlaws,” Scelzi said in a release. “Seriously, though, this is really cool. I’ve never won a race this big in front of my home crowd. I haven’t been back in a long time, so to feel this support is incredible.”

After starting the night ninth, Larson may have used up some of his equipment getting through traffic.

“This has always been my favorite track,” Larson said on Friday. “It’s great to be back after such a long time and put on a show like that. I felt like we were good enough to win, but I just made too many mistakes on my part. Hopefully, we can get a better start to our night tomorrow and we’ll be in good shape.”

After qualifying seventh for the Cup race at Phoenix Raceway, (a position he has to relinquish after fixing a steering problem), Larson flew to California in time to make the show for Night 2.

He did not get a much better start Saturday night, and rolling off the grid sixth meant that it took 18 laps to get to the front. Once in the lead, Larson refused to give it up.

“Central California fans are some of the best in the country,” Larson said after earning his fifth Outlaws victory in the state of California. “I always love getting to race in front of these people, especially at places I grew up at.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been here, but it was technical and kind of old school the way I remember Tulare. This is amazing.”

The 25th win in his 114th start gives Larson sole possession of 25th on the all-time wins’ list – for the moment at least. One of the drivers he broke away from is Sheldon Haudenschild, who already has two wins this season and is destined for more.

Californians may not be done wowing the home crowd. After finishing fifth on Night 1 and second on Night 2, last year’s Outlaws champion Brad Sweet leads the series to Merced Speedway, a quarter-mile bullring 170 miles away from his hometown of Grass Valley.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.