By Lee Elder
FRESNO, Calif. (April 20, 2018) – Giovanni Scelzi recently turned 16 years of age. He’s old enough now to drive the family car to the market to buy a can of peas or whatever is needed for dinner at home. But driving a car is no big deal for Scelzi.
He’s been driving race cars for about a decade.
The youngest son of retired NHRA drag racing star Gary Scelzi, Giovanni has been raising dust in open wheel dirt cars since he was six years of age and he’s been winning.
“This kid is like a Swiss watch,” said Ventura (California) Raceway promoter Jim Naylor. “The kid is fabulous. He’s probably like Kyle Larson, except Gio can take a car apart and put it back together. I don’t know if Kyle can do that.”
Scelzi, who lives in Fresno, said his racing world has always revolved around dirt track racing.
“Growing up, I was always around micro-sprint racing and dirt track racing,” the younger Scelzi said. “My dad stopped racing about ten years ago when I was six or seven and I really don’t remember him racing.”
If you listen to Naylor, people are going to remember seeing Giovanni race.
“He’s that good,” Naylor said.
Scelzi will spend much of the 2018 racing season racing near home on the West Coast, broadsiding a 410 winged sprint car owned and wrenched by Paul Silva, sponsored by Priority Aviation. He has already competed with the World of Outlaws during the WoO’s West Coast swing this spring and he’ll see that series again this summer when he campaigns a car owned by Bernie Stubgen in the Midwest. The Stubgen car is sponsored by Indy Race Parts.
Young racers need nothing more than they need experience and Scelzi is surely getting seat time this year.
“Racing with the World of Outlaws has been a whole new learning curve,” Scelzi said. “It’s a completely different world. They race pretty hard, every lap. I’ve gotten my butt kicked … I’ve learned I need to be more aggressive.”
Scelzi grew up in a racing family. He’s met a lot of super stars. But he admitted that he did take note recently when he lined up to start a heat race during an Outlaws event.
“The only time I’ve been sort of star-struck is when I started a heat race next to Donnie Schatz,” Scelzi recalled. “I realized I was racing against a nine-time champion.”
Schatz won that heat race and Scelzi finished second. The list of drivers who have finished second to Donnie Schatz in a heat race is long and distinguished.
The big question everyone wants to ask a young, budding star is what career path he would like to take and, in Scelzi’s case, the world might be an oyster. He has already made inroads into major league sprint car racing and team owners from other forms of the sport frequently look for dirt track racers that might be interested in trying something new. Dirt track racers bring with them car control, hard-learned from years of turning the steering wheel to the right in order to turn the car left.
Tony Stewart, for example, won championships on dirt before racing Indy cars and then winning NASCAR championships. NHRA Top Fuel drag racing star Doug Kalitta is a former USAC sprint car national champ. Don’t under estimate the importance of car control to a drag racer because nothing tests your car control like steering something with 11,000 horsepower. NASCAR’s Larsen is a former dirt racer and so was Jeff Gordon before he switched to stock cars.
“My ultimate goal is NASCAR racing,” Scelzi said. “I love sprint car racing. I wouldn’t mind racing sprint cars for the rest of my life. But you race sprint cars a hundred or more nights a year versus thirty or forty for NASCAR.”
Scelzi said he has never raced a car on a paved track and, while there are tracks near his home where he could take a stab at pavement racing, the opportunity has not presented itself yet. Giovanni Scelzi is professional race car driver and he has responsibilities that limit his availability.
Keep in mind, this is a 16-year old. He’s still in high school but his presence of mind jumps out at you when you talk to him. His knowledge of the business speaks volumes for both his intelligence and his desire to learn. For now, he’s a sprint car racer.
And he’s a good one.