IRWINDALE, Calif. – Gio Scelzi’s name has made headlines over the past year for his prodigy-like sprint car exploits, but on Sept. 14 the 17-year-old found himself in the news for a different type of victory.
Scelzi powered to the win in his pavement racing debut, making waves in a spec late model at Irwindale Speedway owned by Tim Huddleston, the promoter who saved the historic California half-mile in 2018.
The 40-lap affair, a combination event between Irwindale’s spec late model and Lucas Oil-sponsored truck divisions, saw Scelzi charge through the field and take the lead from Andrew Porter with 14 to go.
From there, Scelzi pulled away from his nearest pursuers and beat eventual runner-up Lucas McNeil to the checkered flag by .830 seconds for his first asphalt win in his first appearance on the blacktop.
It was a banner moment, if a little surprising for many, including the driver himself.
“I can’t say I was necessarily expecting it right out of the box, but I thought it went really well,” Scelzi said. “It took me a while to get comfortable and to find the edge. I pretty much threw everything I knew away and started fresh. It was different, but I really enjoyed it.
“Having a spotter was different, but it was cool to have a new challenge like this.”
Scelzi was quick to note that, aside from the roughly 150 laps he turned during two days of practice prior to the event, he had “zero pavement experience” going into the weekend.
He was a quick study, however, soaking in everything he could and making changes as he went along.
“I think the biggest thing for me was finding the limits of a pavement car,” Scelzi explained. “In the sprint car, it’s just a very different kind of racing. With the dirt car, you’re wide open most of the time and you hit the brakes to slow the car down … because with dirt cars if you’re all the way off the gas, the race car’s not happy. You have to be on the gas, whether it’s half throttle or quarter throttle or wide open. You have to be on the gas to keep the car loaded all the time. It’s not like that on pavement as much.
“On pavement you’re at the edge where it’s fast and then you cross it and you spin out, and you’re off the gas and off the brakes just rolling through the corner; that was a very uncomfortable sensation for me, being used to dirt and always sliding with the right rear stuck out,” Scelzi added. “It took me a while to find that edge, but once I did, then we started moving forward.”
With one asphalt race under his belt, would Scelzi do it again in the future?
“Oh yeah,” he replied. “I want to see where this road will take me. It’s something that I’ve talked about with Andy and Jack. We’ll just see what happens … but this is a great start in that world, I’d say.”