SARVER, Pa. – Just when sprint car fans might have thought that Gio Scelzi had completely fallen off the radar, the Fresno, Calif., young gun reemerged on the scene in a big way.
Scelzi, who has spent the majority of the season on pavement with Toyota Racing Development and Bill McAnally Racing in the ARCA Menards Series West, has been tabbed as the new driver of the No. 18 KCP Racing sprint car.
The duo made their debut together Tuesday night at Pennsylvania’s Lernerville Speedway, during the 29th running of the Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup. Scelzi made the A-main and finished 20th, but qualified seventh in his time trial flight and showed early speed.
While the blacktop is still Scelzi’s main priority – he’s committed to chasing an ARCA West title and rookie of the year honors in McAnally’s flagship No. 16 Toyota – the 18-year-old will supplement his pavement schedule with “as many dirt events as we can run,” settling in to the ride vacated by Australian Ian Madsen late last week.
“They contacted me last Friday, and I was racing the ARCA race (at Iowa Speedway), so we flew in Friday and met with them … and kind of saw what direction they wanted to go,” Scelzi said when reached by phone Thursday morning. “It seemed like it’s the same direction I want to go. They’re one of, I feel like, the top teams in sprint car racing, with their equipment, crew, chief and owner. They pretty much have all aspects of it covered to go out and compete at the top level.
“I feel like they’re a very stable operation and it’s a group I’m glad I have gotten involved with.”
It’s another change for Scelzi since the start of the year, when he was scheduled to run a partial slate for veteran owner Guy Forbrook in the No. 5 sprint car across the Midwest.
However, once the COVID-19 pandemic shut down racing for the better part of two months in March and completely upended the foundation that Scelzi and Forbrook were hoping to build, those plans started to shift – and moved even more so when a ride of KCP’s caliber opened up recently.
“They wanted somebody right now, and it was just a case where push came to shove and I had to make a decision. This is the one I ultimately went with,” noted Scelzi of choosing KCP and parting ways with Forbrook. “Obviously Guy gave me a great opportunity when I had nothing (else) going on. I really wish we could have gotten to race more together, but obviously the coronavirus messed everything up, or we would have had 10 or 12 races under our belt by now. At this point, though, we only had three.
“I have a lot of respect for Guy and his whole family, with how hard they worked to get me in a race car, and it just didn’t work the way the circumstances were. That’s kind of how racing goes sometimes,” Scelzi continued. “This was something that I viewed as a very stable operation, and a situation where these types of opportunities don’t come every day. Whenever one like this one does present itself, you have to jump on it … or otherwise it’ll be gone in a hurry.”
Unlike some of Scelzi’s past rides, where he’s had to put just as much effort into working on his race cars and keeping up with maintenance as he has driving them, KCP Racing has a crew committed to taking care of most of those duties already.
As such, Scelzi is more of a hired gun for the first time in his career, allowing him to turn his focus back to being a driver.
“I think this is the goal in anybody’s career, to not necessarily have to spend long nights in the shop every single night just to make sure your car gets to the next race. This is what all that hard work has paid off in and brought me,” Scelzi noted. “This is a very serious operation and they want to win races.
“I’m here as a hired race car driver, and this is where everybody wants to get to in their career,” he added. “I’m obviously just 18 years old, so I still have a lot to learn, but hopefully I have a long future here to be able to do that.”
Alongside Scelzi for his new journey with KCP Racing is crew chief Tyler Swank, who moved over to the team to wrench for Madsen during the offseason and will remain in that capacity with Scelzi.
Scelzi is optimistic that the youth and energy that both he and Swank bring to the table will help them find success together relatively quickly.
“Tyler is someone I look up to a lot, with as much as he’s done in the last few years of his career,” said Scelzi of Swank, who worked with David Gravel and Sheldon Haudenschild during their early years in professional sprint car racing.
“I think in a sense we’ve kind of hit it off,” Scelzi added. “We’ve always been friends, but I think now with finally getting to race together, it’ll turn into something good.”
As for being able to solely focus on driving in this endeavor, Scelzi noted that it may change his approach slightly, but in no way does his new role affect his ultimate goal.
“Obviously I’ll be able to spend more time in the gym and on myself physically and mentally, with not having to worry about working on the car quite as much,” Scelzi said. “I have two very, very talented crew members out here at KCP Racing. Maybe it is a little bit different mindset, but still the same goal: win races. Whenever the engine starts, it’s the same for me. Nothing changes on that front, whether it’s ARCA or NASCAR or a sprint car.
“I just want to win and that’s what I’m after with this team.”