KNOXVILLE, Iowa – It wasn’t a surprise to see Gio Scelzi collect rookie of the year honors during Saturday night’s 5-hour Energy Knoxville Nationals finale, but his run through the week was nothing short of impressive.
The 16-year-old California young gun locked himself into Saturday’s Nationals A main by scoring the ninth-highest points total between the two preliminary nights on Wednesday and Thursday, placing him on the inside of the fifth row for the 50-lap, $150,000-to-win main event.
Though he stumbled on the initial start, dropping back into a battle for 13th, Scelzi quickly found his footing and settled into the middle of the pack before fading to 15th on the 12th lap around the half-mile.
Scelzi took the halfway caution at lap 25 in that same position, having held on to the lead lap throughout the first half, but again struggled on the restart and lost one more position when the green flag waved.
From there, Scelzi remained 16th and stayed steady during the second segment, despite losing the lead lap in the closing stages of the event. He found some speed on a green-white checkered finish, after Kerry Madsen flipped in turn four with two to go, and passed two cars to finish 14th.
While it wasn’t the result Scelzi might have hoped for, he was simply pleased to see the checkered flag.
“This wasn’t what we wanted, but the biggest thing was, we finished the race and I’m learning with every lap I take around this place,” said Scelzi. “For the most part, the race played out like I expected it to. We just weren’t quite as fast as we hoped to be as a team.
“It could have been a whole lot worse, though. We got to the checkered flag, got rookie of the year … those were two of our goals that we checked off,” Scelzi added. “Hopefully we can come back here next year and be even stronger than we were this time.”
Scelzi beat out Pennsylvania’s Brock Zearfoss, who crossed the line two laps down in 19th, for Knoxville Nationals Rookie of the Year honors. He became the youngest Nationals starter in the history of the event, breaking Jeff Gordon’s 29-year-old record set during the 1989 Knoxville Nationals.
“It’s something I’ll look back on and really be proud of,” Scelzi said of eclipsing Gordon’s mark. “He’s a legend in our sport. To be mentioned alongside of him is something really special.”
Scelzi piloted one of three Indy Race Parts No. 71 entries during the week for team owner Bernie Stuebgen. He was joined in Saturday night’s A main by teammate Parker Price-Miller, who finished 18th.