Column By: ALEX NIETEN / WORLD OF OUTLAWS – DES MOINES, IA – The expectations for Giovanni Scelzi were sky-high entering 2023. The Fresno, CA phenom has “wowed” the industry since first stepping behind the wheel of a 410 Sprint Car at 15 years old.
After a few years of a pick and choose schedule, Scelzi decided 2023 was the right time for a rookie run with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars. He set his own bar high and leaped over it with a historic rookie run, finishing fourth in Series points.
Since teaming with the Iowa-based KCP Racing in mid-2020, Scelzi has been a force behind the wheel of the bright orange #18. The pairing picked up 13 wins across the 2021-2022 race seasons including a trio with The Greatest Show on Dirt.
After getting off to a rocky start to 2023 in Florida, Scelzi and his team, consisting of Adam Clark, Jett Carney, and Aaron Beiler, quickly turned things around. Over the next 12 races, Scelzi missed the top 10 only once. In the latter part of May into late June, Scelzi pieced together 10 consecutive top 10 finishes including his one win of the campaign at Beaver Dam Raceway.
The consistency they showed early in the season became the theme of their entire campaign. Rarely did the Aspen Aire/Logan Contractors Supply machine finish outside the top 10. And the team seldom got collected in crashes or posted DNFs.
“Honestly, I feel like with the night-to-night grind, it felt like we were spinning our wheels for a decent portion of it,” Scelzi said. “But I felt like in the big picture with the points and where we ended up, we had a great season.”
That great season resulted in his fourth-place finish in the standings – equaling the best Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year run of all-time. The other two occurrences of a rookie finishing that high happened over 40 years ago – Jeff Swindell in 1981 and Brad Doty in 1982.
“I think it’s great, and I really do appreciate the history of the sport,” Scelzi said of tying the record. “Obviously, we set the bar really high points-wise for our first year out here. Running fourth in points with the Outlaws is not easy whether it’s your 20th season or your first season. I think it’s something we really have to look at and appreciate what we’ve done and not go so head down into next year that we don’t really enjoy what we did this year.”
For KCP, 2023 marked their third year fielding a full-time car with the World of Outlaws. The team owned by Matt Barbara and Bret Nehring hit the road with Ian Madsen in 2018-2019. Along with Scelzi tying the record for the top finishing rookie, KCP also reached an impressive feat in 2023.
Madsen also earned Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year honors with KCP in 2018. So, with Scelzi taking the award this year, Barbara and Nehring’s team became the third in Series history to field multiple World of Outlaws Rookie of the Years, joining Kasey Kahne Racing with a trio of winners – Cody Darrah (2011), Brad Sweet (2014), and James McFadden (2021) – and Dave Helm with Tim Shaffer (1999) and Kerry Madsen (2007).
“I look at it as a testament to our partners for allowing us to do it for this long,” Barbara said of the feat. “We’ve got sponsors that have been on our car since day one. To be with Kasey Kahne Racing and Dave Helm is incredible. The world probably doesn’t know it, but I’ve got kind of a weird background. I spent a year on the World of Outlaws tour under Sonny Kratzer, who was Dave Helm’s main guy that worked for him. I was fortunate enough to go to Dave’s house and see all of his hunting trophies and everything like that when I was out in Selma (CA). So, it’s cool in that avenue. It’s cool to be associated in that way.”
Barbara views Scelzi in the brightest of lights. Considering Scelzi’s youth and the team’s commitment to him, the pairing is building the foundations of a potential powerhouse of the sport for years to come.
“It’s been a blessing and really kind of rejuvenated the spark that our team needed,” Barbara said of working with Scelzi. “He’s very wise beyond his years. He’s 21 going on 35 when it comes to maturity. He kind of gets overlooked as a young gun anymore because of that. With the Corey Days and them guys that are phenomenal race car drivers, but Gio’s only 21, fourth in points, and Rookie of the Year. He just really wants nothing but to win and to be the best he can be, and he doesn’t take shortcuts to get there.”
Like any race team, a taste of success only has Scelzi and his crew hungrier for more. Scelzi set a high bar in 2023, and his sights are even higher as 2024 nears.
“I think it’s kind of the mindset of any racer,” Scelzi said. “If you finish second in points, it’s we should’ve won. Or if you won the points, it’s we didn’t win by enough. I think that hunger I have is only growing. I see the capabilities we have with our team, and it only makes me hungrier to win more races.”
The 2024 World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series season commences at Volusia Speedway Park during Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals, Feb. 6-10.