TULSA, Okla. – Rookies don’t traditionally become potential favorites to win at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, but don’t tell that to 16-year-old Gio Scelzi.
Scelzi, a Fresno, California young gun who is debuting at the Chili Bowl for Clauson-Marshall Racing this week, shocked many onlookers when he brought speed right out of the gate.
He finished second behind Brad Sweet in his heat race Tuesday night after starting from the pole, won his A-Qualifier from the pole and then ran from 12th on the grid to sixth in the night’s 25-lap preliminary A-Feature, contending for as high as fourth in his No. 57 NOS Energy Drink entry and looking like he had a shot at the big show.
Though he didn’t ultimately lock into Saturday night’s championship feature, Scelzi did put himself into one of Saturday’s twin 22-lap B-Mains and will race his way to a seat at the head table if he finishes in the top six in his last chance race.
“These Clauson-Marshall cars are so good; they’re a dream to drive,” said Scelzi. “It’s not really what we wanted, but we’re in a B, so that’s a great start for us.”
“It’s been a tough transition for me, because these things don’t have wings on top of them!” Scelzi added with a chuckle. “It’s a whole new animal than anything else I’ve ever driven … but I love it. I had a blast at DuQuoin and I’m having a blast so far here in Tulsa, too.”
Scelzi said that now, with a strong foundation laid for Saturday night, he has only one goal in mind left to accomplish.
“The plan is to make the show,” he stressed. “That’s our one and only goal now. We’re so close already; we just have to finish the job.”
– Pennsylvania’s Austin Langenstein was another rookie who did remarkably well for his first Chili Bowl appearance, making the A-Qualifiers and contending for a transfer spot in his B-Main before tagging the cushion and falling back late in the going.
Langenstein, who is working at the HMS Motorsport booth from Wednesday to Friday selling safety equipment (his day job), said that he had no regrets and was pleased with how his night went.
“I just made a few mistakes in the B-Main,” he explained. “Everyone else knew when to go to the top and I didn’t. I hadn’t run up there all day … and I finally figured it out; it was just a little too late to make anything work.”
“If you’d asked me whether I’d take being in an E-Main for Saturday and having a shot at our prelim A tonight before I got here, I’d have said ‘Absolutely!’ I’m happy, man.”
– The Fastenal #FlipCount got going in a hurry on Tuesday, with Chris Cochran becoming the first unlucky victim of the fated tally when he went toppling over in turn two during the second group of hot laps.
In all, 13 flips were recorded during the first day of action at the Chili Bowl, with two drivers making repeat appearances (Cochran and Ray Seach). No injuries were reported from any of the incidents.
– Tuesday night’s qualifying program was the only scheduled batch of entries for the entire week that did not feature a past winner of the Chili Bowl within its confines.
Wednesday will see Sammy Swindell (five-time) and Rico Abreu (two-time) do battle, while Thursday’s lineup features Cory Kruseman (two-time), Tracy Hines (2005) and defending champion Christopher Bell.
Tim McCreadie (2006) and Damion Gardner (2008) lead Friday night’s entry list.
– It’s inevitable to see familiar faces around the Tulsa Expo Center that aren’t driving a race car every year, but perhaps the most notable on Tuesday was that of ARCA champion car owner and racing legend Ken Schrader.
Asked if he was interested in finding a car to race, Schrader chuckled.
“No, no,” he said quickly. “I’m good just watching.”
– Other notable onlookers in attendance Tuesday were Ohio media personality and radio host Brian Liskai, as well as Millbridge Speedway track owners and promoters Ashly and Jeremy Burnett.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 24-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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