PLACERVILLE, Calif. – After a dominant breakthrough midget win on night one of the inaugural Elk Grove Ford Hangtown 100, Gio Scelzi came up just short of the event championship on Wednesday night.
Scelzi finished seventh during the headlining 100-lap main event at the red-clay quarter-mile, fading back late in the going after running as high as third and having a shot at the points title.
In fact, with 29 to go, Scelzi actually did lead the standings briefly after making a brilliant top-side pass of Christopher Bell for the final spot on the podium. However, he couldn’t hold on to it all the way home.
Bell got back past four laps later and from there, Scelzi was in damage protection mode as he began to slide the wrong direction, ultimately ending up seventh in the final rundown when he was passed by Tucker-Boat Motorsports teammate Dillon Welch on the final lap.
With Kyle Larson winning the main event, it provided a big enough points swing for Larson to leapfrog Scelzi and win the event title from third coming in, with Scelzi finishing nine points adrift in second.
The 17-year-old didn’t hang his head, however, despite having a decent idea of where his race may have come undone in the closing stages. He knew he had made plenty of noise over the two-day stretch.
“We were good; I just think the driver faded a little bit at the end,” Scelzi noted with a dry chuckle. “A 100-lap midget race is hard stuff. It’s longer than pretty much anything else I’ve done to this point in my career. I think we showed out, though. We didn’t lose the points because of lack of effort, that’s for sure.
“I knew I had to pass either Christopher or Tanner (Carrick), and they were running really hard. I think I got by one of them (Bell) at one point, and just blew over the edge in (turns) three and four and that was it,” he explained. “Then I just kept falling back. This Tucker-Boat team worked really hard all week, though; all these guys put in so much effort and I’m so proud to be associated with this group.
“This is such a cool event and I hope they keep putting more money up like this, because it is races like this that get people watching and help to elevate the sport as a whole. It’s a big deal for us.”
Though he didn’t win the Hangtown 100 championship, Scelzi opened plenty of eyes this week, as the winged sprint car prodigy continued to get acclimated to the nuances of racing a midget.
Scelzi used to say that he didn’t like running the smaller, non-winged machines. After the last two days, however, the 17-year-old has changed his tune a little bit.
“I think I’m getting to be a little bit more of (a midget guy),” he said with a faint smile. “The biggest thing has really just been getting me comfortable in these things. It’s obviously a feel that I want that you really probably can’t get (in a midget), but Chad (Boat, co-owner) and all the guys have worked hard to get me more comfortable and get the feeling I want to feel throughout the corner. We definitely had it Tuesday night; it wasn’t the best heat race but we caught the invert on a good spot and capitalized.
“To go up against the best major racers in the world is pretty humbling, let alone to win with them,” he added. “With Toyota and everybody that’s put their eggs in my basket, it’s cool to have some success for them and prove I can do this. Winning makes you like what you’re doing a lot more, for sure.”
As far as what he’s been trying to find, Scelzi even gave a little glimpse into his psyche behind the wheel.
“Feeling the right front has the biggest thing I’ve been trying to learn,” Scelzi noted. “Obviously Chad’s won countless races in these things; he’s raced them all his life. I think I can translate it or he can translate what I’m saying really well and try to put it in the race car. Obviously, having shock adjusters, everything is different in these things, so it’s taken me awhile to find my footing, I guess you’d say.
“We really haven’t had very many good runs at all. It seems like we’ve always struggled in the future,” he added. “We’ve gotten to the feature but just haven’t made anything happen. In the feature itself, track position is huge, with how hard these guys race. If you get yourself caught in a slide-fest, you just don’t go anywhere. But I was able to get out front and get moving on the prelim night, and it worked out.”
With all four Tucker-Boat entries making the feature both nights, Scelzi is optimistic not just for himself, but for the team that even brighter days than what they’ve already experienced are yet to come.
“We showed a lot, and I feel like I showed a lot, so I’m pumped up to go forward and finish this Western Swing strong,” he said. “I think we’ll have more shots at some wins before it’s all over.”
The USAC California Swing continues Nov. 23 with the November Classic at Bakersfield Speedway.