A panel of four, outstanding, second-generation sprint car drivers joined Journal-Express Sports Editor and Knoxville Raceway Hall of Famer Perry Bell for a packed forum at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fam and Museum on Friday, Aug. 9.
The panel included Dominic Scelzi, Giovanni Scelzi, Austin McCarl and Kraig Kinser. The Scelzi boys are brothers, and sons of drag racing legend Gary Scelzi. Austin is the son of Terry McCarl and Kraig – a former Knoxville Nationals Champion himself – is the son of World of Outlaws legend Steve Kinser.
All four said they are friends of each other, as well as many other drivers. Though the Knoxville Nationals offers a $150,000 prize to the winner of the championship feature, money is not what brings these guys to Knoxville each year.
“Even if it was $2,000, we’d still be here,” Kinser said. His prize for his Nationals title in 2005 was $140,000. To each of them, it’s the prestige of Knoxville Raceway. The tradition and history that has been made at the track make it legendary for them.
Though the four have famous fathers who are often inundated with fans in Knoxville, all of them see their fathers as “regular guys”. Racing has always been a part of the drivers’ lives, and the young guns started before they were in high school.
“I was 10 days old down at Texas Motor Speedway with my dad,” McCarl said. For Kinser, his father put him on a track to sprint car racing early on as well.
“My whole family races,” Kinser said. He is just fortunate that he and his dad have been able to make a living from it.
It is also a family business for McCarl, whose brother, Carson, also races. His mother does a great deal for all three drivers in her family and the teams could not succeed without her. He wishes she got more credit.
For Dominic, he describes his brother Giovanni (reigning rookie of the year) as an amazing mechanic as well. Giovanni was working on cars long before he got into the driver’s seat.
“As good as a race car driver he is, he’s twice as good a mechanic,” Dominic said of Giovanni. The brothers have nothing but love for each other, but when it comes to racing, winning is all that matters on the track.
“There’s nobody I want to beat more than him,” Dominic added about his brother. Giovanni agreed, and said even though they’re competitive, the two talk several times a day. He appreciates having someone he can talk to who understands the highs and lows of racing.
Bell asked the panel what each one considered their biggest win – though the answer was obvious for Kinser. That was his Sunday night Knoxville Nationals championship victory in 2005.
“It was life-changing for me,” Kinser said.
“Winning here is probably my biggest win,” Dominic said. He won the World Challenge, but added that his first win in a sprint car was “pretty cool.”
Giovanni, who is only 17, believes that his first World of Outlaws victory was his best moment. He remains the youngest to win an Outlaw feature and the youngest to win a feature at the Knoxville Raceway.
McCarl considers his best win to be his first at Knoxville as well. It was especially an honor because it is something that his father, brother and grandfather (Leonard) had done.
For the most part, the drivers believe the state of sprint car racing is strong. All of them offered much praise for the fans – who can be heard while the drivers are in the infield at Knoxville Raceway.
“You guys don’t know how big of a role you play,” Giovanni said. Crowds are getting bigger and younger, he added.
Though he was not complaining, Dominic believes, “We really need to get our 410s back to what they were.” He is getting involved in a series at home in California as he continues his own driving career.
“I think we’re all way too equal,” McCarl said. He would like to see the sanctioning bodies open up the rules to make racing more competitive, and take away the distinct advantage those in the front row have over the competition.
“If we could get on TV somehow, that would propel us,” McCarl added.
Kinser said the first thing is to always keep the fans happy. He enjoys the format of the Nationals and likes the current state of sprint car racing. One of his favorite aspects is how quickly results and information are disseminated to fans.
When Bell had finished his own questions, the panel took a few from the audience. One raised by Bob Wagner of Knoxville was in regard to the effects of a crash.
“Crashing sucks, but it’s part of the game,” McCarl said. He does not think of them. All of the drivers agree that when they push off and get going on the track, racing is all that is on their minds.
“I pray for my safety and everyone’s safety,” Dominic said. He has had a few concussions and sometimes struggles with his memory. “I do worry about that stuff, but I don’t worry when I put the helmet on.”
Kinser’s biggest crash never occurred on a track. It was when he was 11 years old and drove his dad’s truck through his living room. This provided many of the laughs shared during the panel.
“Once you put the helmet on, it gets out of your mind pretty quick,” Kinser said. “We understand the risks, we accept them. I take comfort in these cares are getting safer and safer and these tracks are getting safer and safer.”
“You push off and it’s completely gone,” Giovanni said. “You can have a million problems on your mind, but nothing matters once you push off.”
Bell thanked the panel for taking the time, as well as the crowd for their attendance. Drivers posed for photographs and autographs following the forum.