TULARE, Calif. – Before Dominic Scelzi became a clear favorite to win this year’s Trophy Cup, the Californian endured struggle and heartbreak at Thunderbowl Raceway.
Scelzi was born and raised in Fresno, Calif., just a quick 45-minute drive from Tulare, Calif., home of Thunderbowl Raceway.
Growing up, Scelzi attended and one day hoped to compete in the Trophy Cup, which is scheduled for Oct. 21-23 this year. When he was a teenager, those hopes were realized.
Scelzi’s first trip in 2012 to the coveted gem of the Golden State racing circuit began with promise. Then just 15 years old, Scelzi led much of the Saturday night feature before his brakes failed late and he faded to 10th.
Two years later, Scelzi again found himself leading the finale before his engine expired.
Scelzi’s performance dipped at the Thunderbowl after the motor issue before finally hitting a low point with the central valley oval in 2015.
Entering the Peter Murphy Classic, Scelzi held the points lead in search of his first King of the West championship. The infamous Tulare topside bit him that evening, and the resulting crash fractured his back and ended his title bid.
“I went in there as a starry-eyed kid,” Scelzi reflected on his early Tulare experiences. “Over the years I feel like Tulare, more than anywhere else, has hardened me as a racer. It’s a place that owes nobody nothing. It doesn’t owe you anything. It’ll take from you and never give back. It’s a place that I’ve learned to respect.”
The lessons Scelzi has learned during his career have translated to him dominating the unforgiving three-eighths mile in 2021.
Six times 410 or 360 winged sprint cars have lined up for a feature event at Thunderbowl this year, and six times Dominic Scelzi has parked his No. 41 in victory lane at the end of the night.
Among his 2021 trophies at the Tulare County track are a pair NARC-King of the West victories, including the $11,000 to win Peter Murphy Classic, Scelzi’s favorite event.
While the 24-year-old showed speed throughout his early years and even picked up some 360 victories prior to this year at Tulare, his results had never neared this level. Scelzi points to maintaining a clear and direct focus as a catalyst for his rise at a racetrack that rarely believes in giving drivers second chances.
“It’s a place where you have to take the mindset of ‘I have to race myself.’” Scelzi explained. “I can’t race the cars in front of me or the cars behind me. I have to go the best speed I can but not go over that threshold. Once you enter the corner too hard and get into the wall, your night’s over. Once you cheat the cushion and slide to it and get into it and throw the nose, your night’s over.”
Scelzi’s victories at Thunderbowl have been defined by versatility. Whether he’s had to rip the cushion, roll the bottom or blend the two, he’s done so successfully. A dedication to understanding race tendencies have guided him in adjusting to Tulare’s tricky grooves and bettering his ability of racing himself.
“I think it was a matter of studying how races unfold at Tulare and how they’ve unfolded over the past however many years,” Scelzi noted of his adaptability. “And trying to learn from that the best I can and figure out I’m going to have to pound the top at some point, and I’m going to have to be able to roll the bottom and move away from the cushion, but I have to make sure I don’t take myself out as well.”
Now equipped with knowledge, experience, and half a dozen Tulare triumphs under his belt this year, a lifelong goal rests in the crosshairs — winning the Trophy Cup.
The allure of the annual October event packs the Thunderbowl stands and routinely draws nearly 100 competitors to California, some from states far from the West Coast.
“You’re at a place that is one of the toughest to tame in the world of sprint car racing,” Scelzi said of the Trophy Cup’s mystique. “You bring big inverts, big money, tough race track and tough competition, and you can’t go wrong with that.”
With Scelzi’s history at Tulare, the season he’s having and the Trophy Cup being perhaps the premier event of his home state, the Fresno native might covet this year’s edition just a tad more than his competition.
“It would be one of the most special moments of my life,” Scelzi said of potentially winning the Trophy Cup. “I’ve got an emotional connection with the Thunderbowl. The place broke me, and it’s taken a lot from me. I feel like I’ve been able to take a little bit back this year.
“It’s one of those races as a kid I grew up and every single year I was in the stands,” Scelzi continued. “From six or seven years old all the way up to when I was racing sprint cars, that was a weekend I never missed. I never missed a Trophy Cup. I’ve seen so many guys become champions. I’ve seen so many guys defeated by just a handful of points. I feel like at this point in my life I know what it takes to do it.”
The stage is set. Amid what he’s called a dream season, Scelzi will roll into the Trophy Cup with a perfect record this year at the treacherous Thunderbowl. With a childhood dream on the line and the entire sprint car community watching to see if the dream becomes reality, what is the plan of attack for the three-night spectacle in Tulare? Scelzi intends to stick to the roots of his success.
“I’ve got to try really hard to not get myself out of sorts,” Scelzi said. “Trophy Cup is an easy place to do it. There is a lot of pressure on me to run well. The best thing I can do is treat it like any other night at Tulare, and I’ve got to race myself.”