Speed racer : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Oswego senior works to excel on the racetrack|
|by Christine Bolin Dascher|
According to Tony Scalpelli, his son, Tony, Jr., has loved racing ever since he was a baby. He said his son's first words were, "mommy," "daddy" and "race car."
"He would have to watch the NASCAR race every Sunday, and we had to record it," Tony Sr. said of his son, who is now 17 and a senior at Oswego High School. "Then he would watch it several times a day all week. His interest caught the attention of my wife (Ellen) and I, and we also became fans."
Tony Jr. said he used to take his Hot Wheels cars and line them up like they were actually in the race on TV.
"That's my first memory watching NASCAR - I pretty much followed what was on TV," Tony Jr. said. "By the end of the week, I pretty much had each race memorized."
It took several years, however, for Scalpelli to turn his love for racing into a reality. Tony Sr. had taken his son to the races at Grundy County Speedway in Morris ever since his son was little, but he didn't actually start racing until June of 2012.
"We bought a very basic race car to get started with," Tony Sr. said. "Since we knew nothing, we started searching the internet and trade shows for any and all information we could get."
In Feb of 2012, Tony Sr. said they were fortunate to meet Matt Olson, owner of OLR Racecars. Olson is a former driver and current car builder who was the crew chief for Logan Love, winner of the Street Stock Championship at Grundy in 2011.
"Both Matt and Logan were extremely helpful in getting us started," Tony Sr. said. "Matt helped me improve the basic car we bought. We lowered it, lightened it and made it more rigid to handle better on the track. I then bought a racing engine built specifically to meet the Grundy technical specifications and rules for our division. Matt taught me how to adjust weight percentage, ride heights, tire stagger, tire camber, caster to make the car drive better through the turns."
Olson and Love also showed Tony Jr. how to drive the track.
"Tony was a quick learner," Tony Sr. said of his son. "On his first couple laps, Matt commented, "Well, he's not afraid of the gas.' Then, he spun out."
"I watched (racing) my whole life, so it was just a matter of practicing as much as I could to get better," Tony Jr. added.
The Scalpellis were able to rent the track for $150 a day for practice, which they did several times last year.
The type of racing Tony Jr. does is called short track racing. Racers first qualify to see who has best time. Second, a fast heat race and a slow heat race (there are eight laps in the division he participates in). The fastest cars in qualifying run the fast heat the slowest the slow heat.
Third is the Feature race, where all cars compete (there are 25 laps in this division). The fastest cars start at the back of the field.
Last year turned out to be a good year. Tony Jr. was able to improve his lap speed times by 3/4 of a second from the first day of practice to the end of the season.
"It doesn't sound like much, but in many cases 3/4 of second is the difference between fast time and 20th fastest time in our division," Tony Sr. said.
By the end of the year, Tony Jr. was a top six car. He won his first heat race on July 4, 2012 and impressed many experienced drivers with how fast he picked it up, considering he never raced before.
This year, Tony Jr. has raced in the Street Stock division at Grundy County Speedway every Friday night since April and will continue to do so throughout August. Grundy is his home track, but has also raced at Illiana Motor Speedway in Indiana.
Because 2012 was a successful year, the Scalpellis wanted to run up front, contend for wins and the track championship in 2013. They sold their first car and purchased another that Olson built from the ground up.
"I'm just getting more comfortable behind the wheel," Tony Jr. said. "Also, my whole mentality changed ever since we got the new car."
Tony Jr. won his first race of 2013 in the first week of June and recently won again last Friday night. He also has seven second place and two third-place finishes this year.
"Tony started out very fast from opening night," added Tony Sr. "He set fast time in qualifying, missing the track record by .05 of a second. Tony is very young to be running this well."
Tony Jr. currently has a solid hold on second place in points. The point leader has been racing for 22 years and has won several championships in higher divisions.
Tony Jr.'s dream is to become a NASCAR driver.
"However, we know very well that reaching that level is a long shot," Tony Sr. said. "He still wants to make a good living as a race car driver, which can be done at the lower levels."
"I understand it's a longshot and there's a slim opportunity, but I'll be able to get there if everything falls into place," Tony Jr. said.
According to Tony Sr., the key is getting noticed sponsorship and money. Both are critical. The Scalpellis next step is to move up to Late Model cars.
"Late Model level is where you need to be to get noticed and where many NASCAR stars first make a name for themselves," Tony Sr. said.
The thing is, the upgrade will cost a lot of money. The Scalpellis have small sponsorship with friends who have local businesses, but the fee to get to Late Model racing is anywhere from $15,000 to $100,000 or more depending on how often you want to race, where you want to race, how competitive you want to be and how many times you wreck the car.
Tony Sr. figures they can get started in Late Models for around $20,000-$30,000 for what they want to do. However...
"We need sponsorship," Tony Sr. said. "I have financed most of (Tony Jr.'s) racing so far. His grandparents have helped out too. The best situation would be to partner with a car owner who loves racing, but doesn't drive and who is looking for a good young driver to race their car. We have talked to a couple car owners who have parted ways with their drivers, but they are looking to sell their cars instead of finding a new driver. If we cannot find the right situation, we will do our best to find sponsors to help pay for buying a Late Model car."
Tony Sr. said they are hoping to move up to Late Models as early as next year, if possible. They would also like to run in the Street Stock Series at Grundy one more season for the Championship.
"I'm hoping to get a full-time sponsor, but any amount would help," Tony Jr. said. "We want to get into Late Models, but a lot of it depends on the sponsorship."
The Scalpellis hope to send Tony Jr. to an advanced short track driving program in February 2014. The program is called Fast Track, and is located in North Carolina. It is designed to take drivers from the short track circuit to the ARCA series, which is a Super Late Model developmental series.
"Many drivers who race in ARCA are on their way up to NASCAR," Tony Sr. said.
After Tony Jr. graduates from Oswego, he plans on attending junior college locally and then attend a school in the southeast, which is a hot bed for stock car racing.
Even if his NASCAR racing aspirations never come true, Tony Jr. said he hopes to have some type of career around the cars.
"I'm very happy to be one of those people who can lay out a goal and hope to reach it," Tony Jr. said. "It's good to have an idea, but I still have to take everything one step at a time."