Over the past two years, Sammy Smith had set a high bar in the Donnie Wilson Motorsports No. 22 and now it’s both a privilege and a pressure for Giovanni Ruggiero to begin matching it.
With Smith moving onto the NASCAR Xfinity Series full-time with Joe Gibbs Racing this season, Ruggiero has joined both Wilson Motorsports and the Toyota Racing Development driver program in the hopes of taking his own career to the next level.
Entering his age 16 season, Ruggiero now joins a program that won roughly two dozen races last season between Smith, William Sawalich and William Byron. Again, Ruggiero recognizes the pressure and the privilege.
“Definitely both,” Ruggiero said. “It’s a big opportunity. With Sammy moving up, those are big shoes to fill. He did a really good job with Wilson Motorsports and so everyone who got in their cars. I’m looking forward to having those guys as teammates but there’s also pressure to perform too.”
Ruggiero raced out of the Anthony Campi Racing stable last year, his first full-time in full-sized cars, and enjoyed a considerable amount of success. Together, they won in the World Series of Asphalt at New Smyrna, CARS Tour at Greenville Pickens, Show Me the Money at Montgomery and at Watermelon Capital Speedway.
He says Campi is a really effective racecraft teacher and coach, which put him in position to be on Toyota’s radar for 2023.
“I learned a lot about fundamentals last year,” Ruggiero said. “I feel like we had a successful year. I feel like, if you look at the entire season, from start-to-finish, I made a lot of progress and showed improvement.”
With Wilson and program manager Bond Suss, Ruggiero plans to focus on ASA-STARS events with a supplemental schedule of additional marquee races across the country, with the caveat that things could change as the season progresses.
Ruggiero is excited to be making his full-time Super Late Model debut at a time where there is so much growth and enthusiasm for the discipline.
“It’s a good opportunity to build a following,” Ruggiero said.
Ruggiero made his Wilson Motorsports debut at the Snowball Derby last month, starting P7 and finishing P16, and was running at the checkered flag. They also finished fourth last weekend in the Red Eye 50 at New Smyrna.
Next weekend is Speedfest at Watermelon Capital, where he won twice with Campi in Pro Late Model competition, a cause for excitement and optimism heading back to Georgia.
“I do have some experience there to lean on,” Ruggiero said. “There is going to be a lot of tough competition, but I have a lot of good teammates and crew guys to lean on. The key is going to be qualifying up front and I have some work to do to learn the tire management aspect in a Super compared to a Pro but I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”