There are thousands-if not tens of thousands-of young race car drivers across the country doing battle on Friday and Saturday nights at local racetracks. Many have one thing in common-aspirations of making it to the big leagues of NASCAR. Yet, few will actually get a shot to become the next Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers, or Kyle Busch.
Andrew Myers and Alex Yontz are two young drivers from vastly different parts of the country who are trying to get noticed by some of the top NASCAR team owners. Myers is from Newport Beach, California, and races in three different divisions-the NASCAR AutoZone West Series, NASCAR Busch East Series, and ARCA.
Yontz is a resident of Walnut Cove, North Carolina, competing in his first full season on the UARA STARS tour.
Both Myers and Yontz admit that trying to catch the eye of a top NASCAR team owner such as Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, Richard Childress, or Joe Gibbs is not an easy task.
"I would have to say it's pretty difficult right now trying to break into the whole NASCAR scene coming from a lower level Late Model stock car circuit," Myers says. "It's really a pretty big task to grasp exactly how hard it is to actually get noticed by the right people. It really is very difficult."
Yontz agrees. "It's tougher than you can even imagine," Yontz says. "You see all these other drivers making a name for themselves and being pretty successful. Going into it, you think it's pretty easy because all you have to do is run up front and win races and people are going to notice and it'll be easy to get sponsors and things like that. It's not that easy. It's really tough, and to be honest, we don't know the exact steps we should take. We're just trying to win races and hopefully battle for this UARA championship and get attention that way."
Both Myers and Yontz started racing when they were 7 years old, and eventually moved up to various Late Model tours. Along the way, both drivers learned that making it to the next level would require much more than their on-track performances.
"Being marketable is probably as big a part of making it to the next level as driving the car," Yontz says. "When you are in front of the media you have to be respectable and make sure you mention everybody's name. I know it sounds kind of funny to say that the marketing side of racing is more important than the driving, but it is these days if you really want to make it at the next level."
Myers has rented an apartment in Concord, North Carolina, in order to be in and around the Charlotte area, where the majority of the NASCAR teams and drivers are located.
Yontz is competing in the regional UARA series this season. Speed51.com Photo
"I talked to Bill Davis, and he told me that when he is looking for younger drivers for a driver development deal, he wants someone who is committed and lives in North Carolina," Myers says. "If a driver is from another state, he wants to see if they are committed enough to try and make the move to see how they adapt to the change of their environment. Now that I live around Charlotte, I get to be in the environment of basically all of what takes place in NASCAR. It's been a lot easier to be able to meet and talk with people to set up appointments and things like that. I hope that by me making this move it will show people how serious I am to make it in NASCAR."
Myers raced at Irwindale Speedway in the California short track's weekly NASCAR Late Model Stock division in 2003 and 2004 before stepping up to the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series in 2005. The move up the proverbial NASCAR ladder proved to be successful, as Myers finished Ninth in series points and fell one point shy of winning the Rookie of the Year award.
Myers scored his first NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series victory this April at Phoenix International Raceway in a strong 38-car field that included Nextel Cup Series driver Ken Schrader.
"That was huge," Myers says. "To be able to pull off a win like that in only my second year in front of all those teams that were there has helped open a lot of doors for me since then. A lot of people call me to see how I'm doing and what my plans are, so that Phoenix win really helped open a lot of doors and put us on the radar screen."
Yontz is taking a different approach this season by concentrating his efforts solely on the UARA tour, advice that was given to him by a top NASCAR team.
"I would like to get noticed by one of the big NASCAR teams, but this year our goal is to win the UARA championship," Yontz explains. "I've got the dream of making it to the big time in NASCAR, but you can't do that without getting noticed by the big teams and sponsors. I made the Top 100 last year in Roush Racing's 'Driver X,' and that was a neat experience, but they pretty much told me flat out that one of my weaknesses was that I had never run a full season and raced for a championship before for a full season.
"They told me my age was working in my favor, but that never running for a championship before really hurt me. That's why I'm concentrating on running the entire 2006 season on the UARA tour, and hopefully we'll be in contention for the championship as well as just getting that experience under my belt."
In this day and time in NASCAR, both Yontz and Myers agree that their age plays a big factor, as top team owners are looking for young drivers as opposed to those competitors around the age of 30.
The 21-year-old Yontz is gunning to strengthen his resum with a title. Speed51.com Photo
"I started racing Late Models when I was pretty young, and I went into it thinking I was too young to be thinking about getting a ride in one of NASCAR's top three divisions," says the 21-year-old Yontz. "I was thinking that when I got to a certain age that if I was winning races then everything would fall into place for me. Then, before you know it, you've run a couple years in Late Models and you're older than what a lot of teams are looking for. I still think I'm at a pretty young age and have that going in my favor. If I finish the year off the way I want to in the UARA tour, then hopefully everything will fall into place for me."
At the age of 26, Myers concedes that getting his foot in the door and getting noticed by some of the top NASCAR team owners is something he needs to get done sooner rather than later.
"I know I'm not like the usual 18- or 20-year-old driver in NASCAR's top three divisions right now," Myers says. "I basically made the decision when I was younger that I wanted to go to college and get my degree. I did that and got my degree in business management from Cal-State Long Beach. Even though I am 26 years old, I think having that degree behind me and being educated will show a sponsor that I have something to offer that some of the younger kids can't in understanding the whole business side of NASCAR from both angles."
Myers picked up his first NASCAR AutoZone West Series win at Phoenix in April. Mike Keon
Yontz admits that if and when the phone call ever comes from a top NASCAR team, it will be a dream come true.
"I don't know what I'd do," Yontz says. "If I ever got that phone call, I don't know if I could even speak for a few minutes. That's been my dream since I started, and I'm not giving up on my dream just yet."
Myers says it would be vindication for all the hard work and time he's spent trying to make it to the next level of his racing career.
"It would be a dream come true to let me know that all my hard work has paid off," Myers says.
Yontz and Myers are also aware of the harsh realities of life and know there's a chance the phone call from one of the top NASCAR teams might never come. Despite that fact, both drivers admit they will still stay involved in racing.
"If I don't get a ride in 5 or 10 years, I think I'll still have the same passion for racing and still be involved in some shape or form," Myers says.
Yontz agrees with Myers in that he's got racing in his blood and will always be involved in the sport, though he hopes that is a problem he doesn't have to deal with.
"I'll still be racing. I couldn't do without it," Yontz says. "I'm happy right now running just the Late Models, but of course I'd like to move up the racing ladder. I think that I'll still be in racing a few years down the road if I don't get the chance to move up."
The following are also drivers who-like Myers and Yontz-are hoping to reach the highest levels of the sport.
Kevin BatesAt 20 years old, Bates' talent belies his years. In 2004, the then 18-year-old Lake Ariel, Pennsylvania, native raced in the DIRT Sportsman ranks at, among other places, Fulton Speedway in New York. He won twice and posted 8 Top-5 finishes in just 15 races. In his second year behind the wheel of the Sportsman, he tore up Fulton, winning six times in 19 races en route to the track championship in DIRT Sportsman.
In 2006, Bates moved up to the Big-Block Modifieds of the Advance Auto Parts Super DIRT Series, where he races against the likes of Tim McCreadie, Gary Tomkins, Brett Hearn, and others. In his first race in a DIRT Big-Block, he started 19th and burned through the field to finish Fourth. After just a couple of months of racing, he ranks Seventh in points at Fulton and Ninth at Brewerton Speedway. In a total of seven races run at the two tracks, he has four Top-10 finishes. Bates is a quick study and has moved up in class each time he establishes a winning pattern. Most people who watch Kevin Bates agree that he'll keep winning and keep moving up until he hits the top.-Rob Fisher
Jay MiddletonYou might describe him as a college sensation because he's still in college, preparing himself with a Business Administration degree for when his racing days-likely a long way down the line-are over.
For Middleton, 21, of Lake City, Florida, two of his goals are to make it to NASCAR's top ranks and then be all he can be at that level.
"My first goal is to get my college degree," says the student at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, where he studies business administration. That's when he's not on the track in his family owned Intrepid, the team colors of which-orange, blue, and black-reflect the University of Florida Gators.
Young Middleton's career highlights so far have included Rookie of the Year behind veteran Dick Anderson and the Florida Pro Late Model Series championship in 2003. He is now in the midst of a successful ASA campaign. So ow did this all come about?
"It started when I was 14 in a Legends Car, at the suggestion of my dad, Scott," Middleton says.
He stayed there two years and then moved up to Late Models, where he entered Victory Lane at his hometown Columbia Motorsports Park in only his third outing.
Besides ASA competition, where he's already a winner and a points leader, his activities primarily center on select races around Florida-where he finished Second in the FASCAR Sunbelt Super Late Model Series behind Wayne Anderson in 2003-and in special events about the Southeast.
Single, 6 feet tall, and 195 pounds, Middleton has a steady girlfriend, Christy, but his priorities are still the same. Mark him down as one to watch.-Norm Froscher
Bates appears to have the right stuff to reach the top.
Jeff BarkshireDenny Hamlin and Jeff Barkshire have a lot in common: They are young and personable, they show strong promise behind the wheel, and both drive for FedEx.
Hamlin drives the FedEx Express Chevrolet in Nextel Cup. Barkshire drives a FedEx truck over the highways of Washington and Oregon.
That could change if the 22-year-old reaches his potential.
"The kid's got the goods," says Garret Evans, a pillar of NASCAR's Northwest Series and a three-time series champion. "He's got everything a team owner could want. All he needs to be is discovered."
Barkshire raced quarter midgets as a kid but put driving aside when he went to high school. While attending Central Washington State College to become a mechanical engineer, he began moonlighting at Evans' race shop and soon abandoned the classroom for an oval. It didn't take long for him to get into one of Evans' old Late Models.
"The kid really did well," Evans says. "It was an old car and he had almost no seat time and he did a phenomenal job. He's just got the knack for it."
Last season Barkshire moved up to the Northwest Series, where he scored three Second-Place finishes on his way to Sixth overall and the series rookie title.
He's already working on getting sponsored so that he can move to the AutoZone West Series next year, when NASCAR eliminates its touring divisions.
He hopes to get noticed by one of the Nextel Cup teams.
"It's just a case of being in the right place at the right time," he says. "If the right guy sees you when you are doing well, there's always the chance you can end up in a Craftsman Truck. I need to move up to a series where I'll be in the right place when it counts."-Jerry F. Boone
Darren HagenHagen, currently a USAC Sprint Car driver, started his racing career at age 11 in BMX bikes. "I knew even then that I wanted to be in a four-wheel race car," the Riverside, California, native says.
Karts came next with 90 career wins and seven track championships. Then, at age 15, he raced the winged 1,200cc Mini-Sprints, winning the Mini-Sprint Nationals in 2001. Next came a successful career in the new Ford Focus-powered Midget series.
In 2002, the Focus Midgets became his total effort, and he won his third time out at Bakersfield, California. Of the dozen Western Focus races Hagen ran, he won half. If he had been able to compete in all the races, he could have won the title.
The following year brought the spotlight on Hagen as he won the indoor Chili Bowl race in convincing fashion. That was followed by a flag-to-flag victory in a big race at Irwindale (California) Speedway. In 2004, he added Sprint Cars to his resum with a win and a number of Top-5s and Top-10s.
One NASCAR Northwest Series competitor says Barkshire has everything a team owner would wa
Last season he was the National Rookie of the Year in both USAC Sprint Cars and Midgets. He is the first driver in USAC's 50-year history to accomplish that dual honor.
NASCAR racing is the goal with this 20-year-old, make no mistake. He's been to the Buck Baker Driving School, where he excelled.
"I learned that the stock cars are lot different from the lighter open-wheel cars," he says. "The same fundamentals exist, though, [such as] avoiding spinning the tires and hitting your marks. In either type of race car you have to be smart and be aggressive enough, but not too much.
"If the opportunity to drive a stock car came along, I would grab it in a minute."-Bill Holder
Chad SimpsonSimpson is a Late Model driver who, at age 27, has driven just about everything. He and his brother Chris, who also races, were brought up on an eastern Iowa farm, not far from West Liberty Raceway.
As kids, their dad, Ron Simpson, provided ATVs for the boys to ride around the farm. "We would run them things 'til they ran out of gas," Chad says.
Later, their stepdad, Kevin Trca, bought each one a kart. That eventually led to kart racing all across the United States, from 1993 to 2000.
Chad Simpson, who lives in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, and is the married father of a new baby daughter, says he and his brother bought a Pro Stock at the end of the 2000 racing season. They shared driving duties for a short time and then bought a second car.
The brothers ran Pro Stocks through 2003, dominating the division at West Liberty that year. They then moved to Late Models in 2004.
Chad, the purchasing manager at Five Star Shop Service, is a regular Late Model winner. In 2005, he won the Yankee Dirt Track Classic and a special event at Princeton, Illinois. He was Second in points at West Liberty and Fourth in points in World Dirt Racing League events, where he scored Rookie of the Year honors.
He says he races because "it's fun and I just love to do it."
West Liberty is his home track, but he races at Farley and Dubuque, too. In addition, he's running the entire WDRL circuit this year. Simpson shares the owner duties with Bud and Denise Brinkman.
In 2005, Hagen was national Rookie of the Year in USAC Sprint Cars and Midgets. The 20-yea
Simpson wants to go as far as he can in racing. "In the long run, if I could do this professionally, I'd love to do it," he says. "But you've got to take this one step at a time and see what happens."-Phil Roberts
Michael ColegroveArizona is not often thought of as a mecca for aspiring race car drivers. But in the past 10 years or so, the state has nurtured what seems like a preponderance of talent blooming in the desert. Some examples of Arizona's previous bloomers are the IRL's Buddy Rice and NASCAR's J.J. Yeley.
In the open-wheel ranks, Colegrove is doing just that-blooming in the desert. So far his accomplishments read like a lifelong achievement list at a driver's retirement roast: multiple track championships, championships in karts and Mini-Sprints, Rookie of the Year in Mini-Sprints, and 114 feature wins.
This kid has his act together-at the ripe old age of 16. This season, he drives Elis Racecars' house car, racing 360 Sprints at Manzanita Speedway.
Colegrove is another example of a clean-cut, well-mannered kid who found his way into racing. He is not only well mannered off the track, but he is also well mannered on the track, rarely, if ever, displaying any temper or threatening moves toward other competitors. He still wins with great regularity and wins without crashing the cars around him to get to the front. No bump and run-just clean, talented driving. He drives with not only his right foot, but he also uses his head to get to the front and bring the car home a winner.
The expectation is that some Sunday afternoon, in the very near future, we will see this young man on TV talking to a reporter after a big race about another win or a Top-5 finish. In most circumstances I am not a gambling man, but in Michael's case, it is like betting with the house.-John Hill
Ben SeitzWith over 30 years of winning races, legendary short tracker Nokie Fornoro can recognize talent. "The kid's got what it takes," says Fornoro. "All he needs is the right break and he could go straight to the top."
Fornoro is talking about the 26-year-old Seitz, the two-time defending NEMA (New England Midget Association) Champion.
Seitz (pronounced "sights") started racing go karts in 1993 and had almost immediate success at tracks such as Flemington and Mahoning Valley Speedways. After two years, he moved up to Legends Cars, where he often competed against Massachusetts driver/owner Peter Valeri.
Impressed with Seitz, Valeri hired him to drive, and the pair won the New England Legends championship. The next step was NEMA. They struggled at first in sub-par equipment, and then things turned around.
In his four years in NEMA, Seitz has compiled 10 wins and two championships. For 2006, his sights are set on defending his NEMA championship. Even so, he's not content to just stay in NEMA. "I would love to move up to the national Sprint Cars and Midgets," he says, "then maybe get a Truck ride or a Busch deal."
Keep your sights on Seitz, then thank Nokie for pointing him out.-R.F.
Branden LindbergLindberg couldn't wait to go racing. So when the folks at Evergreen Speedway told him he was too young to race at the paved oval practically in his own neighborhood, his father found a track that was more interested in his ability than his birthday.
It meant a six-hour tow from his home north of Seattle to the tiny Madras Speedway in eastern Oregon, where he could race in the track's junior division. He showed promise, talent, and determination.
Over the winter, his parents invested in a Dirt Late Model and transporter to move the young star up the ladder.
The team also switched from Madras to Sunset Speedway near Portland. The track is home to some of the best Late Model drivers on the West Coast, and Branden is considered a threat to win anytime the team unloads.
"He's got a lot of talent," says Greg Walters, who has dominated the track over the past couple of seasons. "He makes some mistakes from time to time and gets into situations a more seasoned driver might not get into, but he's young and he's still learning."
Malcolm Lindberg, his father, is a former racer who says he is spending his child's college fund on schooling him in a race car.
"There's not much I can teach him," he says. "At 16 he is already better than I ever was."
Branden says he wants a career in NASCAR and hopes someday to be going wheel to wheel with Dale Jr. He and his father are already laying out plans to move into a pavement touring series in the next year or two.
But right now he's just having fun.
"It's a real family thing for us," he says. "It's like having a weekend picnic, and for entertainment, I get to race."-J.F.B.
Travis CopeCope, 17, is competing in Late Models, just as his dad, Mike, before him. Starting at age 12, he loved to race motorcycles.
"I suffered several broken bones and finally, when I broke my leg, my parents said 'that's it,'" Cope recalls.
Mike Cope is the owner of Florida's Bronson Speedway, the subject of last year's story in Stock Car Racing, "A Racer's Race Track." The senior Cope was two-time All Pro Champion and also raced Craftsman Trucks and Busch cars.
Travis drives the black No. 26 Grubbs Emergency Service Monte Carlo and is already a winner in FASCAR's Goodyear Late Model Challenge. He began his career in earnest last season and started in the Goodyear series.
This year, he has already entered the winner's circle at his dad's high-banked 11/43-mile track. He also qualified in the Top 5 in 8 of his 13 starts in the first part of this season, including a pole at 11/42-mile Columbia Motorsports Park in Lake City, Florida.
An Iowa native, Simpson has experience in several types of cars.
"I guess because I'm pretty calm and I don't get ruffled, my family and friends have sort of nicknamed me 'The Emerging Ice Man,'" Cope says with a grin. "I'm really not afraid, and I guess I am cool on the track because of my motorcycle experience, and we have a Hans Device and all the other safety features in the car."
So what's next? "My biggest goal for 2006 is already accomplished, but my goals now are to maybe get into some kind of 'Gong Show' or, if we get some good sponsorship, maybe move up into Hooter's Pro Cup or the ASA Late Model Series.
"Long term, like many young racers, I want to one day be a contender in the most prestigious racing organization in the nation, NASCAR." His proud dad, who serves as his crew chief, would love to make that happen.-N.F.
Bud KeadingKeading, from Campbell, California, is a third-generation open-wheel driver, with his dad Brent and grandfather Howard competing before him. At 26, he's been running Sprint Cars for a decade, and the results have been impressive with some 50 wins. Like many open wheelers, though, Bud is also looking toward the fendered cars.
His first major accomplishment came in 1999 when he won the USAC Western Sprint Car Series title with seven wins and three Second-Place finishes. He was also the series Rookie of the Year.
A major racing lifestyle change came in 2000 when he moved to the Midwest and competed in both the national USAC Sprint Car and Silver Crown series. In 2001, he won four of the final eight Sprint Car races, finishing Sixth in points.
It all came together for Keading in 2004 when he finished Second in both Sprint Car and Silver Crown. This past season, he was Third in Sprint Car points.
His father has also driven the new Silver Crown car, which Bud says is closer to a full-body stock car. "We will be running these cars in conjunction with the NASCAR guys, which will be great," he says.
"I think it's time in my career to get going in the stock cars. I definitely need the seat time, and I'd love to get into an ARCA or Hooters Pro Cup car. I did pretty well when I attended the Fastlane Driving School, but those stock cars are so much different. The aspect of the stock cars that I had to get used to was sitting on the left side of the car."-B.H.
J.R. NorrisNorris, 26, is a star waiting to be found and may be the next great hope for the revitalization of the Alabama Gang. A native of Mulga, Alabama, Norris now resides in Mooresville, North Carolina, where he works on the Billy Ballew Motorsports Craftsman Truck Series team with crew chief Richie Wauters. He competes in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series.
Norris started racing go karts at the age of 9 and then moved up to run the Allison Legacy Series, where he won the 1998 Alabama state championship. Norris made the move to the Southeast Series in 2004 and picked up his first win in only his fifth start at Nashville Superspeedway en route to winning the Rookie of the Year award.
This season, Norris opened up the Southeast Series season with a victory at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, in South Carolina, and the following week he was standing in Victory Lane alongside Wauters after Kyle Busch won the Quaker Steak and Lube 200 Craftsman Truck Series race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. In early summer, Norris was tied with Jason Hogan for the lead in the Southeast Series championship standings.
"Getting the chance to prove myself at any level of NASCAR would be like a dream come true for me," Norris says. "That's something I've always hoped and worked for my whole life. I quit playing sports in high school because I knew racing was what I wanted to do for a living. Racing is all I've ever wanted to do, and I want to be around the sport for the rest of my life."-J.M.
As a competitor in the New England Midget Association, Seitz has captured two championship
Andy EckrichEckrich, 23, of Iowa City, Iowa, was building race cars long before he could drive one. His parents, Larry and Penny Eckrich, own Precision Performance in Oxford, Iowa, where Andy, now a Late Model driver with a promising future, works as a fabricator.
"I was always involved with it," he says of dirt track racing. "With Dad having hired drivers and the business, we were always wrenching on cars. Dad always had the theory that you have to know a car inside and out before you actually got inside one."
Eckrich, who is single, began racing Hobby Stocks at age 16. He spent two years there before moving to Pro Stocks for another two years. Then he jumped to Late Models.
His accomplishments include five track championships at West Liberty (Iowa) Raceway. Last year, he won Rumble on the River, the Race of Champions in Dubuque, Iowa, and the Memphis (Missouri) Nationals as well.
Why does Eckrich race? "I guess it's in the blood. I wouldn't know what to do if I didn't," he says. This season, driving a Late Model owned by his parents, he's running regularly at the tracks in Farley and Dubuque, Iowa, in addition to special events.
"I'm trying to hit about 85 shows this year to see what we can do," he says.
Eckrich wants to eventually become a professional race car driver.
"I haven't personally tried the asphalt," he says, "but I would like to. I'd like to be on TV on Sundays. Let's just put it that way."-P.R.
Dusty WilliamsWilliams is a diamond in the rough just waiting for the right opportunity. As a NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series, driver from Garden City, Georgia, he may very well be the next NASCAR superstar.
Williams, 27, is doing all the right things with his racing career, as was evident this May at Lowe's Motor Speedway when he was walking around, shaking hands, and handing out his racing resum to the likes of Richard Childress and Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs.
"I just wanted the chance to introduce myself to those guys and let them know that I would love to have the chance to drive for them one day," Williams says. "It was a good chance for them to actually see me in person and put a name with a face. Plus, it was neat to be able to hand them my resum instead of giving it to somebody underneath them and they never see it at all."
Williams got his racing career started on dirt in 1996 at Oglethorpe (Georgia) Speedway, and he also competed in Legends Cars, Late Models, and the now-defunct NASCAR Goody's Dash Series before moving up to the Southeast Series on a full-time basis in 2002. He picked up his first career Southeast Series win last year at South Boston (Virginia) Speedway and is in championship contention this year.
Williams is simply hoping and waiting for that phone call from one of the top NASCAR teams.
"Getting the chance to prove myself at the next level is something I've really worked hard for," Williams says. "Getting that phone call and the chance to move up would really be huge for me, and it would let me know that all my hard work has finally paid off."-J.M.
Chad BoatWhen some kids are watching the latest edition of SpongeBob Square Pants, other kids have a different game in mind. Boat, of Phoenix, Arizona, has been actively involved in racing as a driver from the age of 5. He started out in quarter midgets with the goal of winning, not just active participation. By age 9 he had amassed over 70 feature wins. Karting was next, with another raft of championships and another 10 feature wins.
With seven years of racing experience at the ripe old age of 12, the next step was 600cc Mini Sprints. That produced another 14 feature wins, Rookie of the Year, and the 2004 AMMA Championship. Do you see a pattern developing here? For many racers, the idea of over 84 feature wins is a real accomplishment. Even so, this 14-year-old is still waiting for the clock to tick around a few more times so he can get his driver's license.
When the '05 season opened, he moved up to fullsize Midgets and kept driving in the Mini-Sprints. Boat's record in the Midgets was two wins in 11 starts. He also owns the record at Manzanita Speedway as the youngest feature winner in the track's storied history. By the way, he also won 12 more main events in the Mini-Sprints. That brings the feature total to 98.
What does the future hold? Currently, he is starting to race in the ASA's Speed Truck series and campaign a Sprint Car and a Midget. This kid is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Remember that name-Chad Boat. He has all the traits of a professional driver, including a talented bloodline as the son of former IRL driver Billy Boat. The only thing he needs besides a race car is a chauffeur to get him to the track.-J.H.
Dalton ZehrMany race fans might have never heard of Zehr before now, but the chance of hearing that name more in the near future is very likely. That's especially true if the 15-year-old Daytona Beach resident keeps up the pace that he's been setting.
Zehr has accomplished more in his short racing career than most drivers hope for in a lifetime. He got his racing career started when he was 7 years old in Caldwell, Idaho, in a class of dirt winged cars called Box Stocks. On tracks in Florida and the Southeast, he started racing in the scale-car Bandolero division in 2002 when he was 11 years old. In his first full season, he won 17 out of 26 races, including an impressive 10-race winning streak. That season, Zehr had the highest points average per race in the nation.
In 2004, Zehr moved up to the FastKids Truck Series and walked away at the end of the season with seven victories in 17 starts as well as the championship. The 2005 season saw Zehr compete in a myriad of different racing divisions, including the Sunbelt Series, Fastruck Series, Intermountain Series, ProTruck Series, and Mid-America Racing Series.
After building an impressive open-wheel career, Keading is eyeing a move to stock cars.
Zehr celebrated his 14th birthday last year by making his first Super Late Model start. In 2006, he is competing in the ASA Southern Series for Coleman Racing. He plans on running some Hooters Pro Cup and ARCA events to get seat time before he reaches the age of 18, the minimum age allowed to compete at any level of NASCAR.
Aaron PierceYou'd have to call Pierce, a 32-year-old USAC open-wheel driver, a late starter in racing by today's standards. He really didn't get things going until 1997 when he was in his early 20s.
He started in Legends Cars and was highly successful in two years of competition, including winning 10 of 15 indoor races that first year. In 1998, he was Third in season points with two organizations.
Next, a year in the Kenyon Midgets saw 8 wins in 11 starts before moving to full Midgets in 1999. In 2001, he finished Second in points with the NAMARS Midget group.
Then came a Regional USAC Midget title in 2002, four Sprint Car wins in 2003, and a Rookie of the Year honor in USAC Silver Crown cars in 2004. Last season, he was a driver in the redesigned Silver Crown cars that will run a number of races with NASCAR.
Pierce is presently a High Performance Driving instructor with the Bondurant Driving School, teaching high-profile clients, such as members of the Secret Service, driving techniques in high-powered street cars. "I have been also involved with personnel from GM, Ford, and other companies in my teaching capacity," he says.
From the start, Eckrich's father has stressed knowledge of the car as a key asset.
"My goal is to reach the pinnacle of racing, NASCAR. I would love to have an opportunity to race in any of the NASCAR series and show them what I can do. I believe this new Silver Crown series is a stepping stone, and I feel USAC has made the right move to position more exposure for additional USAC drivers to make the NASCAR move."
Pierce is hoping that he's one of them.-B.H.
Clay JonesThere was never any doubt that the 19-year-old Jones was destined for a career behind the wheel of a stock car. As the old saying goes, it was in his blood, and that truly is the case for the third-generation racer from Goldsboro, North Carolina.
His father, John, used to run against the likes of Jack Sprague at Concord (North Carolina) Motorsport Park while his grandfather, James Jones, is a former track owner, car owner, and driver. Jones is currently running for the championship in two different divisions-UARA STARS and the PASS Southern Super Late Model Series-in order to get as much seat time and exposure as possible.
When asked what the highlight of his racing career has been so far, the young Jones looks back to a race last year at Concord in which he beat local short-track legend Freddy Query in the final event of the season. Now the goal is to reach one of NASCAR's top three divisions-Nextel Cup, the Busch Series, or the Craftsman Truck Series-and to be able to bang fenders with the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, or Jeff Gordon in the very near future.
If he keeps up his competitive pace, the name Clay Jones is one that fans will be hearing more frequently.-J.M.
At age 15, Zehr has already turned heads in Florida.
Four You Have Heard AboutThere are several young competitors already familiar to enthusiasts who follow the sport. There are four drivers in particular-Steve Wallace, Kyle Grissom, Matt Martin, and Joey Logano-who are already on the radar screen of top teams and safe bets to have a shot in NASCAR.
Wallace is the 18-year-old son of 1989 Winston Cup champion Rusty Wallace. This year, Steve is competing in limited NASCAR Busch Series races as well as various ARCA events. The young Wallace got his racing career started in the Legends Car events at Lowe's Motor Speedway, where he became one of the top drivers in INEX history with multiple national championships. He also won the prestigious Summer Shootout at Lowe's Motor Speedway in addition to being a multiple INEX track champion at Concord Motorsport Park.
Wallace made headlines in December 2004 when he won the prestigious Snowball Derby, one of the biggest Late Model races in the country. He added another impressive victory to his resum last year at Michigan International Speedway when he scored a dominant win in his first ARCA start. Wallace scored his second ARCA win this year at Kentucky Speedway. In addition to his foray into Busch competition this season, Wallace is trying to talk his father into letting him move up to the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.
Grissom also competed extensively in the small cars that INEX produces for the Summer Shootout at Lowe's Motor Speedway. The son of 1993 Busch Series champion Steve Grissom started racing go-karts at the age of 8. He moved to racing Bandoleros in 1998 before making the move to the Legends Car division in 2001. He has won numerous championships.
Grissom is 16 years old and will be entering his junior year of high school this fall, but on the weekends you will find the second-generation racer doing battle in the UARA Series. Grissom started racing in UARA for three races in 2004 before running the entire schedule in 2005, winning the Rookie of the Year award while finishing Third in the final point standings.
Grissom got the 2006 season started by winning at the historic Greenville-Pickens (South Carolina) Speedway and led the UARA championship standings early in the season. Because of NASCAR's age limit, Grissom-as well as Logano and Martin-won't be able to race until his 18th birthday.
Pierce is a driving instructor with the Bondurant Driving School.
Martin is another second-generation racer who got his racing career started in the Summer Shootout at Lowe's Motor Speedway. The son of Nextel Cup Series driver Mark Martin, the young Martin will be entering the ninth grade this fall. On the weekends, though, you'll find Matt Martin racing-and winning-in the FASCAR Pro-Cup Series.
Martin is also a regular at New Smyrna (Florida) Speedway in the track's Limited Late Model division. Martin is only 13 years old.
Logano has already caught the eyes of several Nextel Cup team owners, including Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs. Many thought the 16 year-old driver would sign a contract with Roush Racing, but he shocked more than a few people earlier this year when he signed a driver development deal with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Mark Martin calls Logano "the real deal."
Logano, a regular in the Gibbs Racing Oil entry in the Hooters Pro Cup Series, got started in competitive motorsports at the age of 5 when his father bought him a go-kart that was designed for a 10-year-old. The gas and brake pedals had to be adjusted so the young driver could reach them. After a successful stint in the Legends and Bandolero divisions, Logano is focused on winning the 2006 Hooters Pro Cup championship. He is the youngest driver to win in the history of the circuit.-Jason Mitchell